Buena Vista County, IA
Extracted from: Wegerslev, C. H. and Thomas Walpole.
No history of Buena Vista county would be complete without mention of the Torkelson family, for the work of improvement had scarcely been begun in northwestern Iowa when the family home was established here and since that time representatives of the name have taken a helpful part in bringing the county to its present condition of improvement and prosperity.
Ludwig Anthony Torkelson was born in southern Norway, November 14, 1856, and is a son of Torkel and Enger Elizabeth (Smith) Torkelson, both of whom were natives of Norway, although the Smiths were of Scotch descent. Torkel Torkelson came to America in 1857 to look over the country and first visited Chicago, then a small trading point, where he had a brother-in-law living. Thence he went to Winnebago county, Wisconsin, where he remained for about two years and on the expiration of that period sent for his family, who arrived in the new world in the spring of I860 after a voyage of about seven weeks. They joined the husband and father in Winnebago county, where they remained through the succeeding two years, when, hearing of the opportunities of the northwest, Torkel Torkelson started on a prospecting trip to that district of the country. After reaching Buena Vista county and looking carefully over the territory, he decided to locate in this part of the state. When with his family he started for his new home the Civil war was in progress and he had to obtain permission from the state authorities to go from one state to another. In November they arrived in Fort Dodge, where the family remained during the winter, and in the spring of 1863 they reached Sioux Rapids, where they took up their abode in a log cabin on the banks of the Little Sioux river. There they spent the summer and in the late autumn, hearing numerous rumors of Indian troubles and receiving warnings that it was dangerous to remain in that part of the county, they removed, with their families, into a building on section 8, the settlers there fortifying the place and preparing themselves as best they could against attack. In addition to the Torkelson family the house was occupied by the Johnson and Stennerson families. Mr. Torkelson lived on that place for about three years, after which he built a cabin on the tract of land he had entered as a homestead—the southwest quarter of section 9. This has since remained the old home property of the Torkelsons and has never passed out of the possession of the family. The records of the county also show that this land has never had a deed or mortgage recorded against it with the exception of the railroad deed for the right of way. Torkel Torkelson spent his remaining days in the old homestead and was a prosperous farmer, adding to his possessions until he became an extensive landowner. He was honored and esteemed throughout the community and by all who knew him in other parts of the county. He served for several years in an acceptable manner in the office of supervisor and in a private capacity aided in the work of general progress and improvement. Three times he returned to visit his native land and look again upon the scenes amid which his earlier days were passed.
His arrival in this county dates back to its pioneer development and his memory formed a connecting link between the past with its many evidences of frontier life and the present with its modern civilization. As the years came and went he bore his full share in the work of development and progress in the northwest. This brief story of his life will in time become a lasting monument to his memory, more enduring than that of marble or stone. It will in the course of years be a priceless possession to his children and his children's children who bear his name and have inherited the property which he gained through his intelligent labor and unfaltering perseverance. He was a man of courageous and determined spirit, who bravely faced the dangers and privations of pioneer life in order to make for his children and his descendants a home upon the frontier. His work was of an important character as he aided in transforming the wild prairie land into a tract of rich fertility. The family lived in pioneer style in a little log cabin and the environment of frontier life, for when they came to the county much of the land was still unclaimed, being yet in possession of the government. Not a furrow had been turned nor an improvement made on thousands of acres which today are comprised within richly cultivated fields. Wolves were frequently heard howling at night and it was no unusual thing to see deer and elk and occasionally buffalo, while wild turkeys and prairie chickens and other feathered game were to be had in abundance. One could ride for miles across the country without a sign of human habitation in sight. The nearest market was Fort Dodge, a distance of seventy-five miles, and the trails across this stretch of prairie were intercepted by sloughs that were almost impassable. Ox teams were used to a great extent as they were better adapted to cross the sloughs, the cattle being more quiet and would keep on wading when a team of horses would plunge and worry.
In those days neighbors, though far apart, were well acquainted and hospitality reigned in almost every home. Many of the settlers started here empty-handed, possessing nothing save health and courage and willingness to work. It was not easy to accumulate money and the "beautiful prairies." the "noble streams" and all the romance and poetic imagery did not permit the early settlers from becoming discouraged. As an offset to the many difficulties and hardships which they faced there was the free hospitality, the social equality and the kindly spirit which were found nowhere else. The traveler was almost always sure of a welcome in the early pioneer cabin, which was never full although there might be a guest for every puncheon. There was still "room for one more" and a wider circle would be made for the newcomer at the big fire. It was, however, a time for self-reliance and persevering toil, of privations cheerfully endured because of faith in the good times coming. The experience of one settler was just about the same as that of others; they were almost invariably poor, faced the same hardships and stood generally on the same footing.
During the first few years in which the Torkelson family lived in this community there was an almost constant dread of Indian outbreak and when a stranger appeared in the neighborhood all listened anxiously to hear if he bore the report of "Indians coming." The years passed, however, and pioneer conditions gave way before the advancing civilization and the Torkelsons prospered.
The father, Torkel Torkelson, reached the ripe old age of seventy-eight years, and passed away February 6, 1908, but his name will ever be inscribed on the pages of Buena Vista's pioneer history. His family numbered five children, all yet living: Ludwig Anthony; Lena Marie, the wife of E. R. Stengland, who is living in Des Moines, Iowa; Isabella, the wife of T. 0. Anderson, of Sioux Rapids; Christina, the wife of Ambrose Stengland, of California; and Julius, who married Martini Segurdson and resides on the old homestead.
L. A. Torkelson was reared on the old homestead and assisted in the work of the farm until twenty-six years of age when he began farming on his own account on the place which he now occupies on section 9, Lee township. He is an energetic agriculturist, who uses the latest improved machinery to carry on the work of the fields, while his energy and perseverance, guided by sound judgment, has brought the land under a high state of cultivation. He has today one of the extensive and prosperous farms of the county, owning four hundred acres of land in one body, together with thirty acres of timber land and three hundred and twenty acres of unimproved land in Dakota. He also has equities in other lands.
On the 9th of May, 1889, Mr. Torkelson was married to Miss Stella Jacobson, a daughter of Henry and Martha (Hanson) Jacobson, both of whom were natives of Norway. This marriage has been blessed with seven children: Lawrence, Olive, Eilet, Howard, Joyce, Bendix and Silvia.
Mr. Torkelson has been prominent and active in community affairs and his fellow townsmen, recognizing his worth and ability, have frequently called him to public office. He has served as trustee of the township for about eight years, has been school director for about the same time and supervisor of the county for twelve years. He always votes the republican ticket and is a stanch advocate of the principles of the party. He and his wife are members of the Lutheran church and occupy an enviable position in the regard and esteem of their fellow citizens.