Oddman Helgjesen Buer was born in 1862 in Ullensvang, Norway, the son of Helgje Helgjesson and Anna Jorgensdotter. The photograph of them is, no doubt, a copy of an original tintype. His name would have been Oddman Helgjesson had he remained in Norway. He, his older brother Helgje, and their two nephews, Edmund and Helgje, all took the name of the farm in Norway as their American family name. His first name was also Americanized to Edmund, and he was naturalized as Edmund Helgjesson Buer.
Edmund was the youngest of (at least) three sons in the family. The land tenure traditions of the time provided that he farm in its entirety would pass into the possession of the eldest son. Upon reaching the age of 18, younger sons were expected to begin to make their own independent way in the world. According to Mother’s account, he said that his alternatives were to go to sea, join the Army, or emigrate. Apparently under some pressure from his older brother’s wife, he eliminated the first two and decided on the third.
The farm on which he was born is located at the very upper end of the Hardinger fjord and has been described as being ‘the first farm below the glacier’. The glacier is the Hardinger Glacier, which is the largest in Europe. The nearest town is Odda. The name Oddmansson appears with regularity on the Buer family tree and that is not coincidental. Mother said that her father told of skating across the fjord to school in the winter.
According to ship passenger list information obtained by Craig Dunstan, Edmund first sailed from Norway in 1881. He was apparently not accompanied by any other family members on that voyage, and there is no knowledge of where in this country he came or to whom. Mother believed that his first destination was Wisconsin, but she was far from certain. She also believed that he proceeded directly from his first destination to South Dakota with intentions of homesteading there.
There is some reason to believe that Edmund first came to some relative in this country. Mother told of his having received a letter from an attorney who was apparently involved in settling an estate in the area to which he first came. The letter made inquiry regarding his relationship to the deceased and indicated the possibility that he might be a beneficiary of the impending distribution. She said he had responded that he was related and detailed that relationship. She did not know what the relationship was but did know that nothing ever came of the fleeting prospect of enrichment.
Mother was certain he had never returned to Norway after his first departure, but the ship’s passenger list information does seem, however, to prove her wrong on this point. The data Craig has obtained from that source indicates that Edmund and his brother Helgje left Norway in 1886 aboard the SS Thingvala. A short profile and a picture of the Thingvala are included in the Archives. A longer article on the transport of immigrants from Scandinavia focusing on the Thingvala Lines, which owned and operated the SS Thingvala, is also to be found there.
In any event, it is certain that he went at some point in the late 1880s to South Dakota to stake a homestead claim. He told later of spending a winter in a sod hut there suffering terribly from the cold. That is, of course, not at all surprising. The Scandinavian countries are located at very northerly latitudes, and they do have winters. Their climates are significantly modified by their proximity to the ocean, however, and only those few immigrants who came from the northernmost parts of Norway and Sweden had experienced winter conditions common in the Upper Midwest and Plains States in this country.
In addition, the winters of 1887 and 1888 were especially brutal here. Many of the all time low temperature marks were set during those two winters. The lowest recorded absolute temperature in St. Paul was –41 degrees observed in 1887. As if to complement the temperatures, there were also a number of especially fierce blizzards during those two winters. We do not know as a certainty that the winter that Edmund spent in South Dakota was either of the two, but the time would have been right. Whether it was or not, any South Dakota winter in a sod hut relying on buffalo chips as the principal source of heat would be a severe test.
Edmund determined that there had to be a more hospitable place to live. He proceeded south to Kansas to the relatively small community of Norwegians located in the western parts of Republic and Cloud counties. His brother Helge had either homesteaded or purchased a farm located between Jamestown and Glasco. According to the family oral history Edmund came there from South Dakota to live first with his brother.
Edmund Buer and Amelia Olson were married on January 29, 1893. The 1895 Kansas Census indicated that they and their first child Anna were living with her mother, Ellen, and family. Ellen Olson had been widowed in 1889 and the only son in the family, Peter, would have been only 13 years old at the time. The sheer physical demands of farming at that time would have required that additional labor from some source be obtained if the farm was to be sustained. It is, at least, plausible that Edmund first came to work for the Olson family before becoming an in-law.
The U. S. Census of 1900 reported that Edmund Buer and his family were renting a farm in Jewel County, just to the west of Jamestown. The family had increased by two with the births of Ella in 1896 and Julia in 1899. Harry Buer was born in 1901, and Clara arrived in 1903. About this time, the family purchased a farm south and east of Jamestown and moved to it. The Jamestown newspaper, the Kansas Optimist, reported in 1904 that, "Ed Buer is building an addition to his house…" The addition was no doubt well advised as Gladys was born in 1906 and Mildred made seven as she arrived in 1908.
The 1905 Kansas Census indicated the following facts about the Buer farm: "160 acres, 40 acres unimproved land (probably pasture), 120 acres improved, 40 acres under fence, 560 rods of wire, $0.16 cost per rod, $2500.00 value of entire farm, $300.00 value of all buildings, $15.00 value of all implements and machinery, 8 acres of winter wheat, 25 acres of corn, 12 acres of barley, 1 acre of Irish potatoes, 10 acres of Kafir corn (grain sorghum), 100 bushels of corn on hand, 200 pounds of butter were made, $50.00 value of eggs sold during year, $200.00 value of animals fattened and slaughtered, 5 horses, 13 milk cows, 15 other cattle, 4 swine, 3 cattle died of disease during year, and 1 dog."
The photograph of the family above is the only one known to exist from this period. It was taken on and of this farmstead in 1909. The photograph to the right is a scan Linda made of the faces from that photograph. The picture rather clearly presents a subsistence farmstead very typical of the time and place. What the picture does not and cannot reflect is just how poor a farm it really was. There is a fair amount of what can only be charitably described as ‘marginal’ land in Cloud County. This particular quarter section, however, would rank high in any objective attempt to identify the poorest piece of land in the county. Although I never heard him say it of this particular property, Dad’s thumbnail appraisal of such land was that, "it is so poor you couldn’t raise a racket on it with a barrel of bobcats".
If one looks closely at the picture of the farmyard, however, there is evidence of its saving grace. There are rocks lying at the surface of the soil in the yard. They are limestone and surface indications of the origins of the soil and of much greater concentrations below. There is a 14 to 16 inch vein or layer of hard limestone under much of the surface area of that part of the state. The ‘better’ land is better because its limestone is covered with deposits of windblown soil known as loess. The ‘poorer’ soils have less of this covering and the very poor soils have none at all and the veins of rock are near the surface.
Edmund Buer’s quarter section was characterized by having its layer of limestone very near the surface. This is not good from an agricultural point of view, but it is essential for a limestone quarry. Timing was also fortuitous for Edmund. There had been a devout Catholic congregation in Jamestown from the very earliest days. The parish was largely composed of pioneer Irish families. They determined in 1909 that the frame church building built in 1879 was no longer adequate and that a new church should be built – of native limestone. We do not know if Edmund’s quarter section had been quarried before, but it now provided the stone for the new St. Mary’s Church. It the process, it also provided the funds Edmund needed to purchase the farm west of Norway.
There are two revealing dispatches from The Kansas Optimist, Jamestown, Kansas, of this period. The first is dated Thursday, March 21, 1912:
"Mr. Buer packed up the last of their goods Thursday, March 7th and started for their new home near Norway, but didn’t get through until the next day as the roads were very bad. We wish them good luck and lots of it in their new home, as it is a good one right there near the west end of the big river bridge."
The second is dated Thursday, April 4, 1912:
"Tom Stackhouse has moved to his place here on the creek he recently purchased from Ed Buer. It’s the old Nathan Ross homestead and has likely changed hands oftener than any other farm in Summit Township".
The farm at Norway was, and is, a good one. There are a good number of acres of rich river bottom with the remainder of the acreage up on the west rim of the Republican River valley. It had to be genuine thrill for the old Norwegian to plant and cultivate and watch his corn grow to nine and ten feet tall in that river bottom soil. He had certainly never experienced anything like it before as a boy in Norway and certainly not in Summit Township.
The move to the new farm was a distance of about 15 miles, which seems almost immaterial to those of us accustomed to modern roads and vehicles. As is made manifestly clear by the newspaper story quoted above, however, road conditions were very different and conveyance for the Buers and most others was still horseback or horse- drawn. The trip to the old home church, St. Luke’s, was of 2 or 2 1/2 hours duration under the best of road conditions. In some respects, Edmund could have as well moved his family halfway across the state.
In other respects, the move was a homecoming of sorts. The farm to which they moved was located about a mile from the village of Norway, a name not chosen at random. The community was largely composed of Norwegian immigrants or the children of same, and the preponderance of them were of Lutheran persuasion. The Buer family became a part of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Norway, and virtually the entire family, with the exception of Anna, graduated from Norway High School. Anna married very shortly following the move to Norway.
Mother’s description of her father was that he was a quiet, somewhat solitary man. He loved to read, particularly his Norwegian language newspaper. It was published in Chicago for the benefit of the Norwegian-American community. Mother pronounced its name as: Hoosepippletik. I am utterly uncertain as to the spelling and have been unable to find any other reference to such a newspaper.
He was extremely interested in current affairs and was regarded as well read and informed in the community. He was a devout Lutheran and served as a deacon of the church in Norway for virtually the entire period of his association with the church.
Mother said that he was almost six feet tall and very powerfully built. She made repeated reference to his hands and fingers describing them as being particularly short and thick. She said that his fingers were so short and thick that he could not button his shirts without assistance. That may a little difficult to imagine, but a quick glance at his left hand in the family picture taken on the steps of Our Saviors Lutheran makes it quite believable.
He was the furthest thing from being a frivolous man, but he did have a sense of humor. He particularly saw the funny side of ironic situations. Mother told of the occasion that a neighbor (carefully unnamed) came to solicit Edmund to become a member of the Klu Klux Klan. He was was morally repulsed by he agenda of the Klan and sent the man on his way. He then laughed and laughed over the irony of his being recruited by the Klan. She quoted him as saying, "Here I am a immigrant who can’t even pronounce my own name in English, and they ask me to join the Klan!" His name on his tongue was "Boor" until the day he died.
Edmund Buer died in January of 1935. Mother and Dad were married on March 16, 1935, following a courtship of some five years duration. Edmund apparently viewed his future son-in-law with favor, and Dad unfailing spoke of him with both respect and affection.
His death was the result of pneumonia following a period of failing health over the last two or three years of his life.
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