Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Winter of 1880

Lorraine Almusa, daughter of Esther Efraimson Koistinen, found the following notes among Esther's effects when she passed away:
John and Lizzy Palvalehto came to the United States of America (from Finland) on August 14, 1880. Also came Mrs. (Mila Kainen) Efraim Palvalehto, the mother, and her daughter Mary and son Efraim. Others in this group were Henry Matson and his daughter Kate.

They were on the ocean seven weeks. The group came by train to Volga, South Dakota. On arrival, the men drew lots to see who would walk to Lake Poinsett and get someone to come and get the others. The lot fell to Jacob Paso and Charley Jymkela. They had to walk through the night.

They arrived at the Adams home on the shore of Lake Poinsett in the morning. Adams was busy milking cows. Charley Adams was 13 years old at that time. The neighbors, Torsten Estenson, Simon Hoel and Matt Rautio accompanied the Adams by ox and horse team to bring the pioneer arrivals and their belongings from Volga. Grampa Efraim (Prita's [Brita's] husband) and daughter Kate came here in the spring. They went to Michigan and he and Kate worked there. He came back to South Dakota about the same time his wife got there, but Kate stayed in Michigan.

The snow began falling on October 13th and remained until May 10th. [This was, no doubt, The Long Winter that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her children's stories. Stories from my husband's family tell the very same thing -- the oxen spent the winter in the sod shanty with the family!] Every other day was a blizzard. It was impossible to go anywhere because of the ten-foot drifts. Snow covered the barn and holes had to be made in the roof in some places. Folks lived the first winter in the basement. Four families were living in the basement, and even two cows and a team of oxen in the basement.

This was the winter of 1880-1881, the hardest in the history of South Dakota. They had a mill to grind flour. Grandpa Efraim made the mill of stones. When they came to South Dakota all the lakes were dry except Lake Poinsett. After the spring thaw, all the lakes and creeks were refilled and fish returned. Then in the summer John Efraimson made a sod house. They lived there until they had five children. [Their first child was born in Finland; their second was my (Diana's) great grandfather, Alfred Efraimson.] They built the wooden house around 1887. Amelia was the first one born in that house. Mary was born in Finland. Alfred was born in the fall they came from Finland at the Adams house on the shore of Lake Poinsett.

The first few years, the hay was used for fuel, by rich and poor alike. It was twisted into wisps. In later years, flax straw was used for fuel, which was also twisted into wisps. The first few years cow chips were burned. It was the custom to turn the chips over so they were thoroughly dry from both sides. The only thing about burning cow chips was that there were lots of ashes. There used to be a lot of buffalo roaming over the prairie before there were settlers. There were quite a number of buffalo rings -- circular about 10 to 12 feet in diameter, where there had been a beaten track inside. There was still a buffalo ring in the pasture when I (Esther Efraimson Koistinen) was small.

The towns were far away, 20 and 30 miles away. Dad had to drive with oxen and many times even walked to Watertown for groceries.

Dad's sister, Greta Paso, came some years later to South Dakota to be with her husband and family.

John Palvalehto Efraimson's parents were his mother, Prita Kainen [Brita] (1828-1911), and father, Efraim Palvalehto (1830-1901).

Other brothers and sisters were: Greta married a Paso, Katie married a Holappa and lived in Michigan, Mary married a Hanson in Bryant, Efraim married Liza and moved to Canada to farm.

Greta and Matt Paso's children are Henry, Mary, Hilma Prouty, Katie Kaino, Alina, Jennie, Annie Dickson, Johanna Palo.

Katie and Henry Hikappas' children are Albert, Hjalmer, Nick, Ed, William, Matthew, Michael, Fred, Mamie and Lizabeth.

Mary and Han Hanson's children are Edward, Lewie Alfred, Martin Otto, Pauline (half-sister ad brother Josie and Raymond). Mother of half sister and brother was Hilda Efraimson.

Efraim and Liza, the ones in Canada, are Einer, Edwin, Lillian (Rodgers), Hilda (Hill), Annie (Fripp) Nestor, Irene, Elmer and Helen (these are Alfred's first cousins).

Lizza (Alavesa) Efraimson's sisters and brothers are: Mary, Sarah and Andrew.

Mary married Jack Mattila. Their children are Sally, Martha, Charlie, Leri, Keikki, Maria, Tuino and Lyyki.

Sarah (don't know her married name). Children are Hiles, Annie, Finis and Siro.

Andrew's children in Finland are Sophie and Aleeno.

Greta and Matt Paso's stories are in the Hamlin County History Book.

Lorraine's husband, George Almisa, added a post-script to her letter saying that he had met Alfred and Jennie when they visited in Canada and that one of their neighbors was a student of Alfred when Alfred was teaching English to the Finnish immigrants who were in the Iron Range area in Minnesota.
At some time I hope to check these notes of Esther's against what I have in my records to make sure I have everything correct.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story about the pioneer days, my name is Leland Olsen. Simon Hoel was my great-uncle, my grandparents Andrew and Minnie Olsen lived next to Simon and my grandfather helped Simon Farm his land as Simon had all daughters. I just received a call yesterday from one of the Mattila boys whom I have never met, but he has an interest in our history. I have done quite a little work on our family tree which can be found on Genie under Ole Estensen Hoel, our family is named in a book The Bergmaansslekton Taxx that was published in Norway a few years ago. I will have to come back and do more reading on your stories. Thank you very much.

    1. Delightful to "meet" you! So thankful to your great-uncle for helping my great grandfather's parents when they arrived in South Dakota! Please do read more of my stories. I am not familiar with "Genie". I'll have to research that and visit your blog.