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Johannes G. Johnsen, the Cotter's Son Who Became a US Legislator
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A Cotter's Son

Johannes G. Johnson was the son of a cotter in Ryfylke in Southwest Norway. He recounts that his parents and his sister travelled with him across the Atlantic Ocean and long way through the channels in North America, and then on foot along the open road. His father had him work at a farmer's place for a year, for the food and clothes.

Prairie grass
Prairie grass, waist-high, coarse, formerly covering vast tracts in central North America.

Later he travelled with his brother-in-law to a county in Minnesota when just four white men lived there; the rest were Native Americans. In Spring 1860 he escaped from his brother-in-law and had to walk a hundred miles across wild prairies. The ground was covered with snow; his shoes fell asunder, so he had to walk in his socks.

The Civil War broke out in 1861, and he entered the army as a soldier under general Grant. He took part in 13 greater battles, and was made a prisoner of war. He tried to escape several times. for being starved or killed in other and more brutal ways in the war camps looked like sure death. He did what he could to rejoin his army, and parts of his desperate encounters on the run were too hard to tell much pf. One place he starts to tell how four armed men forcibly took him with them for a few days and then one day schemed to kill him, and how they were left behind lying on the bank of a brook while he walked on . . . He did not like to divulge details of what actually happened.

An episode that he could freely tell of without fear of repercussions, though, was how he was hanged in a prison camp, cut down with a knife while in a swoon, and treated as a corpse.

He tried to escape again and again still. One time a boy, Andreas T. Langeland, accompanied him for a while, till he died. It grieved Johnson to lose that fine companion too.

Negroes helped him while he was on the run like a wildcat or fox in fields and woods, and an Irishman too saved his live once. Finally, after many more hardships he got back to his army. There he lay unconscious for a long time, but recovered. As soon as the Civil War was over, he claimed land in Minnesota, became the father of fifteen children, and became a member of Minnesota's Legislature.

Extracted from Sande 1975, p. 66-81. Severe Civil War experiences of a young Norwegian immigrant who emigrated as a cotter's son.

Norwegian American song lines, Collection

Johannes G. Johnsen, the Cotter's Son, Literature  

Sande, Lars Chr., ed. De som dro ut. Stavanger: Dreyer Bok, 1975.

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