Hans Hanson Holtan, the father of my mother’s paternal grandmother, Gunhild Holtan Femrite, was one of the earliest European settlers in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota.
Hans Holtan arrived in the United States from Norway in 1845, living for a time in Illinois and later Wisconsin. He moved to Minnesota in 1856, two years before the territory was granted statehood.
One of Hans’s biographer’s recounts that after he arrived in Wanamingo Township, “he purchased 160 acres on Section 17. Because of illness he sold this land, and stayed with relatives while recovering from typhoid fever. By the time he was well again, all the homestead land had been taken so he saved until he had enough money to buy his first quarter section of land to which he added from time to time until he had 400 acres, 160 being in section 13 and 240 in section 24. Upon this farm he erected a home which at that time was considered the finest country residence in the county.”
The biographer continues, “Mr. Holtan was a liberal spirited man, greatly liked in the community wherein he resided. Being that he was one of the early settlers in the community and that he had been in the states for some years, he was often looked to for help in legal matters and such by his neighbors who had come to this country later and were not so well versed in such things. On several occasions he was appointed administrator of different estates. He was chairman of the township several terms and also served in other public positions.”
My mother, Patricia Femrite Bergeson, put together an essay for one of her Norwegian classes at St. Olaf College titled “Why I am an American.” In it she tells us several curious facts about her great-grandfather Hans. Hans was married three times and it turns out that his third wife was the jilted sweetheart of one of his sons!
She continues, “Mr. Holtan fulfilled his desire to raise his position in life by becoming a man of wealth and prominence in America. As he earned money, he sent it to Norway to pay for the transportation of his parents and other relatives to this country. One by one they came until they were all here. Ironical as it may seem, these people never repaid him for their traveling expenses.”
“After taking an interest in local and state politics, he became a representative to the first State Legislature of Minnesota. Early in life he had broken his leg and a inexperienced doctor had let the bone heal crooked. Because of this he always walked with a cane. When he had to attend meetings of the Legislature, he walked eighty miles to St. Paul using this cane.”
I have no way of verifying that Hans walked to St. Paul in December of 1858. There likely wasn’t a rail line near him, but I know that there was a stage coach that stopped at Hader, a community in Wanamingo Township. However, I did some research at the Minnesota Historical Society library and found the proceedings from that first session. I noticed that there was no mention of my great-great grandfather in the first few days of the session. But sure enough, he started appearing at meetings and being recorded with votes on day 7 or 8. Was the delay in his arrival because it took him that long to walk from Goodhue County to St. Paul?
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