Tag Archives: Nelson

The Three Amigos


Peter Jorgensen, Fred Nelson, and Chris Callesen, Seven Falls, South Cheyenne Canon, Colorado; digital image 2014, privately held by [personal information withheld], 2014.

This souvenir photograph features three mustachioed men in sombreros posing astride burros in front of a rugged western landscape. In 1911, Peter Jorgensen, Fred Nelson, and Chris Callesen of Yankton County, South Dakota, pictured here from left to right, ventured west to Seven Falls in the South Cheyenne Canon near Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Colorado. I can’t know for sure what brought them west; I do know that, decades earlier, brothers-in-law Fred and Chris had traveled at least as far as the Black Hills to sell eggs to the miners.1 It’s possible that this trip to Colorado, however, was purely an opportunity for sightseeing and adventure, rather than business.

Fred_Nelson_Seven_Falls_02The reverse side of the photograph, mounted on heavy card stock, provides printed detail about the South Cheyenne Canon, famed for its natural beauty and sites of historical interest. The Seven Falls Photo & Curio Co. was responsible for this photograph, which was “taken at the foot of the famous Seven Falls.” It was possible to order duplicates by referencing the number shown on the photograph. (The number on the mat came only recently.) Given the number 716, it seems that plenty of these souvenir photographs must exist; I spotted several on eBay and on The Henry Ford Online Collection.

Did the men ride to the Falls on the burros? As of 1911, there was, in fact, a Cheyenne Burro & Carriage Co. in operation,2 so if they weren’t part of the package when the men paid for their photograph, they may have opted to rent the burros independently to ease their exploration of the area – or just for fun. The same may go for their sombreros!

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Yearbooks of the Old Settlers Association of Yankton County, South Dakota

For fifteen years, from 1944 through 1958, the old settlers of Yankton County, South Dakota sponsored a yearbook that compiled their own fascinating stories of life in southeastern South Dakota in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These yearbooks were later bound and filed with the local library and the state historical society. As written by Emma Meistrik, Secretary and Historian of the Old Settlers Association of Yankton County, “We dedicate this volume to the future old settlers of Yankton County and may call it Volume I, trusting that it will be continued indefinitely. It is upon the worthwhile things of the past that the future builds for ever increasing achievement.”1


Yearbooks of the Old Settlers Association of Yankton County, 1944-1958 (Yankton, South Dakota: Old Settlers Association of Yankton County, 1958); private collection of Melanie Frick.

My copy, once in the possession of an aunt, was not bound professionally, and I’m unsure whether all of the yearbooks are included. However, the stories within are rich with detail. Many of the settlers recount their experiences as immigrants, the establishment of their homesteads, and their survival of the deadly blizzard of 1888, as did Christine (Schmidt) Nelson of Yankton County, South Dakota.

She shared her recollections with her daughter, who wrote, “As an old settler of Yankton county she has many memories of the early years in her community. She recalls the old Indian trail which brought Indian traders to the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jens Smith, early settlers of Bon Homme county. On the old stage trail between Springfield, Fort Randall and Sioux City, the Smith farm was used as a place to change horses for the carrying of the mail.”2

Of the aforementioned blizzard, it was said, “Mrs. Nelson attended the Breezy Hill school and recalls the blizzard of 1888 when her only brother, Mads Smith, spent the night in the schoolhouse. The next morning after the storm, the sun was shining brightly and the family were overjoyed to see the young boy walking over the sparkling hard drifts after his night’s vigil.”3

The brief autobiography concludes, in part, “Mrs. Nelson is well-known by her many friends and relatives as a person who always has a warm welcome hand extended to all those who call at her home. Even today, at the age of 85, she is active with her household duties and retains an active interest in what is going on about her. She is cordial and sympathetic with the many young people who come her way. She is truly one of Dakota’s pioneer mothers who still looks ahead and enjoys her home and family.”4

As with A Yearbook from the Southern State Normal School, Springfield, South Dakota, 1916, copies of the compiled Yearbooks of the Old Settlers Association of Yankton County, 1944-1958 are likely not widely available to most researchers. Although my copy may not be complete, I would like to offer look-ups to anyone seeking information about the individuals named below as featured settlers:

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Wedding Wednesday: Swell Times in Chicago


Leonard and Helen (Nelson) Wiese, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, 1924; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

On the evening of 5 January 1924, Leonard John Christian Wiese and Helen Margaret Nelson were married in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.1 Leonard had been raised in Chicago, the son of German immigrants,2 whereas Helen had been raised in rural Yankton County, South Dakota, the daughter of Danish immigrants.3 The couple met when Leonard sought work in South Dakota, and he and Helen bonded over a shared love of music.4 Leonard and his bride-to-be then moved to Chicago, where they were wed in the home of Leonard’s widowed mother.5 Since Helen’s family was not able to be with them, she wrote a detailed letter home describing their wedding day:

My dear folks,

Now I think that this letter will have to be passed around so I won’t have to repeat all the details of the past few days. We are married! Yes. Now then I will endeavor to tell you the points which I think will be of interest to you.

My dress was very plain but everyone liked it. Dark brown brocaded silk with short sleeves and sort of a drape on the skirt. I have a new coat and hat and new satin shoes.

Well, there were eighteen grown people here. We were married at 9:30. Stanley Smith played the wedding march and Irene and I came from upstairs and met the other two in the room. After the ceremony, a shower of rice descended upon us and the best man and several of the others took advantage of the privilege of kissing the bride. So it was on the order of some of the weddings you read about!!!

Then we had dinner. Turkey, chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, corn relish, cranberries, dressing, Jello, coffee, etc. A huge wedding cake adorned the center of the table. This cake was made to order. You people are going to have some of it. I baked two angel food cakes and a sponge cake. That’s all I did in helping preparations.

I spent some time at the hairdresser’s! Oh, I looked real swell!!!

After supper we had music and some of the men played cards. Then after awhile we started the Victrola and we all danced.

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A Yearbook from the Southern State Normal School, Springfield, South Dakota, 1916

The Southern State Normal School in Springfield, South Dakota, also called the Springfield Normal School, offered a college education for those who had completed high school. A First Grade Teaching Certificate could be acquired in just one year of study, while a State Certificate and Life Diploma could be acquired in two years.1 If your ancestor was a teacher in South Dakota, he or she may have attended the Southern State Normal School or a similar institution of higher learning.


The Echo, Vol. 1 (Springfield, South Dakota: Southern State Normal School, 1916); private collection of Melanie Frick. This volume was generously shared with the author by a relative.

I am fortunate to have a copy of The Echo, a yearbook put forth by the Southern State Normal School in 1916. The Echo offers a treasure trove of information about those who were affiliated with the school from 1915-1916, as it includes photographs of most of the students and faculty as well as details about everything from an individual’s year of study, to school clubs and organizations, to inside jokes among classmates shared in the form of clever poems and quotations.2

For example, I learned that when sisters Andrea and Louise Nelson attended college there, they were both members of the Y.W.C.A. and the Southern Normal Literary Society, where Andrea served a term as Secretary.3 What startled me, however, was a class poem that named, “Louise, so dumpy and fat.”4 I do hope that was a joke well taken, because while Louise didn’t necessarily have a willowy figure, she was quite pretty and stylish! The Echo shared that she also played on the girls’ basketball team.5

As copies of The Echo are likely not accessible to most researchers, I would like to offer look-ups for anyone seeking information about the individuals listed below, who were named in The Echo as faculty, students, or graduates of the Southern State Normal School at Springfield, Bon Homme County, South Dakota:

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Choose Your Own Backdrop

When they posed with their children for this photograph in 1893, Niels and Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen of Yankton County, South Dakota had been married for just over forty years. They had raised nine children to adulthood, eight of whom were born in their native Denmark.1


Family of Niels and Juliane (Hennike) Olsen, 1893, Yankton County, South Dakota; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Niels and Juliane had purchased a farm upon their arrival in America, but in their later years, they moved to a more comfortable life in town. The couple would go on to celebrate fifty years of marriage in 1902,2 although their youngest son, Andrew, would be missing from that gathering. He drowned in 1897 while hunting ducks on the nearby Swan Lake.3

The photograph is a large print, roughly 8×10 inches, pasted onto cardboard with the date marked on the back. Do you notice anything strange about the backdrop? The family poses in front of a backdrop of painted trees that is slightly too small for a group of that size. To one side, the edge of the backdrop of a wallpapered room is visible, and the backdrop cuts off altogether on the other. All seem to be dressed in their best, the men in dark suits and the women in good black dresses. In 1896, Godey’s wrote, “All of us who are wise, possess a black gown.”4

The women’s dresses are distinct, although the two sisters seated on opposite ends, Stena and Cecilie, could easily have made their dresses from the same pattern. Their sisters’ dresses also bear similarities, though all have their own touches – pleats, contrasting material, or, in Dora’s case, large decorative buttons. Their mother’s dress, however, has no unnecessary frills. Notably, all of the women’s sleeves are of the fitted fashion of the previous decade; as the 1890s went on, puffed sleeves gained popularity. Perhaps this fashion had not yet become popular in Yankton County, or maybe these women simply didn’t care for the new style enough to want to rework dresses that were still perfectly serviceable.

Standing, left to right, are Helena (Neilsen) Larsen, John Neilsen, Andrew Neilsen, Fred Neilsen, Ole Neilsen, and Chris Neilsen. Seated, left to right, are Stena (Neilsen) Callesen, Dora (Neilsen) Nissen, Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen, Niels Olsen, and Cecilie (Neilsen) Boysen. Variations of the surname, including Nelson, were also used by some members of the family.

1 Harold W. Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” in Ben Van Osdel and Don Binder, editors, History of Yankton County, South Dakota (Yankton, South Dakota: Curtis Media Corporation and the Yankton County Historical Society, 1987), 53.
2 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
3 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
2 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
4 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), 460.

A South Dakota Thanksgiving

How did your ancestors celebrate Thanksgiving? As the cooking commences, I can’t help but wonder when Thanksgiving truly became a tradition among the different branches of my family tree, and how the celebrations might have varied.


Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson Family Farm, Yankton County, South Dakota, ca. 1911-1917; digital image 2013, privately held by [personal information withheld].

I do know that the family of Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson of Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota celebrated the holiday more than a century ago. In 1908, their daughter Anna, seventeen, wrote in her diary, “Nov. 26, Thanksgiving day. Uncle Andrew, Aunt Mary and little cousins, also John S[ch]neider came down and had dinner with us and spent the day. It was cloudy most of the day and a rather cold wind.”1

Her guest list indicates that they had quite a crowd for dinner. By 1908, the Nelson family numbered ten,2 so with the addition of John Schneider and Andrew and Inger Marie “Mary” (Schmidt) Schmidt, who came with their three young children,3 the number at the table was brought to sixteen.


Turkey Valley School, date unknown, Turkey Valley, Yankton County, South Dakota; digital image 2010, privately held by [personal information withheld].

As the Nelson children grew and completed school, several of the six daughters scattered about the county on teaching assignments. In the fall of 1916, Andrea, age nineteen, boarded with the Skov family in Turkey Valley. Andrea was in the midst of her first term as a schoolteacher, having recently graduated from the Springfield Normal School.4

On 18 November 1916, Andrea wrote to her parents, explaining that she had spoken to the members of the local school board to ask if she could take off the day after Thanksgiving:

“Mr. Hinseth said that for his part he didn’t care how many we took off as he had no kids to send and Mr. Mikkleson said sure we could take the day then could see later about making it up. […] I haven’t asked Mr. Andreason about the day but it won’t do him much good to kick as it’s three against one.”5

Andrea was pleased, as this meant that she could return home for Thanksgiving and the three days following. No doubt she was eager to show off her new overshoes, purchased the previous afternoon in Irene. Although she reported woefully that they had made a dent in her monthly “warrant,” she continued, “Mr. Skov gave his ‘womenfolks’ a scolding because we hadn’t gotten overshoes a week ago Sat. when we were in town so I thot [sic] I had better get me a pair yesterday or I’d be scolded again, ha!”6

With these overshoes, Andrea would have been prepared for the blustery winter days on the eastern South Dakota prairie, and she would have stayed warm for the duration of the forty-mile journey home for the holidays. Now, if only we knew what was served for dinner!

1 Nelson, Anna. “Diary.” MS. Yankton County, South Dakota, 1908. Privately held by [personal information withheld].
2 1910 U.S. census, Yankton County, South Dakota, population schedule, Township 93 Range 57, enumeration district (ED) 447, sheet 2-A, p. 186 (stamped), dwelling 24, family 24, Fred Nelson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 1489.
3 1910 U.S. census, Yankton County, South Dakota, population schedule, Township 93 Range 57, enumeration district (ED) 447, sheet 3-A, p. 187 (stamped), dwelling 46, family 48, Andrew Schmidt; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 1489.
4 The Echo, Vol. 1, “Andrea Nelson,” Springfield, South Dakota, 1916; privately held by [personal information withheld].
5 Andrea Nelson to Fred and Christine (Schimdt) Nelson, letter, detailing Thanksgiving plans, 18 November 1916; privately held by [personal information withheld].
6 Andrea Nelson to Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson, letter.

The Nelson Family

The nine children of Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson of Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota pose together here circa 1915. These six sisters and three brothers span nineteen years in age; from eldest to youngest, they are Anna, Julia, Ole, Andrea, Louise, Helena, Mary, Fred, and Myron Nelson. [Update: Since writing this piece, I have located another copy of this photograph with a date of December 1917 handwritten on the back.]


Family of Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson, ca. 1915, Yankton County, South Dakota; digital image 2010, privately held by [personal information withheld], 2013.

A strong family resemblance can be seen in the nine Nelson siblings. Anna and Julia stand at center; they are wearing plain buttoned blouses and skirts, as is Andrea, seated left. Louise and Helena, standing at left and right, wear almost identical dresses with wide collars, pleated bodices, and belted waists. Their dresses were almost certainly sewn by hand from the same pattern.

Mary, the youngest sister, seated at right, is dressed in the most striking manner in a plaid dress with a ring of beautiful braids coiled atop her head. As the story goes, while they were growing up, the Nelson sisters would line up each morning to braid the hair of the sister standing before them.1 Someone clearly spent extra time on Mary’s hair on the morning that this photograph was taken!

The brothers, regardless of age, wear sturdy wool jackets. Ole’s jacket is open over a dark shirt or sweater that seems to be in the style of a turtleneck, while young (and very blond) Fred and Myron wear their jackets buttoned over shirts and ties. They lean towards Ole, their arms propped beside his on the arms of his chair.

In 1915, not all of the Nelson children remained at home, although all continued to live in the area. Anna, the eldest, was married, and had started a family.2 Julia was a schoolteacher,3 the profession pursued by her younger sisters, Andrea and Louise, who were students at the nearby Springfield Normal School.4 They would soon be followed by Helena and Mary, who at this point likely still attended the local school with Fred and Myron. Ole, the eldest brother, was a carpenter, and worked on the family farm.5

Was there an occasion for this photograph? In March of 1915, Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson would have celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.6 Perhaps a photograph of their progeny was in order, either by their request or as a gift from their children. Regardless, this is the last known photograph of all of the Nelson children together, and it’s a lovely one.

1 Phyllis (Wiese) Adam, conversations with the author, 2012; notes in author’s files.
2 1920 U.S. census, Yankton County, South Dakota, population schedule, Mission Hill, Enumeration District (ED) 251, p. 6151 (penned), sheet 1-B, dwelling 10, family 10, Anna Jorgensen; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm T625, roll 1726.
3 “South Dakota, State Census, 1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 04 Nov 2013), Julia Nelson, Tabor, Yankton, South Dakota, United States.
4 The Echo, Vol. 1 (Springfield, South Dakota: Springfield Normal School, 1916); private collection of Brian Adam [personal information withheld].
5“South Dakota, State Census, 1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 04 Nov 2013), Ole Nelson, Tabor, Yankton, South Dakota, United States.
6“In Memoriam: Christine M. Nelson,” undated clipping, ca. January 1961, from unidentified newspaper.