Tag Archives: Yankton

The Young Musicians

At first, Leonard and Helen might have seemed like an unlikely pairing.

Leonard John Christian Wiese was a city boy through and through, born and raised in Chicago. Helena Margaret Nelson, on the other hand, was a farm girl from rural southeastern South Dakota. Chicago’s population in 1920 numbered over two and half million, while the largest town within the vicinity of Helen’s family’s farm had a population of only five thousand.

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

Their heritages also differed. Leonard’s parents had immigrated to America from Germany as children, while Helen’s parents had immigrated to America from Denmark.1 However, despite different familial origins and native languages, Leonard and Helen had a surprising amount in common.

Both were born in the year 1900, and both were younger children in large families—Leonard the last of five, and Helen the sixth of nine.2

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

Both lost their fathers as teenagers. Leonard’s father, Fred, died when Leonard was thirteen years old, and perhaps because of the need to help support his mother, Leonard entered the workforce after completing the eighth grade.3 Helen’s father, also named Fred, died when she was seventeen; shortly thereafter, she began teaching country school.4

Both saw older brothers serve in the First World War.5

Both lost older sisters to tragic circumstances in the year 1918.6

Both were raised as members of the Lutheran church.7

Perhaps their most significant commonality, however, was their shared love of music. Leonard was a talented violinist, while Helen played the piano, and their talents made them popular entertainers within their respective social circles.8

Leonard Wiese and Helen Nelson, South Dakota, circa 1922-23; digital image 2014, privately held by B.S., 2019.

As the story goes, as a young man, Leonard worked at the docks in Chicago while his older brother Oliver worked for the railroad. Oliver obtained tickets west so that he and Leonard could seek seasonal farm work, and the industrious brothers wound up in Yankton County, South Dakota.9 Leonard, of course, had brought along his violin, and it has been surmised that one way or another, word spread that a young man with musical talent was in the area. Wouldn’t he get along swell with a certain young pianist? Before long, the Wiese brothers had made the acquaintance of the Nelson sisters, among them Helen and her older sister Louise.10 

Oliver and Louise married in Yankton on 01 June 1922, and after a courtship documented in a few surviving snapshots, which offer a glimpse of light-hearted moments shared together, Leonard and Helen married in Chicago on 05 January 1924.11

Happily, music remained a shared passion throughout their twenty-three years of marriage, and it was their delight to engage their two daughters in their very own Wiese Family Band.12

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

A South Dakota Marriage

Fred Nielson was twenty-six years old and Christina Marie Schmidt was twenty-one when they married on 08 March 1890 before the Justice of the Peace in Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota.1 Both Fred and Christina had emigrated from Denmark as children, and for more than fifteen years their families had been neighbors as they farmed less than a mile from each other in eastern Bon Homme and western Yankton counties in southeastern South Dakota.2 Whether the couple first became acquainted as children or young adults is not known, but their first known photograph together, their wedding portrait, survives today.

In the photograph, Christina stands in a heavy skirt and bodice, perhaps wool, with contrasting velvet panels on the high collar, cuffs, and bodice. Her hair is styled without the frizzled bangs that she wore a few years prior, and is instead swept smoothly off her forehead. A horizontal pin at her throat appears to match the pin worn in the earlier photograph. She rests one hand on the shoulder of her husband, who is seated. Fred wears a three-piece suit that is rather tightly fitted, as well as a white collared shirt and tie. A watch chain affixed to his vest is also visible. Fred’s hair has been combed and parted neatly, and he sports a small mustache.

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nielsen, South Dakota, 1890; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

Posed before a painted backdrop of a pastoral scene that doesn’t quite reach the floor, the husband and wife look directly at the camera. Both sturdy, fair-haired Scandinavians, their expressions are serious as was typical in portraits of this era. Although this image is a photocopy, it can be assumed that the original portrait was a cabinet card, a style of photograph mounted on card stock emblazoned with the photographer’s emblem that was popular at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nielson would go on to welcome nine children into their family and would live to celebrate twenty-eight years of marriage together.3

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Nelson Family at Home

The leaves had already fallen from the trees surrounding the modest two-story farmhouse belonging to Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson when this photograph was taken in late 1904.1 Situated near the scenic bluffs along the Missouri River west of Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota, the house was said to have had a creek running through the corner of the kitchen as a source of fresh water.2 Its simple, symmetric design featured a center door and four front windows on its clapboard walls, with a chimney appearing above the gable roof on one side. The house was likely painted white with a trim of a different color around the windows and door. Many trees surrounded the house, which was situated on an incline; the remote, wooded landscape seems to lend truth to family lore of the children fearing howling wolves (or coyotes?) as they walked to and from the nearest country school.3

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson and Family, Yankton County, South Dakota, 1904; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Fred and Christina, both of whom immigrated from Denmark as children, married in 1890.4 Fred, at left, was forty years old in late 1904; he wears a loose-fitting sack suit and hat and sports a mustache.5 At center stands son Ole, ten, beside Christina, thirty-five.6 She holds baby Mary, who was born in February of that year.7 While Ole is clearly dressed for the outdoors in a coat and cap, Christina, like her daughters, wears no jacket or shawl. Her simple buttoned bodice and unadorned skirt appear comfortable for a nursing mother as well as household duties.

The open door behind Christina suggests that perhaps she and the girls had just stepped outside for the photograph. In a cluster at right stand Anna, thirteen; Helena, nearly or barely four; Louise, five; Julia, twelve; and Andrea, nearly eight.8 All of the girls wear their hair neatly parted and plaited down the back; it was said that the sisters would line up each morning, oldest to youngest, to braid each other’s hair.9 They wear dresses that, with the exception of the youngest’s, fall below the knees, and all wear dark stockings. Their dresses have high necks and full bishop sleeves; a few additional details can be distinguished, such as the plaid fabric of Andrea’s dress and the belt at Anna’s waist.10

The occasion for this photograph is not known, although perhaps it was taken by an itinerant photographer who made stops at rural homes throughout the Midwest. Unlike formal studio portraits of the era, this photograph is as much about the place as the people, allowing a glimpse into the lives of the Nelson family that would otherwise be missed.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Farm Girls

Sisters Helena, Louise, and Andrea Nelson donned overalls and posed on their family’s farm near Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota in this candid photograph dated circa 1916. Andrea, nineteen in the summer of 1916, had recently completed her studies at the Southern State Normal School in Springfield.1 Both Helena, fifteen, and Louise, sixteen, would be students there in the fall, while Andrea would go on to her first term as a teacher at a one-room country school.2

Helena, Louise, and Andrea Nelson, Yankton County, South Dakota, ca. 1916-1918; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Pitching in to help out on the farm would have been the norm for the Nelson girls, the three middle children in a family of nine. Helena’s daughter later recalled her mother’s stories of working in the fields in the summertime,3 and in a letter dated 1918, in response to a question from her cousin about taking summer courses, Andrea replied, “Oh, how I’d love to, but guess it’s chickens to tend etc. and overalls to wear. Suppose that too will be sport, but after all, is there anything like being a schoolgirl?”4 The Nelson girls would have been especially needed on the farm that summer, as their older brother, Ole, was in the service.

While many decades had yet to pass before women wearing pants would become truly mainstream, I can’t imagine that it would have been unusual at this time for young women to wear the clothing most suitable for farm labor while at home among family. The overalls and loose collared shirts worn by the Nelson girls might have been hand-me-downs from their father and brother (even Levi Strauss & Co. didn’t begin to make jeans especially for women until the 1930s!), and, positioned side-by-side in a field with wide-brimmed straw hats atop their heads, the sisters—or the photographer—clearly recognized that this was a photo op not to be missed.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Danish Pioneers

Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen were in their sixties when they left their native Denmark to settle with their adult children in Dakota Territory.1 They had married on 1 September 1832 at Skrydstrup Kirke in Skrydstrup, Gram, Haderslev, Denmark, when Erik was twenty-eight and Inger Marie twenty-four.2 It was four decades later when they bade a final farewell to their farm, Hørløkkegaard, and their homeland.3

Erik Bramsen (1803-188–), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen (1808-1885), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

These undated photographs, circa 1870-1880, may have been taken before or after the couple made their ocean voyage; as I have not seen the originals, only photocopies, I am unsure of their format or any other identifying information. Erik wears an unbuttoned double-breasted wool overcoat; while seated, it reaches his knees. Little detail can be discerned about the shirt he wears underneath, which has no visible buttons, but his trousers are of a straight, loose cut. He is clean-shaven, his hair is trimmed and combed to the side, and his eyes appear light in color. Seated in a chair with an arched back, Erik rests his left arm on a small table covered with an embroidered cloth. Tassels from a curtain are visible in the background.

Inger Marie sits before the same background, with the chair situated to the right of the table instead of the left and her right elbow resting on the table. It seems possible that she has suffered a stroke, as her mouth appears uneven and one eye droops. A bonnet with a white frilled trim frames her face and ties below her chin with a large bow. Her dress has fitted sleeves with ruched cuffs, and the bodice is of a darker color than the full skirt. The fabric has a sheen to it, and, while simple, the dress appears well-made and carefully fitted. Several elements of her attire support a date sometime in the 1870s, including the frilled trim on her bonnet and its substantial bow.4

The couple arrived in New York aboard the Cimbria on 14 August 1872, within weeks of their fortieth wedding anniversary.5 They appear in the 1880 U.S. census for Yankton County, Dakota Territory,6 and both passed away in the years thereafter, Erik circa 1880 and Inger Marie in the spring of 1885 when she succumbed to tuberculosis.7 Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen are said to be buried in unmarked graves at Elm Grove Cemetery (formerly Maple Grove Cemetery) near Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota, alongside many of their children and grandchildren who, like them, were pioneers.8

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Baby Carriage in Dakota Territory

A new arrival in the family has meant that blogging my research findings has taken a backseat in recent months, but with babies on the mind, here is a peek at a sweet little one posed with his mother in the nineteenth century:

nielson_harry_andresen_hannah_1888

Hannah Marie (Andersen) Nielsen with Harry Niels Nielsen, Yankton, Dakota Territory, 1888-89; digital image 2014, privately held by [personal information withheld].

Pictured is Hannah Marie (Andersen) Nielsen, wife of Ole Nielsen of Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota, with her infant son Harry Niels Nielsen.1 Harry was to be the couple’s only surviving child; a daughter died in infancy.2 He was born 25 May 1888 in the town of Yankton,3 only a few months after the infamous Children’s Blizzard; his parents, both Danish immigrants, had married in 1880.4 At the time of Harry’s birth, Ole managed a dray line in Yankton, transporting heavy loads in a specially built wagon.5 Later, he would take up farming east of the nearby community of Mission Hill.6

In this photograph, Hannah, forty years of age, wears a dress with a full skirt, fitted sleeves, and a bodice fastened with no less than a dozen buttons.7 A brooch is pinned at her high collar and a flat-brimmed hat atop her head is adorned with feathers, adding an elegant statement to her otherwise relatively simple attire. What appears to be a strip of fabric is wrapped around the palm of her visible hand.

Harry, who looks to be less than a year old, dating this picture to South Dakota’s pre-statehood days of 1888-89, is dressed in a light-colored gown and a snug bonnet. He looks directly at the camera and a belt around his middle secures him to the seat of a baby carriage. The slatted basket is long enough that a smaller baby could lay flat until, like Harry, sitting upright against the fringed backboard would be possible.

I love that a baby carriage is featured here, unlike in any of the other nineteenth century baby photographs in my collection. However, I do have to wonder how practical it would have been at this time and place. While a bustling prairie town in its own right, Yankton was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a particularly urban environment, where a baby carriage might have proven more useful. Was it a prop at the Janousek studio, then, or did it belong to the Nielson familyperhaps a special luxury for a woman who had waited out eight years of marriage for a healthy child?

Whatever the case, this is a charming look at a proud mother and her well-behaved infant striking an elegant pose on the frontier. And, I have to say, the picturesque baby carriages of the nineteenth century were certainly more worthy of studio portraits than those of today!

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Golden Anniversary Celebration

One warm afternoon during the summer of 1902, a crowd gathered at the home of local pioneers Niels and Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen. The couple, who had retired from farm life several years before, was celebrating fifty years of marriage, and all of their children and grandchildren were invited to their home located near the center of town at 605 Broadway in Yankton, South Dakota.1 The event was surely a memorable affair, and the local newspaper gave a glowing report of the afternoon’s activities:

Mr. and Mrs. Nels Olson celebrated their golden wedding yesterday afternoon at their home on Broadway. All their children, eight in number, were present with their families. Their names are as follows; Ole Nelson, Mission Hill; John Nelson, Viborg; Christ Nelson, Lakeport; Fred Nelson, Lakeport; Mrs. J. Nissen, Yankton; Mrs. C. Calleson, Yankton; and Miss Helena Nelson, Yankton. Rev. C.K. Solberg spoke a few words appropriate to the occasion and presented to the venerable couple two fine presents from the children, a gold headed cane to “father” and pair of gold glasses to “mother.” The “old folks” came from Denmark in 1874 and made their first home in America near Lakeport, S.D. Eight years ago they moved to Yankton, their present home. They are in fairly good health and enjoy comfort and happiness surrounded by kind children.2

Niels Olsen and Juliane Sophie Hennecke had married in Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, on 30 July 1852.3 For the first twenty-two years of their married life, they resided in Denmark; their twenty-second anniversary, however, was spent aboard ship as they ventured to America.4 Their years since had been spent in southeastern South Dakota, where they claimed a homestead and where Niels had recently served a term as a rural postmaster. All eight of their surviving children remained in the area, and to commemorate their fiftieth anniversary, an informal group photograph was arranged on the porch of their home beneath the shade of several large trees.

Olsen Golden Anniversary

Olsen Golden Anniversary, Yankton, South Dakota, July 1902; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

The couple of honor is seated near the center, surrounded by those in attendance. Niels wears a wool three-piece suit and tie, as do most of the men, while Juliane wears a patterned shirtwaist with a bow at the neckline. Patterned, striped, or light-colored cotton fabrics seem to be popular choices among the women for their summertime wear. The adults, including the couple’s children, sit or stand in two rows, and three infants are perched on laps. Nine young grandchildren – including four sisters in matching dresses – cram together in the front, sitting cross-legged on the wooden plank floorboards. The group is relaxed; there are a few smiles, several women cross their arms comfortably, and a few maternal faces are turned away from the camera, intent on minding the couple’s many grandchildren.

I have to hope that this well-dressed crowd had the opportunity to partake in some refreshing lemonade in honor of the occasion!

In the back row, from left to right, are Reverend Solberg, Mrs. Solberg, Harry Nissen, Fred Nelson, Ole Nielsen, Harry Nielsen, John Nielsen, Eric Boysen, unknown, and Chris Callesen. In the middle row, from left to right, are unknown, Dora Nissen, Cleora Nielsen, Hannah Nielsen, Stena Callesen, Cecilia Boysen, J. Chris Nelson, Niels Olsen, Juliana Olsen, Helena Olsen, Jennie Nelson, Edith Nelson (child), Christine Nelson, and Helen Nelson (child). In the front row, from left to right, are Robert Nelson, Anna Nelson, Louise Nelson, Andrea Nelson, Julia Nelson, Bessie Nelson, Ole Nelson, Alvin Nielsen, and George Boysen.5

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