PIONEER MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL
Rev. Nels Brandt officiated at religious services at the home of Knut Angrimson in the year 1869. He is the first Minister of the Gospel known to have officiated in the Watson community territory. A little later during the same year Rev. John T. Moses of the Norway Lake settlement near Willmar officiated at religious services and functions in homes in the community where they required religious ministrations. Shortly after his visit to this community Rev. John T. Moses had a disagreement with members of the Norway Lake congregation which resulted in his resignation as pastor of that church. Rev. Lars J. Markhus was called as his successor to the unexpired pastorate and he also visited the Watson community and officiated at religious services in the fall of the year 1869.
In the year 1870 the Immanuel Congregation was organized at the home of Sundov Alleckson and the Reverend Lars J. Markhus was called to serve as the Pastor of this first pioneer Watson community territory congregation. The Norway Lake settlement, it is true, extended into the northeastern corner of Swift county, but Rev. L. J. Markhus did not live there. He undertook to drive from his home near Willmar to the first Watson community territory congregation four times a year for ten dollars per round trip, or a total salary of forty dollars a year. He was not exactly overcharging anyone but himself; or what do you think?
Driving across the prairie on the primitive trails of those years, through mud holes, around sloughs, making huge detours to get somewhere, was no joy ride and he actually drove a round trip of at least one hundred and twenty miles; not in an automobile, but probably with a horse and a buggy and possibly, at times, with a yoke of oxen. And he was the same Rev. Lars J. Markhus who, through the quarrel in his Norway Lake congregation that was fomented over the inalienable predestination doctrine, was insulted by his opponents calling to their aid a wily Willmar attorney, who had members of his congregation carry the sincere old pioneer pastor from the church altar out into the church entry where they deposited him on the floor, some fifteen years later.
We regard Lars J. Markhus as a good honest man who was devoted to his ideals of Christianity as he understood them, a man who acted and lived only according to those ideals and not only for self-glorification, comforts, and munificient salary. He was a good pioneer worker in his chosen profession, a community builder, and a staunch, nervy, defender of his faith and those of his faith in that church war in Norway Lake. And we will never be able to see anything either humorous or meritorious in that once so ridiculed and much advertised church squabble in Norway Lake. It was at its best nothing less than an outrage and desecration of ideals, faith, and human decency; and Rev. Lars J. Markhus would have been a happier man could he have remained with the peaceful, law abiding and level headed pioneers of the Watson community territory.
One summer, when I was ten or eleven years old, I caught five good sized pike, one Saturday afternoon in the Chippewa river in Tom Amundson's pasture, where a creek joins the river about two miles north-east of Watson. And that is how I got such desire to fish that it was hard for me to stay away from that river the rest of that summer. One forenoon when I started fishing pretty early, but had no luck, I left the creek mouth and went up to the mill dam, but I did not get a single strike there either. From there, with a small boy's impulse to keep on hunting for new wishing places, I walked north up along the river.
I was pretty near straight west of the river from the Rev. O. E. Solseth farm when I walked against a man on the river bank. He was holding a long cane fish pole out over the river. He wore an old straw hat and overalls and if it had not been for his distinguishing whiskers I would not have recognized the man right away. Having an awesome respect for preachers who were said to punish small boys guilty of whistling and whittling and having done both that day I started to move on.
No, said Rev. O. E. Solseth, "come, let's sit down a while." We sat down and I flung my fish line out in the river too, but I forgot all about the fishing for Rev. Solseth was in his deem calm, friendly voice delivering an impromptu lecture on fish, and their habits, and where the best fishing places should be along the river. And what I liked best of all was that he talked to me as if though it was the most ordinary thing in the world for him and me to sit there and talk about those things. He never once stared fiercely at me either as some brave self-important big men do at a timid little boy; and in memory I can still vision him, as he sat there, looking out in the river at his fish line, his straw hat tilted back on his head, his long arms hugging his knees, while we visited. - Well, I got home too late for dinner that day.
Rev. O. E. Solseth was truly a pioneer preacher in every sense of the words. He settled in the Watson community territory in 1872. He endured the privations and hardships of his fellow pioneers like any of them. He walked on skis over long stretches of snow coated prairies to those who needed his ministrations in the hardest pioneer winters. He rode thousands and thousands of miles in the performances of his duties, never in luxuriously upholstered automobiles, but behind horses and even yokes of oxen. He was a born organizer, tactful, unobtrusive, democratic and naturally friendly and kind hearted. He would rather give away his own money than hold out his palm for any that was not absolutely his. He ministered to the spiritual needs of Tunsberg, Kragero, Big Bend and Mandy townships practically alone for a few years. He was never a money maker but a friend maker and always a peace maker. He never ran away from his profession in search of a higher salary and greater comforts. He lived and died faithful to the last, to his ordained trust, his God, his conscience and his fellow men.
AN OLD TIMER
A narative based on the personal experience of a late pioneer of the Watson Community in the Winter 1873.
In a dugout in early pioneer days
Lived a homesteader all alone.
A winter so mild that the sun's heating rays,
Almost daily more warmly shone.
One day to the timber that homesteader drove,
For a well needed load of wood,
A yoke of young oxen through new fallen snow,
When the sleighing was very good.
To the river timber he went on that day;
He was young and robust, and work was but play,
And he whistled and sang on the entire way,
That young man of Norwegian blood.
He cut from the timber a load of dry wood,
And he loaded his home made sleigh;
Then he started for home as fast as he could,
For short was that midwinter day.
As in shirt sleeves he walked on besides his load,
His oxen were covered with sweat,
For the air was warm, and uphill the road
He must climb ere he home could get.
The sunshine beat down on the white soggy snow,
There was never a sign of a cloud or blow,
And where he looked at the sky or below
His eyes but tranquility met.
Then as quick as a switched off electric light
Came a blizzard with high speed roar,
Engulfing him tightly and shut from his sight
His oxen and backward him bore.
Blinded and gasping for breath he strove
To face it again and again;
But backward that blizzard him easily drove
And facing it was in vain.
Along with the storm he then drifted and sought
For refuge and prayed while he hopelesly thought
That all of his efforts might profit him naught
Till he feared he might go insane.
For a time that to him seemed more than a year
He stumbled along with no rest,
Benumbed by the cold blast and weakened by fear
Of the demon from the northwest.
The fine powered flour snow it coated his face
And choked up his eyes and his nose;
But, while he thus trudged on with weakening pace
The blizzard more mightily rose.
It roared and it smote him, lt shrieked and it raged,
A hurricane's symphony rehearsal staged;
A fight for their lives all live beings then waged,
For no lives could that blizzard oppose.
Then ready to sink into slumber and death
He suddenly found a shack door.
It opened on neighbors who him them then met
As swooning he fell on the floor.
There safe in a homesteader's log cabin he
Soon came to his senses again,
And there in the log cabin he too must be
For anything else was in vain.
Though rough hewn and homely and looking quite frail
That log cabin, built without hammer or nail,
While it shook and creaked in that furious gale,
Was salvation's heavenly lane.
That blizzard kept raging for three days and nights
So wildly that no one could see
The length of an arm to the left or the right
Whatever one's position be,
And when after five days that northwest wind ceased.
And men again outside could go,
The prairie, with valleys and ridges, was creased
With mountainous billows of snow.
But, under that white snow in eternal sleep,
Lay buried some settlers, and oxen real deep,
And our hero's oxen, a hard frozen heap,
In the cold then twenty below.