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Reminiscences of the History of Kalevala District

John Manni

The following historical review of the Kalevala district, Carlton county, was written by Mr. Manni in response to numerous requests, to be read at the old settlers picnic at Kalevala Sept 13. Owing to the length of other numbers on the program this was omitted, but The Vidette is printing it so that it may be preserved by the settlers and their sons and daughters, for future reference, and may be as a permanent chapter in the records of the district.


When my boyhood chum and schoolmate, Rev. M. N. Westerback of Ironwood , Mich., wrote me the first part of August suggesting that in honor of the pioneers of this vicinity some sort of a celebration be arranged this fall, struck me as being a very worthwhile idea and it promised him that it would take the matter up with others and see what could be done obout it. It was not our intention to confine such a celebration to the circle of any particular church or other organization, but that it be put up in honor of the first settlers of this and the neighboring townships, regardless of what their connection in religious and other matters happened to be. Rev. Westerback assigned to me the task of writing a brief history of this locality for the double purpose: That it be read at the pinic in connection with the reminiscences of others, and that a story thus gathered from all be published and saved for posterity in printed form, inasmuch as the ranks the early pioneers are thinning out quite rapidly.

I promised him that it would do my best and at least make an attempt. To accommodate those of the old people who find it difficult to understand English, it will write these reminiscences also in the Finnish language. However, when I, the day before the celebration, undertook to fulfill that promise, I found the task much more difficult than it anticipated. The old records of the town, school districts and other public records were destroyed in the 1918 forest fire, so it must depend upon my own personal collection of the history as far back as I know it, and as gathered from the settlers themselves about those by-gone days.

As far as I have been able to find out, the first homestead in the present town of Kalevala was "filed" on in 1872, fifty-nine years ago, it being the north half of the northeast quarter of section twent-eight, at present owned by Arthur Hill. And it so happens that the land in question has remained to the present time unimproved; evidently the large virgin pines that grew thereon induced the government cruiser, H. A. Comstock, who died a few years ago at Janesville, in Waseca county, to take up this homestead. It was, I think, in the nature of a purchase, as he never established permanent residence on his claim. Some time later a Finnish "lumberjack", Henry Heina, paid his filing fee on adjoining land, the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of section twenty-eight, which land is now occupied by Axel Himmelroos.

The first lumber camp in Kalevala, as far as my information goes, was a so-called section twenty-eight camp, that stood on the east side of the river, adjoining the lands of Waino Nummela and Werner Ruusunen. The exact year when the camp was built and the cutting operations started, I do not know, but I recall that it met an old lumberjack, unknown to me at that time, who happened to come down the river on skiis in the winter of 1903-04, and. when we passed the place he pointed out the knoll above the camp site saying that twenty-seven years previous to that he worked at that camp, cutting down the pines around it, the stumps of which could still be seen. That would bring the time to about 1876, being now fifty-five years ago. I have since thought that perhaps the "old timer" I met was "Old Man" Scyces, whom I knew later.

Mr. Comstock wrote me over ten years ago that when he was cruising timber for the government along Kettle River and its tributaries, Dead Moose and West Branch, having an Indian as a companion, in 1872-73, he found an old tote-road running west from near the place where the Split Rock runs into Kettle River, which road even then was so old that manhigh brush was growing on it, but that it had been used quite frequently years ago. Mr. Comstock thought that the road had been built for the government surveyers. It was what we have called a military road running through Split Rock, Silver and Moose Lake townships from Mississippi river to Lake Superior; built perhaps, during the times of the Civil war. On Dead Moose river Mr. Comstock said that they killed an otter. For the last thirty-five years I have not heard of otters on Dead Moose or any of these rivers. That was the time of the trail-blazers and lumberjacks. It took another decade, or until about the year 1889, before "bona-fide" settlers came. First of them in Kalevala township, including Automba, which was separated from Kalevala and organized as an independent town in 1914, were Herman Lampel and Robert Ostrom. They built a small shack, three feet of it dug underground to the side of a hill near the present Kettle River bridge, opposite the church, only a few rods from the road. As it was late in the fall, evergreen boughs were cut and laid on the roof and on top of them, mud. The walls were made out of logs. Such walls were very useful. It was only necessary to remove some of the moss from the chinks between the logs and stick out the "business end" of a rifle, to "kill meat" that was prowling around this fortification, inquisitive to investigate who these new neighbors were. But when the frost thawed out in the spring and when it rained, there was no shelter, and occupants needed even inside, a good raincoat.

Erick Haikola, brother of John Haikola who with Matt Hauru, Peter Fors, Thomas Ronkainen, Tobias Oja, Sakri Maunu (Anderson) and John H. Michaelson already had established their homes closer to Moose Lake acted as a surveyor for the new-comers. When speaking with Mr. Biberg, one of the pioneers, the other day, he told me some of his early experiences. Someone else had "spotted" a homestead for him in what is now East Kalevala but it turned out to be all swamp, so he had to give it up. But as his filing fee had already been sent to Washington, he had to pay a new filing fee for his 160 acres in section twenty that Mr. Haikola located for him.

It was late in the afternoon of one spring day in 1890, forty-one years ago, when Mr. Biberg made his second attempt to find a piece of land to his liking where to establish his future home, when he made his way slowly along the course of a section line running north in front of this church, Erick Haikola acting as a guide. He used a compass, as there were no lines to be seen, except that corner and quarter posts had been set by the government surveyers. Timber, consisting mostly of balsam, spruce and pine as evergreens, and besides all sorts of hard-wood, timber was, so heavy and dense that it was possible to see ahead only a few rods. When they finally arrived at their destination the southwest corner of section twenty, (four corners near the present Kalevala school) the sun was setting and it would soon be dark. Like to the children of Israel of old, who were being led out of Egypt by Moses and Joshur to the promised land, this land likewise looked good and promising to Mr. Biberg. But as they had to start back before dark and could not cruise the land more thoroughly, Mr. Biberg climbed a tall tree to get a better view of his surroundings. What a prized picture it would have made for us now, forty-one years later, had someone been there with a camera. First pioneer of the neighborhood high up in a big tree, scanning the landscape for a place where he could establish a home for himself and family, and a rendezvous for those following! And what a difference in the view to be seen now and from the same spot! What Mr. Biberg saw was wilderness all around, heavy green timber on all sides, no marked trails enywhere and the nearest road eight miles distant; the baying of a wolf, growling of a bear, the shrill whistling of a deer and the scolding of a squirrel were the only sounds that he could hear, while now within about three hundred feet from the same spot stands a $50,000 brick consolidated school, with. the flag of the United States floating high up in the breeze, created by the hundreds of acres of cleared and cultivated land around it, with graded and graveled roads radiating in every direction along which over 200 happy and contented youngsters are being hauled to and from that school in a roomy, comfortable motor bus! And in addition to that, another motor bus transports over sixty more matured students to a splendid Barnum high school! It is not necessary today to climb a flag-pole (there are no more trees in which to climb) in order to see all this and besides about a dozen or more farm houses from that histoircal spot. All is in plain view from the ground. What a contrast! And that tree-climbing pioneer is here with us today to see and visualize it all.

Going back to our historical narrative, we may state that the panic of 1892-96 which, by the way, made staunch Republicans of all the Finnish pioneers - caused many more to follow the trail blazed by Mr. Biberg and Erick Haikola. When work, food and money became scarce in the cities, these men and women, all in the prime of their lives, took to the woods. Rabbits and deer were plentiful, potatoes planted in the virgin soil did not know or care what party was in power in Washington, but grew to an enormous size to quench the pangs of hunger of a settler and his family who trusted in God and to his strong arm to wrest a living out of friendly nature, when other means failed. Herman Luusa, Erick Kouri (Lajon), Peter Heikura, Charles Nikkila, Joseph Winquist, Matt Jacobson Jankala. Ulrik Rautio, John Salma, Fred Maunula, Andrew Kowalski, John Sobczak, Ignats Dudek, Joseph Kaspszak, John H. Korhonen, Robert Gustafson, John Keinanen, Carl Mandelin, Carl Peterson, Henry Waisanen, Jacob Heiskari, Matt Mattila, John Riihiluoma, Henry Mattila, Gust Leppajarvi, Matt Mykkala Hendrickson, Isaac Erickson are among those who came between 1889 and 1893 to the northern part of present town of Silver. John Sobczak settled in 1888 and Herman Luusua in 1889. And the following came during that period to Kalevala and Automba: Erick Westerback, Joseph Mansikka, Henry Peters, Enok Erickson, Matt Korell, Jacob Sarvela, John Manni, Sr., Henry Wehmasto, Abram Wickman, Henry Marttila, Oscar Maki, John Nummela, Jacob Aho, Matt Ranua, Lars Johnson, Alex Hill, Isaac Trafti, John Wihela, Adam Kemppainen, Mike Niemela, John Mailund, Erick Jokimaki, William P. Johnson, John Hekkala, Abram Palo, Jacob Laitala, John Jarvenpaa (Jarves), Andrew Perala, Elias Johnson, Victor Erickson, Charles Koski, Otto Bjorklund, Matt Johnson, Arvid Krigsholm, John Rengo, Victor J. Maki, John G. Wiljanen, Matt Leppanen, Alex Mattson, Thomas Luusua, Levi Johnson, Lambert Hendrickson, John Karlson, Charles Wilen, Salomon Kahra, Charles Sulasalmi, Mattson, John S. Salmi, Matt Miller, Andrew Piippo. And in East Kalevala: Victor Sundell, John Lampsa, John Winter, Paul Winter, Gust A. Johnson, John Konsti, Charles Molin, Charles Johnson, Erick Dahlberg, M. Magnuson, John Holmi, John Nasi, Arvid Peura, Matt Aho and Matt Seppanen. If I have missed some, it was not intentionally.

We may cut short the story of the vicissitudes that the pioneers have gone through, which marks the development of the community. The school district No. 16 that has served the greatest part of this area, was organized July 30, 1894 - thirty-seven years ago, and the first school, so-called Mansikka school in section 30, was built in the spring of 1895. Since then the district has built ten school buildings and an additional classroom to the Mansikka school, one of them the new $51,000 brick consolidated school. Five of the schools were built after the 1918 forest fire to replace those that burned, and ones that no more fit to be used for that purpose.

The first road leading to Kalevala and Aitkin county line from Barnum was graded in 1901 - thirty years ago. Soo line railroad was built in 1909, and the Kettle River and Automba villages established soon thereafter. In 1901 a steel bridge was built across the Kettle River, paid for by the towns of Moose Lake, Kalevala and Split Rock, and by the state. Hon. Semer Swanson of Moose Lake, then our representative in the legislature, got an appropriation for the bridge.

The First Finnish Ev. Lutheran congregation was organized on March 13, 1892, at the residence of Herman Luusua. Erick Westerback was elected as chairman, John H. Peterson (Korhonen), clerk; deacons, Erick Westerback, John H. Peterson (Korhonen) and Tobias Oja, and as trustees, Enok Erikson, Robert Ostrom and Peter Fors. The St. Paul & Duluth Railroad company donated five acres in section 19 for cemetery purposes on Sept. 13, 1892 - exactly thirty-nine years ago.

Rev. E. V. Niemi has served the congregations in this community since the fall of 1900. His son, Richard V. Niemi, was ordained in this church on Dec. 31, 1922, taking care of the congregations here for several years. Erick Westerback, who on March 13, 1892, was elected as president, took care of the office until 1919 - twenty-seven years in succession! Since then Victor J. Maki has been president of the church.

The Finnish Public library was established in the fall of 1906 at the initiative of Jacob Manni.

Matt Johnson established Kalevala postoffice on his farm in the present town of Automba, about the year 1901, and the Salo postoffice was established at about the same time by Matt Ranua, who has since that time held the office of postmaster. Matt Lappanen and Herman Lampel served as postmasters at the Kalevala postoffice, which was discontinued in 1913, when Joseph Winquist established the Kettle River postoffice at the station. Rural free delivery was also established soon thereafter.

The first portable sawmill commenced operation about the year 1907, owned by Oscar Maki, Marttila Bros. and Frank J. Wilson. Up to that time most of the building material was sawed by hand. Mike Niemela & Sons built a wind flour mill at about the same time. The first threshing outfit was brought here by the Maki, Marttila and Wilson company about the year of 1907. Before that the old-fashioned flails had to be used. There being no roads, it was not possible to run a threshing machine.

On Oct. 12, 1918, a great calamity swept over this region in the form of a devastating forest fire. You all know about it, so it will not be necessary for me to dwell long in those sad memories. Many of the pioneers whose names are mentioned in the above list, lost their lives in the fire. It would take too long to go into the details of that catastrophe. I have obtained the names of the fire victims from the county records of Aitkin, Carlton, Pine and St. Louis counties and intend to publish the names in the local papers.

Mr. Pittenger, our congressman, is here with us and can tell you what work has been done and still remains to be done in order to get the balance of our fire losses paid. It is not an easy fight, but we hope he will succeed.

The last government census shows that there are at present in Kalevala 115 farms, in Automba sixty-one and in Silver township 134; the number of acres of crop harvested in Kalevala 2,771, in Automba 1,695, and in Silver 3,966, or a total of 310 farms in this area and a total of 8,432 acres of crops harvested in the three townships.

All this represents an enormous amount of labor performed by those pioneers and their descendants. Who can estimate the hardships they have gone through, trials and tribulations they have endured, and sacrifices thay have made for us who now may reap the benefits of their labors? We can not repay them and all we can do is to give them credit for it, and in a befitting manner show those of them who are still with us the honor and respect we owe them and thus they so well deserve.

I thank you.

Published in The Carlton County Vidette, Sept. 24, 1931.

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