Stjørdalens krønike – Bok 11
Hans Olav Løkken

1888 Killed by the lightning

They hardly noticed what was happening, perhaps a very short intense pain – so become everything black. With lightning speed, in the double sense, the couple turned into two charred sticks. In a bed – not to say a primitive box, was the 8-month-old Clara. She registered perhaps that something happened, but no more. The little house, which consisted of partial soil, stones and planks – began to burn. At the same time opened up the sky, and rain poured down with a quantity, strength and intensity that can only happen far out there on the prairie in North Dakota. The fire had hardly started before it in a way sputtered out. The couple never got a chance to understand what hit them. Now they lay on the floor as smoking blocks of wood, while their daughter went on her little gurgle in the bed that stood in the only corner that was not damaged.


To the left:: Kåre Olav Skolmli on the scenery in september 2011.
To the right: Todays owners of the farm: Joe, Bonnie og Jim Halvorson.

We are writing the 29 of June 1888, in a small house, most like a mud hut – about 15 miles north of Hunter in Cass County, North Dakota, a small town outside of Fargo. Today they will say a few miles east of Galesburg, on the farm belonging to the family Joe & Bonnie Halvorson. Here had Ola Ulstad and his wife Lina tried to establish a small estate. They had both emigrated from Norway, Ola from Skjelstadmark in Hegra in Stjordal (by Trondheim). What happened this Friday seems pretty clear. A storm was sweeping over the prairie, as if from nowhere – and disappeared just as quickly. The small family went of course in while the storm blew over. Ola was about to settle in the oven.


Suddenly lightning struck, hit Ola and Lina – who was killed and found quite charred on the floor. In the bed, their little daughter was lying, while the fire ravaged the frail house a few seconds. The sequence of events – as regarding the cause and the outcome – is pretty obviously, but the related traditional narratives have different angles.

One version, which is reproduced in short newspaper notes from that time, is as follows: Some of the neighbors saw that the house of Lina and Ola was on fire, and went immediately over, where they found the couple dead, while their daughter lay in the bench. Another version suggested that Mr. Cale (neighbor) would have been the first who came there the next day – when he did not saw smoke from the chimney, as normally was. A third version given in the book «Nothing but Norwegian – That’s me», written by his niece, Amanda Olga Ulstad Key (daughter of Gunnar / Gunder Ulstad) – indicates that the incident was not discovered until three days later, whereupon they found the little daughter lying babbling in bed. In all versions, it seems clearly that the lightning had come down the chimney and killed the couple instantly. They were found bad criticism. A fire was clearly devastated, but died out due to large and heavy rainfall. The bed bench where the little baby was found was intact.

It is said that the parents of Ola arrived from Norway that day the incident took place, to settle down with his son who had emigrated some years earlier. Ola had sent money to get his parents to America (prepaid tickets). A remarkable convergence – which doubles the tragedy. A newspaper note claimed that they were picked up by their son Gunnar – brother of Ola, who drove them out to the farm. Another note suggested that they arrived just in time to attend the funeral. It is dramatic enough here. I have not succeeded in finding documentation on the parents presence. They are not found in any ship lists or protocols in general. The newspaper notes indicate that Gunnar went home to Norway the following year (1889) to attend his mother’s funeral. Correctly: their mother died that year, but that time factor regarding letter/travel times – should not imply that it was possible to «arrive at a funeral.» My contacts within the family Ulstad, both directly descending from Clara (the baby who survived) – as well as within the family of Gunnar, is totally unknown of the parents presence in America. Nevertheless, there is something strange that this drama and remarkable accuracy – associated with the parents – was described in local newspapers just a few days after the incident – if it were not true!

Now, when I go on to point out the real family relationships in America and Stjørdalen – to put these people into our county history, and refer to the current generation in Norway, so do not think that the story is over. Stay tuned – the drama within the family Ulstad who emigrated, is not over yet. But first: Who were these persons?


Ulstad østre.

We are going to the farm Ulstad east in Skjelstadmark in Hegra. The owners today are family Toverød, consisting of mother, Siri Aursand (b. 1966) and father Vidar Toverød (b. 1962) with children: Siv (b. 1989), Ida (b. 1991), Vegard (b. 1994) and Ingvild (b. 1998). They took over the farm in 1997, 60 years after the farm was bought into the family by grandfather Arne Johan.


People from Ulstad østre.
From the left: Vidar Toverød, VegarD (17), Siri Aursand og Ingvild (13)

On Ulstad east, we meet the couple Lars Olsen Ulstad (b.1821 – d.1898) and Mali Mikkeldaughter Avelsgaard Ulstad (b.1822 – d.1889). They had 8 children. The oldest was called Sollaug (b.1847) and will include ancestor of Ivar Lerfald (see later). The second oldest girl, Mary Ulstad – was born on the 1 of March 1850. She emigrated with her sister, Mette (b.1867) in 1888, probably also Oline, who was the youngest child in the crowd. Ola Ulstad (killed by lightning) was born on the 6 of October 1852. He emigrated through the «prepaid ticket» (paid ticket in America) on the 14 of May 1884 on the ship «Hero» and destination was Hunter, ND. He later settled down in Norman Twp at Galesburg. His brother Gunnar was born on the 21 of May 1860. Gunnar Larsen Ulstad the registry who emigrate to America on 17 in April 1881. He left Norway on the 20th of May on the ship «Tasso.» His goal was Red Wing, MN. Probably it was he and his brother Oluf who paid the tickets for their siblings later. Gunnar went later north to Grand Forks, ND. From there he wandered on foot (90 miles) with two friends from Norway: Thom Thopson (Thorstein Brattås) and Petter Kjelbergsen, to Devils Lake to stake out their «claims». So they walked back to Grand Forks and took their possessions, etc. They settled down about 7 miles north of Devils Lake. In 1901 he returned to Norway and Hegra. It is said that he then and there fall in love with the 20 years younger Sylvia Amalia Johnsdatter Grendahl. She came with him back to America on the 12 of March 1902 on the ship Salmo – and they married in Devils Lake the following year. Within the family Ulstad Keys in California, it is claimed that the marriage was not approved. There was apparently a shock to peasant/farm family in Hegra that Gunnar could pick a «husmann»girl. Amanda Keys has even pointed out in her book that the priest in Hegra could refuse to marry a farm girl with a «husmann» son. It seems that the storyteller has gone well far back in history….!


Gunnar Ulstad and his family in America.

Gunnar and his upcoming family lived then in the early years in Bartlett, Minnewaukan (Odessa & Stevens Twp, Ramsey County, ND). Later they moved to California, where Gunnar died on the 5 of November in 1929 in Oroville, Butte. The daughter of Gunnar, Amanda Olga Ulstad (b.1911 – d.2008) is the one that has that family history – through her book. Her son, Richard C. Keys (b.1948) from Sacramento, CA is my main source regards Gunnar-branch. – Oluf Ulstad, b.1864, was the last of the kids on Ulstad east. He emigrated together with Gunnar in 1881. In 1912 he married 25-year-younger Johanne Reinertson from Egersund. Oluf died of Spanish flu in 1918, leaving two children: 5-year-old Myrtle and son Leonard Ulstad of four. Myrtle married in November 1937 with Willie Hanson. They are the parents of my source in Edmore: Donald Hanson. The latter’s grandfather, then, was the brother of the killed Ola. Beyond this, Gail Melland in Edmore have to be mentioned, both as a source for me – but also as the author (together with Dorothy Johnson) of a «local history» of Edmore of great value in every way. This book I have taken from her as a donation to the library in Stjordal.


Helpers, from the left: Reni Hanson, Donald Hanson, Dorothy Johnson, Rodney Melland and Gail Melland

It is naturally no contact between the people of Ulstad and related persons in America. Either to family here in the valley today, represented by, among others: families Ivar Lerfald, Svein Lerfald and Sivert Avelsgaard. The parents of Ola, who was killed by the lightning (and the others who emigrated from Ulstad east) – is great-great-grandparents to Ivar and Svein Lerfald, Hegra – and the grandparents of Ola are the great-great-great-grandparents to Sivert Avelsgaard. As to the other Ulstad farm (west) – there is nothing left. But relatives of Ulstad west is alive and well done in America, and has visited Hegra several times, including Meredith Ulstad from Minneapolis – who the undersigned has met on a family reunion in Thoresen family in Wanamingo, MN – another family who emigrated from Skjelstadmark.


From the left: Sivert Avelsgaard, Edith Lerfald, Svein Lerfald, Aud Marit Lerfald and Ivar Lerfald (11. juli 2011)

Let us return to what has caused most time and resources in terms of research of the Ulstad people in North Dakota, namely the claim that the parents of the killed Ola came to America. Ref. including Fargo Daily News on Wednesday the 4 of July 1888, page 4. Both here and in other newspaper articles, it is claimed that the parents Lars and Mali came to America. Gunnar, the brother of Ola – took them out to the ranch the same day as the lightning struck down (Friday), or to the funeral (here blends the newspapers a bit). A note says that they arrived Saturday at Hunter. Gunnar had met his parents in St. Paul and bringing them north. This was a pretty long distance at the time, but time-wise it was quite possible since that in 1887 they opened the railway on the route from Minneapolis to Fargo. The newspaper writes that the parents had to turn back and go back to Norway. But Mali and Lars Ulstad is not found on any ship lists either west or east. Mali dies in Hegra on the 4 of October 1889. The ones I’ve managed to get in contact with in Ulstad family in America – is totally unknown to this. That in itself proves nothing, since various family branches from those who emigrated from eastern Ulstad in Skjelstadmark does not have much contact. Nevertheless, my conclusion about what is in the newspapers and approximately lies in the tradition of the story I have had access to, is that there is considerable doubt about the presence of the parents in America. At the same time it seems «someone» have come across. It is too strange that the newspapers should have invented this story. Could it therefore be a mix of parents? Was it the parents of Lina – not Ola, the newspapers had intended to mention? My assistant, the very clever Jean Marthaler in St. Cloud, MN – have done some research for me and come up with results that makes us come to the right track, implied: the parents referred to in the newspapers was Linas. The Lundeen family, descendants of the baby Clara – have the same skilled Margit Bakke of Flom found for me.


Til venstre: Jean Marthaler
Til høyre: Margit Bakke


Hattremsøien. (Photo: Egil Ulateig)


Bentdalen early 1900.


The Jackobson family.
Back from the left: John, Joise Ida, Carl, Anne
In the front from the left: Clara, father Hans, Helmer, mor Mari.

Let us therefore move towards Lesja and Dovre. There, we meet first at Dovre a Hans Johansen Killi, b.1828 in Lesja parish. He marries Anne Jorgensdaughter, b.1835. They will include a son named Iver Hansen Bentdalen. He emigrated to America in 1883 and is buried in Elm Cemetery in Galesburg, only a few miles from where Ola and Lina Ulstad lived. Together with Iver, emigrated also probably his sister Mari Hansdaughter, b.1862. In 1865 this family seems to live on the site creek in Dovre (Dombas). – On Hattremsoien in Lesja lived in 1865 Jacob Johannessen, b.1824 and his wife Kari, b.1825. They had 6 children and takes care of the father of Jacob, the 67-year-old Johannes Jacobsen. Among the children we find Hans Jakobsen, b.1856 and Tolina Jacobsdaughter, b.1861. These two kids on Hattremsoien emigrated to America in 1883, probably in company with Iver and Mari from Dombås mentioned above, though a note in the family claims that Hans emigrated in 1865. Tolina seems to have changed her name to Lina and now uses the surname Oien, not unusual since they came from a place called Oien under Hattrem.


To the left: Weddingphoto of Hans og Mari
To the right: Mari and her brother Iver Bentdalen.

In America, Hans Jacobson (now with -son) from Hattremsoien on Lesja married Mari/Mary from a space under the Bentdalen in the hamlet called the Backside of Dombas. Sister of Hans, Lina Øien – married our Ola Ulstad from Hegra. These two pairs lived next to each other north of Hunter, outside Galesburg, North-Dakota. After a few years, the kids in America are sending money back to Lesja – for tickets to their parents (prepaid), to get them to come and live with them. Therefore on the 9 of June 1888, emigrated Jacob and Kari Johannessen Jacobsen, parents of Lina Oien Ulstad. This couple had  destination Hunter, which was the address of Lina and Ola. They went through Trondheim, Hull, Liverpool and Canada. Then down the Great Lakes and the Mississippi to Red Wing. As to St. Paul where possibly Gunnar, brother of Ola – met them (as a newspaper note indicated). The tragic accident took place on Friday the 29 of June. That correspond therefore, quite well with what is in the two newspaper articles, that parents of – not Ola, who is written in the papers, but Lina – came the same day to Hunter as the lightning killed their daughter and son in law. Or, as another newspaper writes, came the day they were buried. Nevertheless, a remarkable coincidence in most double sense. After the tragedy affected Lina and John, – Marit & Hans Jacobson took care of the 8-month-old baby, Clara. Hans Jacobson was her uncle. Jacobson family later moved a few miles further north to Broadlawn Township of Hope in Steele County, ND.


From the left: Hans Nyhagen, Jan Magne Dalseth, Jan Harald Eide, Asbjørn Bentdal and Harald Bekken.

Relations with Lesja & Dovre are many more than I have tracked down. Hattremsoien in the Lesja book is called Upper Oien under Hattrem. And the Bekken at Dombas is under Nordre Blaestru, and from Bentdalen. Through family relationships to these farms, I have found that great grandparents to the two cousin Harald Bekken and Asbjorn Bentdal at Dombås – are grandparents to Mary Hansdaughter, who married Hans Jacobson Oien, brother of Tolina Jacobsen (Lina Øien Ulstad). That means also that the parents of Mari Hansdaughter are the great grandparents to Asbjorn Bentdal and Jan Eide. The latter very clever on genealogy, and the source and copyright to some of the pictures used in this chapter. Grandparents of the killed Lina Ulstad are the  great-great-great-grandparents to Jan Magne Dalseth at Lesja and great-great-grandparents of Hans Nyhagen, Dombås.

Another family relationship is on Averoy in Romsdal. These are descendants of Johannes Hattremsoien. Ref. Bygdebok for Lesja, volume 3, page 256. Johannes is the brother of Lina who was killed by lightning (printed Tolina in church records). Johannes and his wife Kari settled down into the valley called Eikesdal. Among their four children, we find Kristine (1883-1985). She marry Torvald Kirkevag. Two of their grandchildren are Turid Kiristine Engevik Rake and Jan Kirkevag.


Turid Råke and Jan Kirkevåg.

The story has been on file with Kjell Erik Pettersson (Chairman Stjordal historical society pr. 2011) as only a few key words, a few lines. It probably comes from Ivar Vaernesbranden or Jon Leirfall. Some have probably tried to find related persons and the «History» in America. Others did not believe so much on this randomness and did not care so much about the note. In multiple decades, there has therefore only been a note that told of a Ola Ulstad who was killed by lightning on the same day as his parents came to America. A pretty unique story, with a curious coincidence. Imagine coming to her daughter in America, with tickets paid for by her husband, to get parents to come to a better life in America. They emigrated and arrived at the same time as the daughter and son in law are killed by lightning. The story is thus true, earlier local historians have only been on the wrong track with regard to parental couple. The drama and remarkable accuracy become no less – because of that.


Mary Berg Reed, Dick Reed og Betty Jane Berg, 20. sept. 2011.

Let’s look at today’s family in America: Parents of Lina, who came over in 1888 to live with their daughter, seems to have continue to Hudson, WI – where other family members settled, including daughter Kari (f.1859 ), who was married to Marcus Solheim from Sel. Kari met Marcus when she served in Trondheim. They married in 1882. In the census of 1900 are both Jacob (f.1824) and Kari (f.1825) lodgers at their daughter’s family in Hudson. Ten years later, only the grandmother Kari is mentioned. Probably, has Jacob died. Marcus & Kari had a daughter who was christened Stella Solheim, later married Berg. From her comes Robert Berg, who was married to Betty Jane. This couple again are the parents of today’s Mary Berg, wife of Dick Reed of Stillwater east of St.Paul/Minneapolis. In October 2011, Kåre Olav Skolmli and I were their guests. An unforgettable stay with a wealthy and very nice family. Jacob & Kari from Hattremsoien, who experienced the tragedy of their daughter Lina (who was killed by lightning), is thereby the great-great-grandparents of Mary Berg Reed. She and her family did not know about the tragedy that struck their relative, nor anything about the Lesja and Dombås part of the family. However, they had very good overview of the Solheim lineage from Sel, who they have visit and maintained contact with.


To the left: Eunice Lundeen Hajicek, Grandchildren ofv Clara.
To the right: Jerry (grandchildren of Clara) and Marilyn Lundeen.

Great-great-grandparents of Mary is also the great-great-grandparents of Allan, Jerry, Eunice and Renae Lundeen. These, except for Jerry, I’ve met in Grand Forks and Prior Lake. I struggled for months to establish contact with the Lundeen family. But when it finally was established, the family branch showed a zeal and commitment of the extraordinary. Allan Lundeen and his charming wife, Teryl – came up from Chicago to Prior Lake just to meet me, and then turn around and drive back the same evening / night, a distance of 428 miles one way. It tells not so little! Lundeen family had no knowledge of the tragedy that struck their great-grandparents. Lundeen and Reed families do not know each other (no interchangeable), even though they have common great-great-grandparents from Norway. This is not unusual. The Jacobson family (from Dombas) and several of its descendants are buried in Elm Cemetery in Galesburg, ND. Despite great efforts I have not succeeded to find the graves of Lina and Ola who were killed by the lightning, but local residents in Galesburg believes that because of their condition – they were buried at the scene immediately afterwards.


In the front, from the left: Jillian Lawrence (7), Jadyn Lawrence.
In the midle from the left: Teryl Lundeen, Jacquelyn Lawrence, Joshua Lawrence, Renae Lundeen Lawrence
In the bach, from the left: Allan Lundeen and David Lawrence.

Parents to Lina who was killed by lightning, are the great-great-grandparents of Mary Berg Reed. Mary Berg Reed is the daughter of the third cousin to Hans Nyhagen. Mary Berg Reed is four cousin to Jan Magne Dalseth, also third cousin to Allan, Eunice, Jerry and Renae Lundeen and Turid Råke. The four mentioned from the Lundeen family are third cousins to Turid Råke,  Svein and Ivar Lerfald and four cousin to Sivert Avelsgaard.


Clara, who survived the lightning strike, married Gustav Lundeen, and had five children: Lester, Lillian, Kindred, Helen and Sidney. In 1910 Clara and Gustav took over the space (farm) after aunt Marit at Triumph Twp Edmore in Ramsey County, ND. Here they lived until 1922, when they moved to Grand Forks. Clara died in October 1963 and is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Grand Forks. Youngest son, Sidney Lundeen (1921-2006) had four children, of which I have visited Eunice. She is married Hajicek and lives on the outskirts of Grand Forks. Likewise, as mentioned – I have met Renae and Allan, also grandchildren of Clara. – Lester, the firstborn of Clara (grandson of Ola and Lina) was born on the 14  of January 1910 and died 16 of March 1989. His family was hit hard on the 30 of March 1960 when three of his sons and their mother died in a fire at home in Grand Forks. These were: Rodney (5), George (10) and Harris (15). Two of the children were found in 2. floor and one in the basement. In addition, two daughters: Linda (2) and Donna (11) – very severely fire damaged, marked for life. It had all started at half past six in the morning when neighbors heard an explosion, probably from an oven. Family with roots from Hegra and Lesja / Dombas was then again strucked by the dangerous forces of nature. But it does not end there.


The latter tragedy brings us in fact back to the sisters who emigrated from eastern Ulstad at Hegra in 1888, some years after the brothers had pulled over, except Michal who took over the farm. Marit, Mette and probably Oline, first ends up in Zumbrota. After a while, all the kids from Ulstad gathered around Edmore, North Dakota. Marit arrived as 45-year-old in 1895 as a housekeeper for her brother Oluf that remained single until 1912, while Mette marries John Hastad. Marit remained unmarried, and after some years, she got a little farm for herself. Perhaps had Johanne, coming bride to brother Oluf, started to make her entrance. It is said that Marit was a hard-maiden, working like a man, but apparently a little stubborn. Her upbringing in Skjeldstadmark in Hegra during 38 years before she emigrated, had clearly left its mark, where she was going unmarried, hard working and tear for others.


Donald Hanson ved grava til Marit, 26. september 2011.

We are writing Wednesday 12 of January 1910. A farmer named J W Wheeler was about 7 miles south of Edmore to drive home some hay from a barn – when he becomes aware of a little color contrast, most as a small bump on the otherwise snow polished prairie. That something came drifting, froze and stayed there mostly as a term note – was not unusual. But this time it was different, no common fixed frozen bush or branch, who built itself up to the nature’s own statue. Normally he would not have bothered, but something catches his curiosity. A number of tracks of wild animals, probably coyotes. Then he remembers the last days of topic downtown, stopped the horse and moved toward what he already knew he would find.

Saturday, the 1st New Year’s day – had started with a very strong wind, it was icy cold. Nevertheless, Marit Ulstad left her farm and walked the 6,7 miles to the city, struggling in the strong and cold wind. Out on the prairie, there was nothing to hide behind. Her mission was to seek out Mr. Dougherty to collect payment for some animals she had sold him. Before she left town again, she visited the butcher and bought a piece of meat. This seems somewhat surprising, given that 1 New Year’s Day is a red day (public holiday). But such was not the case in 1910. It was probably a red day first in 1951. –

The weather had picked up, and several warned Marit against going home alone. She should sit in with her brother Oluf, who also was in town that morning, it was said. Yes, in fact, she reportedly refused the offer to sit in the sled with her brother. Marit Ulstad never came home again.


At Elm cemetery in Galesburg, 24. september 2011, Hans, Mari, Iver and the others from the Jacobson family are burried. Heplers from the left: Janice Olstad, Don Olstad and Viola Rygh.

She was found 11 days later, frozen to death at a distance from her home. Probably she had lost direction in the storm, become exhausted and the dangerous and harsh nature deprived her life, which had started 60 years earlier in Hegra, Norway. It is said that the prairie renovation, Coyote – had left her alone, very strange. Her sisters and brothers had long earnestly asked Marit to come and stay with them. Evidence indicates that nobody missed Marit the first few days. It can be interpreted on the basis that the search party found some cows on the farm that had died of hunger and thirst.


Lars Olsen Ulstad born. 04.01.1821 – death. 06.10.1898, father of Ola, Gunnar, Oluf and Marit

A story can lay there for many decades – for us for over 100 years. A note will be stowed away, a reputation of choking, a traditional story is forgotten. No ties between family joints on opposite sides of the Atlantic. A story in itself with an overly curious coincidence. Some researchers are on the wrong track and give up. The sheet is moved further and further down the stack, both literally and figuratively. The paper note yellowing. Lessons learned: do not think anything is impossible in terms of wrong / right place at the wrong / right time. And do not throw away an historical note. One day some passing by ………

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