Kansas Historical Quarterly - Swedish Settlement at Stotler
by Marie A. Olson
May 1935 (Vol. 4, No. 2), pages 155 to 163
Transcribed by lhn; additional HTML by Susan Stafford;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
IN A valley drained by Salt creek in northeastern Lyon county is a unique community which is inhabited by people of Swedish descent. This community is known by the name of Stotler. It is a rural community, but of a distinctive character. Most of the inhabitants are children and grandchildren of sturdy Swedes who chose Stotler as their place of abode back in the 1870's and 1880's.
The social as well as the religious life of the community centers in its two Swedish churches. One church bears the name of the Stotler Mission Church and the other is known as the Stotler Lutheran Church. Originally there was but one church in Stotler, but some thirty years ago dissensions arose in the congregation. Differences in regard to doctrinal beliefs caused a number of families to leave the Mission Church and to build another church nearby. These two churches adhere loyally to the faith brought by God-fearing fathers from Sweden. Even today scripture reading and prayer finds its place in the daily program of most homes. The people of Stotler like music, and singing is one of the leading community activities. Various musical organizations find important places in the churches.
The Swedish language has not yet been entirely abandoned. The older folks converse in Swedish and occasionally the younger folks speak Swedish with their parents. In most homes one finds both Swedish and English books. Swedish papers find their way into many of the homes. The Swedish language is still spoken in the churches, but the Swedish services have dwindled in number so that only one regular service each month is conducted in this language. Swedish is used almost exclusively in the Sunday School classes for the older people.
Old Swedish customs are still deeply cherished by both the old and young inhabitants. When a neighbor woman pays a friendly visit to a Swedish friend, the hostess serves the customary Swedish coffee. The hostess would consider it a breach of etiquette not. to adhere to this practice. At no time are Swedish customs better brought into play than at the Christmas season. Christmas Eve
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is the beginning of festivities. The celebration on this evening is entirely a family affair. Each family gathers at home for Christmas supper after which presents are exchanged around the Christmas tree. At 5:30 on Christmas morning the people, both old and young, gather at church for Christmas services. The old Swedish hymn "Var Halsad Skona Morgonstund" peals forth from the churches, which are lighted by Christmas candles. The old Christmas story is the text of the morning. These services are the height of the Swedish Christmas festivities. As the crimson rays break forth in the east, the worshippers turn their footsteps homeward. The remainder of Christmas Day is customarily spent in family groups. In the evening the children of the Lutheran Church give a program consisting of recitations and songs. A few evenings later a similar program is given by the Sunday School children of the Mission Church. These programs are the children's affairs and are events to which they eagerly look forward. Christmas festivities continue for about a week, during which time the various families invite relatives and friends to their homes. These much-loved Swedish customs will likely continue to be observed for years to come.
The land on which Stotler is located was once a part of the great territory claimed by the Osage Indians. In 1846 it became a part of the Indian reservation for the Sac and Fox Indians of the Mississippi. In 1859 the Sacs and Foxes agreed to sell the western half of their Kansas reservation and by the year 1864 this land was opened to white settlement. The region now included in Stotler was a part of this area. It was purchased by a land company in the East known as Seyfert, McManus & Company. This company later sold the land to private individuals.
When the first settler found his way to the community, the prairie region was the home of wild plants and animals which thrive on the Kansas plains. The red men roamed the region, and frequently pitched their tepees along Salt creek. Except for a few scattered trees along the creek, there was nothing to obstruct the view for a distance of many miles. An early trail (known as the Burlingame trail and the Lawrence-Emporia road) wound its way across the prairie from Burlingame, passed over the region which was to become Stotler, and then continued its way towards Emporia. Over this trail rolled numerous westwardbound prairie schooners, and now and then a government train carrying provisions for soldiers stationed in the western forts plodded over the prairie trail.
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It was some time in the latter sixties that the first settler followed this road to Salt creek and built his prairie home near its eastern bank by the side of the old trail. This first pioneer was France Cabbage. His brother, John Cabbage, later chose a site for his home on the other side of the creek. Two other Cabbage brothers, Sylvester and William, owned land in the neighborhood, but they never lived on it. The little huts in which the Cabbage families lived were typical frontier homes with rude furnishings. One old settler tells of having visited one of the Cabbage homes on a stormy day. Snow had blown in through the cracks in the poorly built house and lay in piles on the floor. Straw had been placed over the bed so that it might be kept dry. But it was not the Cabbages who were destined to make Stotler. Before many years passed, both families left the community.
In 1869 a young Swede, Claus Peterson, with his family, set out from Michigan to find a home in Kansas. After arriving in Ottawa, he set out on foot one morning to investigate the land in the vicinity of what is now Osage City. In the evening the weary and hungry Swede chanced to stop at the home of James Fagan, who was a land agent. After being shown the land in the region, young Peterson selected a site on Salt creek adjoining the claim of John Cabbage.
To this land Peterson brought his family and his youthful friend, A. P. Walstrom, with his family. The two young men in partnership bought one hundred acres and built a two-room house out of native lumber. This dwelling was a rude but with cracks between the boards and no ceiling. The stove pipe passed out through a hole in the roof. For three years the two families lived in this house, each occupying one room. Finally Walstrom decided to move on to his farm of fifty acres. Walstrom and Peterson then dissolved partnership and the former moved his room of the house to his farm.
The first years which these two Swedes spent on the Kansas plains were years of hardship. Both were extremely poor, but industrious. They paid for their land by cutting trees in the Fagan woods, located eight miles to the south. Burlingame, twelve miles away, was the first trading point for the families. Many times Peterson and Walstrom walked to this point and returned carrying what little provisions the families could afford to buy. One day Peterson purchased a plow, and walked home carrying the plow on his back. Finally, each of the men purchased a horse, and thus together they had a team. For four years the families of Peterson, Walstrom, and Cabbage were the only settlers in the community.
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These were years of hard work and privation. Now and then in their work the parents and children would pause to watch the white-topped wagons roll by. Scarcely a day passed but some wagon hurried by, and frequently they came in groups of twelve or fourteen. Oftentimes they camped by the creek and came to the Peterson home to ask for hay or other provisions. The prairie schooners were a welcome sight to the busy settlers.
Early in the spring of 1873 two Swedish-speaking families from Galesburg, Ill., came to Osage City in a freight car, which was loaded with stock and rude accommodations. The fathers, Magnus Lungren and John Sutherland, selected land in the neighborhood of Peterson and Walstrom, and immediately built a one-room shack. In this roughly built but the two families lived together for several months. Towards fall Lungren made a cave on his farm. In this cave the young Lungren family lived for several years. Before the coming of the winter Sutherland dug a cellar under his one-room hut. Thus he was better prepared for the winter snows. In that same year Johan Blex and his family took up their abode in a simple prairie home in this budding Swedish colony.
The following year, 1874, several more Swedes took their places among the homemakers of the community. These had come to Osage City in 1870 or 1871. In 1869 a Swedish committee had been sent out from Princeton, Ill., to investigate the possibility of buying land in the newly opened region in the neighborhood of what is now Osage City. The investigation and report of this committee led to the coming of numerous families. At first the men worked on the building of the Santa Fe railroad, which in 1870 had reached Osage City. Later they worked in the stone quarry and strip mines. The Swedish-speaking settlers who came to Stotler in 1874 were led by Swan Fager, who in February moved his family to the roughly built house in which the John Cabbage family had lived. Mr. Fager worked in the mines in Osage City and consequently was away from home most of the time. In the fall Mrs. Fager and her oldest son dug a cellar, over which they placed the one-room building. Early in the spring of that same year Gust Rudeen and his family built a simple but on the land which had been owned by France Cabbage. Others who turned their footsteps towards the Swedish settlement that year were Swan Lundholm, Andrew Chelberg, and C. I. Johnson, all of whom built caves as their first Stotler homes.
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The succeeding years saw a stream of other Swedish immigrants come to the community. Among those added to the list of residents appear such names as Lagergren, Anderson, Johnson, Fagerstrom, Hogberg, Ogren, Polson, Bergman, Ericson, Eastburg, Melgren, Sutherland, Lundstadt, Sanders, Christensen, and Olson.
The first years of life in Stotler were trying ones for these colonists. All the settlers were poor and could afford only the most meager living. Many times the meals consisted of black bread and coffee or mush and milk. Before wells were dug, water was taken from the creek. Farming did not progress rapidly. Each settler could at first break up only eight or ten acres. For a number of years corn was planted by hand, a hole being made with a hoe and the corn dropped in and then covered. This was customarily the children's task. Quite early some of the families commenced using hand planters. A two-shovel plow drawn by one horse served as the first cultivator. Corn, cattle, and hogs could not be sold for cash as they are today. Hence the settler would barter a hog or bushel of corn for clothing or groceries in Burlingame or Osage City. If he purchased a plow or other implement, he paid for it with cattle or hogs. Money was scarce, and interest rates were high. There were no banks nearby, and if money was to be borrowed, it had to be obtained from well-to-do individuals, who charged around 20 percent interest.
Since there were no fences to separate the various claims, the cattle were let out in the morning and allowed to roam at will. In the evening it was the task of the children to go after them. This was a chore which in pioneer days was not an easy one. Those who were boys and girls at that time relate how the cows sometimes wandered six or eight miles from home. Tales are told of times when the children were lost and did not find their way home until ten or eleven o'clock at night.
Many were the hardships that the Swedish pioneers suffered. Prairie fires were a constant hazard. Grasshoppers destroyed crops and left the pioneers destitute. Sickness took its tragic toll. In the community cemetery, which is today neglected and almost forgotten, lie the bodies of some seventy or eighty of these pioneer Swedes. Many of them were children who were unable to withstand the hardships of pioneer life. Many incidents are related about the hardships which the Swedes suffered when working in the Fagan woods. The men's bedding was spread on boards in the
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open air. In the morning they often awoke to find several inches of snow on their beds.
The hardships of pioneer life fell equally heavy on the women. It was their task to care for the homes during the long weeks when the men were away working. Bravely they met the Indians when they came to the doors to beg for food. An incident is told of an Indian who came to the John Sutherland home when the young wife was alone with her infant. After eating what he wished, lie lay down by the stove. The young wife had outside work which she had to attend to so with heavy heart she left the child alone with the Indian. After finishing her work, she anxiously rushed in to see if her child was still alive. To her great surprise and joy, she found the Indian quietly rocking the crying child. The Indian slept behind the stove during the night and left early the following morning.
The inconveniences and fears of pioneer life were many. There were no calendars in the homes and this often resulted in a confusion of days. The story is related of a man in the settlement who started to Osage City one day with a load of potatoes. As he was passing his neighbor's house, he was informed that. it was Sunday. (The Sabbath was strictly observed in this community.) On another Sunday visitors to one of the homes found the housewife washing, and it was with difficulty that the guests could persuade her that it was not a week day. There was also an absence of newspapers. It happened one day that the cavalry returning from one of the Indian wars passed through the community. Some of the settlers thought that war was commencing. One mother became so frightened that she took her children and with them she hid in the cornfield. In the earliest days of the community letters had to be mailed at Osage City or Burlingame. This was a great inconvenience. Early one morning a woman from Rapp, a neighborhood east of Stotler, arrived at the Lagergren home. This woman had arisen at three o'clock and had walked the five miles to Stotler in order that she might receive assistance in writing a letter to her husband. After writing her letter, she returned to Rapp, and then walked five miles to Osage City to mail her letter.
The Swedish pioneers were sincere Christians, and immediately upon establishing their homes they began assembling in the various homes for the purpose of reading and studying the Bible. Each home had its daily period of Bible reading and prayer. As soon as the school was built the pioneers commenced having services
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there. Frequently traveling preachers visited the settlement. Rev. C. P. Melgren, one of the settlers in the community, was called as the first pastor.
One of the earliest projects in the community was the building of a school. This was done in 1874. The site was a treeless hillside. The building was small and had but three small windows on each side. Desks and seats were made of rough native lumber. A rudely built teacher's desk and a stove were also installed. To this rudely furnished school, eight pupils came during the first year.
Before many years elapsed a post office was established in the Swedish community. It was named in honor of Jacob Stotler of Emporia, who was influential in its establishment. The post office of Stotler was first located in the home of A. P. Walstrom, later in the S. P. Lundholm home, and still later in the William Sanders home. The Stotler post office was used until the starting of the rural routes from Osage City in 1901. For many years a mail wagon brought the mail from Osage City on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. When the railroad reached Miller, the mail was taken from there. The first survey of the Missouri Pacific Railroad crossed Stotler and hopes were at once raised that Stotler would become a town, but these hopes were soon doomed to disappointment.
By the eighties and nineties the second generation had begun to play a prominent part in the life of the community. In the early eighties the school building became too small to accommodate all the pupils and consequently a larger building was erected. The number of pupils in the school at one time reached seventy-five, and for a number of years the enrollment ranged between sixty and seventy. Usually three pupils sat in each seat in those days.
Among the subjects taught were reading, arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, spelling, and penmanship. From this list the pupils were permitted to select almost any subjects they pleased. Spelling and penmanship were the most popular. For a number of years the school term was six months in length. Pupils did not attend regularly. The larger boys and girls sometimes attended for only two or three months during the winter season. There was no such event as graduation. Consequently, boys and girls continued to go to school until they were twenty or twenty-one years old. The first. examinations in the Stotler school were not given until the term of 189-1896. At that time the pupils thought that it was a terrible ordeal to answer questions over a whole month's work. Pupils were not placed in grades and no report
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cards were given until 1898. Before that time the pupil's progress in school was designated by his being in the First, Second, Third, Fourth, or Fifth Reader. The Stotler school during those years was made up almost entirely of Swedish pupils. Much to the displeasure of the teacher the pupils talked Swedish continually on the playground.
For many years the social center of Stotler was the school. It was the scene of many happy events in the eighties and nineties. There were singing schools, which met at the school and which attracted large crowds of young folks. Then there were night schools in which various subjects were taught. There were also literary meetings, which were the highlights of social life. It is said that young folks within a radius of eight or ten miles would wend their ways to the Stotler school for "Literary." The programs of the literary society varied, but of most interest were the debates, and the ciphering and spelling matches. Ordinarily the young folks walked to these events. Family visiting was not was common. It was not unusual for a father and mother to load their family of six or ten children into the lumberwagon and go to visit. a neighboring family.
The church which was organized when the first pioneers came to Stotler prospered. Until 1892, the year in which the Mission Church was built, services were held in the schoolhouse. These meetings were well attended although almost everyone walked to services. Groups of twenty-five or thirty young folks would leave the school together and would have a hilarious time on their way home. Even prayer meetings were well attended in those days. Of outstanding interest were the "Mission Meetings," which were held almost every year. Swedish-speaking people from other towns came. They were met in Osage City and were taken to Stotler in lumberwagons. Houses were small and since there were not. enough beds to accommodate floors of the various homes. Sometimes the guests, many of them slept on the several preachers came to the meetings. The buildings in which the services were held were packed with listeners. Revivals frequently broke out at these meetings. Oftentimes the settlers in Stotler went to Osage City to attend revival meetings. It happened quite often that the fathers loaded their families into lumberwagons, drove the ten miles to Osage City, and returned after the meeting in the evening.
As the years passed the colonists in Stotler prospered. The rude huts gave way to larger houses. Large fields of corn and wheat. appeared. Trees grew up around the homes. Roads were laid out
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and bridges built. The telephone found its way into most homes. Daily newspapers brought news from distant places. Today Stotler is a typical rural community in outward appearance. The Swedes have built a community which fills its place in Kansas. The Swedish descendants are loyal Kansans, but proud of their Swedish heritage. Many Swedish ideas and customs are so firmly entrenched in the hearts of the young folks that they will be an influence in the community for years to come.
1. Historic facts and incidents for this article have been obtained from the oldest Swedish settlers now living in Stotler, and have been agreed upon by more than one reliable individual. Only such material was used as appeared to have its truth definitely established.