Olav Knutson Runningen was born about 1757, married Bergit Tovsdatter in 1784 and moved to the Ovland, or Overland, farm in the early 1800's. The Overland farm lies part way up a mountain in a picturesque area in central Telemark between Seljord and Kviteseid. They had nine children-- Knut, Tov, Jacob, Kari, Hølje, Guro, Johannes, Aslak and Knud. Kari and Hølje and their families set off for America in 1843 and were the first group to leave Kviteseid Parish. They bought land in Wisconsin where they formed the Skoponong Settlement. Six years later, in 1849, Johannes' oldest son, Ole Johanneson, also came to America and settled in Skoponong.
In the spring of 1851, Johannes and wife Tone, with their other six children, made preparations to go to America, too. They sold their property, packed up food, clothing and equipment, and made their way to Kragero, a southern port from which the ship would depart. One hundred sixty-two passengers from over twenty families boarded the ship "Columbus" and left on the 22nd of May, 1851 to spend seven weeks at sea. The goodbyes were extremely difficult. Most of the passengers realized they would never again see their mother country of Norway. The rig "Columbus" was classified as a bark weighing 366 ton. The ship had four levels. Top-- kitchen and deck. Second-- First class lounge and rooms. Third-- Steerage passengers. Fourth-- the hold for baggage. The fiddlers were kept busy on the trip as the halling and spring dance were done on the deck and possibly in the steerage. When there was a storm, the consolation was singing of hymns. The bunks on each side of the ship held five people, each in a sitting position. Generally there was less space in width and trunks were used as tables and benches. Quarters became very close when the hatches had to be closed. With the rough weather, nearly everyone became very sick. People also suffered from the lack of fresh air. On six of the seven Sundays, the weather permitted church services on board. Pastor Preus preached the sermon competing with the wind whistling through the sails.
The sighting of land was wonderful after seven weeks at sea. They waited in port three days to be cleared by the doctor. The farmers were transferred to barges for the trip up the Hudson River and on to the Erie Canal. On the canal, the whole company was packed down in a single canal boat, baggage and all. First the cartons were packed down in the boat, then the baggage on top, and the people uppermost. It took nine full days on the canal. From Buffalo to Milwaukee by steamer took four days. Altogether the trip from New York to Milwaukee took fourteen days.
The Johannes Overland family stayed at the A. C. Preus parish for two months at the Koshkonong settlement which consisted of a house on twenty acres located on the west side of section 20 in Christiania Township 3/4 mile east of Utica on County Trunk B. The family then went to the Skoponong Settlement, where son Ole Overland had come in 1848. In 1853 the company of Johannes Overland family, Ole Overland family, Halvor Erickson, Karl Rui with children Hans and Kari, and Harold Rue family left the Skoponong Settlement and traveled west. Their wagons were pulled by oxen; the wheels were made of solid sections of oak logs. They probably also had two wheel carts for some of the provisions. The men drove the animals-- some walked and some rode. The trip of 200 miles to Iowa took about three weeks. The route took them through Madison which was a little village at that time. Those who had room enough slept under the wagon covers; the others slept on the bare ground under the wagons.
The Wisconsin River had to be crossed on a small ferry boat. The propelling power was furnished by a horse placed on a tread-power which worked the paddle wheels. Only one wagon and a team at a time could be taken aboard. The herd of loose cattle had to swim over the river. The ferry boat at Prairie Du Chien was larger and propelled by four-mule power. The Mississippi River was wide and much time was taken to get everything across.
They set out north and west, coming to the Washington Prairie settlement in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Here they found land, and proceeded to build a dugout 3/4 mile northeast of Calmar, Iowa where they stayed for the winter. As the available land had been taken in this area, Ole Overland and Halvor Erickson set out to explore the region in Minnesota of which they had heard reports from others. This was done in spite of rumors that it was too cold a place to raise corn and other crops; also there were reports of danger of unfriendly Indians. They came to Highland Prairie and were impressed with its possibilities. There was no available water supply, so they continued northward to the Root River. In this valley, west of what became known as Rushford, they found two Norwegian settlers, Halvor Goodrich and Ole Tuff. These men came that same year directly from Norway by way of McGregor and Decorah, Iowa and had taken claims on the south side of the river.
Overland and Erickson were favorably impressed with the desirability of the Root River Valley. After some deliberation, however, the attractiveness of Highland Prairie drew them back there to explore its possibilities. They returned by a more westerly route. As they were preparing to camp for the night, they discovered a little spring of water trickling out of a hillside. Having found a source of water supply, they returned to Calmar for the winter, planning to return in the spring of 1854 to stake claims. On their return, they could report in glowing terms of having found an ideal place in which to settle-- Highland Prairie, Minnesota.
In March of 1854, Johannes Overland, his three sons; Ole, Knud and Steinar, future son-in-law Halvor Erickson Overland, nephew Hans Franson Rue, and Hans' cousin, Harold Olson Rue, set off with oxen and wagons to stake their claims in Section 15 and 16. The first dwelling on the Prairie, a sod thatched shelter measuring fourteen feet wide and eighteen feet long, was built for the Johannes family. Hans Franson claimed the distinction of having felled the first tree on Highland Prairie as they joined together in the task of providing material for the shelter. Completing the structure in April, they returned for their families. The actual settlement of Highland Prairie took place May 18, 1854 when the families arrived.
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