Lowell and Janet Madsen have a cottage on the west shore of Upper Gar Lake. Upper Gar is the passageway to East Okoboji from Lower Gar and Lake Minnewashta. Their site has several advantages in that they do not have to remove their dock or boat hoist for the winter but on the other hand it is very shallow. This year is a trial due to the lack of rain. You might remember Lowell as he and Tom O’Brien were proprietors of a business concern at Fostoria called Sid & Sam’s Floor Covering. Lowell never did tell me if he was Sid or Sam. Lowell lent me a very interesting piece of history; it is a “My Story” about his uncle Andrew Madsen. I hope you are as intrigued with his story as I am.
Andrew Madsen was born in Denmark in 1895 and passed away in 1974 at the age of 79. He is buried at East Chain Lutheran Church cemetery in Minnesota.
“I arrived in America from Denmark in May 1909 as a young boy of 14 years old, ready to make my new home in America. I made my home at Uncle John’s, one mile north of East Chain, Minnesota. The first summer I worked here and there for 50 cents a day. In the fall I worked at Amber Lake Nursery and, in the spring of 1910, I started working for Uncle Peter Lauritzen a few miles south of Fairmont and received $18 a month. In the summer and in the winter, I worked for my board and went to school to learn the English language. The next year we moved west of Fairmont in Rolling Tree Township, and in 1911 I had some more school in the winter. In the spring I worked for Art Goernt, in the summer of 1913 and some more school in the winter. The next year I worked for Uncle John and two more months of school.
“In 1915 I hired out to Uncle John for $300 for the year. That was big money, but I earned it as everything was hard work in those days. We got up early and worked late. In the spring of 1915, I wrote to my folks in Denmark about them coming to America. They had been writing about coming and I told them they should come right now because I was thinking of going to the western part of South Dakota and go into the cattle business. So in the summer of 1915 I received a letter from them that they were coming as soon as they could dispose of what property they had in Denmark. They all arrived for Christmas, my father, mother, three sisters and three brothers I hadn’t seen since 1909. They sure had changed a lot during that time, but we were glad to be together again.
“I had a small farm rented for them about 1.5 miles north of West Chain, but that place wouldn’t be vacated until spring, so we stayed at Uncle John’s and some at Uncle Pete’s until spring. In the meantime I had bought a few pieces of machinery and two cows, a team of horses and a bed to sleep in, a stove to cook on and, of course, a few chickens and pigs; just enough so we could get along.
“I didn’t have money to finance all of this, but Fred Porter of the First National Bank at Fairmont was pretty good to us. The folks were farmers in Denmark, but still it was a big change for them as they had never milked a cow but learned. Mother was pretty busy in the house, but she liked to help outside which she was used to in the old country. The kids had to start school, and it didn’t take them long to learn a little English that way. Mother and father learned some English but father never did get to talk English very well. During the summer it was hard to make ends meet with three growing boys at home. The girls were older and got a job here and there, and whenever I could I would take a job which would help bring in the groceries. I received from $1.50 to $2.50 for a day’s work. In 1917 my Uncle John quit farming and had a farm auction. Cows sold for $60 and up to $90, a good horse brought $200 or more, a stallion sold for $400, a brood mare for $350. Horses were worth good money in those days.
“We rented Uncle John’s farm and moved on it in the spring of 1917, so now we were really going farming, got a crop in and taken care of, but in the spring the United States of America declared war on Germany. Now we all wondered what was going to happen. It started when all men were to register for the draft and if you weren’t lucky and your number was called, you were in the Army. I was one of the lucky ones and reported for the Army service Sept. 21, 1917, at Fairmont and was inducted into Uncle Sam’s Army. My brother Peter came home to help the folks do the farming.
“Now this was a different story. There were quite a gang of us to leave for the Army Camp. We were the first to leave Fairmont and the National Guard escorted us to the train. There were speeches and good luck wishes from everybody, and I suppose many wondered how many of us would return. Finally we said the last goodbyes and were on our way to Camp Dodge in Iowa. We arrived at Camp Dodge and I don’t think many of us realized what it was all about. But we found out soon enough. When we were all off the train, somebody hollered falling in files of twos and forward march. We were from all walks of life and didn’t know anything about the Army, but some way or other we arrived in camp. There some big wooden buildings; some of them didn’t have doors or windows put in yet, somebody gave us each two blankets and told us to find a place to sleep as there was a few bunks but not enough so some of us had to sleep on the floor.”
Andrew’s narrative continued for six pages. Much of it was his experiences in France in World War I. (Interesting reading) He returned from France, married, had three boys and two girls and survived the Great Depression. Andrew ended his narration: “What is wrong with the world - there is no Brotherly Love anymore. Everybody has to lookout for himself or herself, and I wonder where it will all end.” Andrew passed away in 1974, and we wonder what he would say about today.
Next week’s Memory Lane article will be about Andrew Madsen in WWI.