Sesquicentennial Highlights

Sesquicentennial Highlights
Swedish colony in Clay County

(Information from the notes of August Peterson and printed in the June 6, 1936, issue of the Yankton Press & Dakotan)

Mr. Peterson came to Dakota Territory in the fall of 1888. He married the daughter of an early Swedish settler and has gathered the history and incidents about the Swedish settlers. After asking the settlers questions about their family history he would follow up by asking them, "Why should this be so?"


The first settlement of Swedish pioneers in Clay, Dakota Territory, was made in the spring of 1858. The first settlers who arrived to file on claims were J. G. Peterson, Hans Ostlund, John Hanson, Danielson, Olof Hanson, John E. Shogren, their families and perhaps others. In the short period of five years about 210 filed on claims in a compact area, along the east side of the Vermillion river and north, within the east-central and northeastern part of the county. It was the largest Swedish settlement in Dakota.

Most of those settlers came direct with their families from Sweden. Regardless of drought, grasshoppers and other misfortunes incident to pioneer days, they remained and proceeded to mold a civilization that has left its imprints to the present day.

After the first decade these pioneers organized at least 12 school districts, six churches, and 10 rural post offices throughout that settled area. The first church organization was attempted in October 1869 at the home of J. G. Peterson who built the first frame house in the area. However, due to inadequate contact with an eastern national church body, and because of local dissensions, the attempt failed.

On Jan. 3, 1871, the Dalesburg Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized. The meeting was held in the sod house of A. Bolin. On Oct. 15, 1871, the Bloomingdale Baptist Church was organized, the name being later changed to Dalesburg Baptist Church. The Komstad Mission Church and the Brooklyn Mission Church were later organized.

The settlers received their mail at least once a week from Alsen, Bloomingdale, Clay Point, Dalesburg, Glenwood, Greenfield, Komstad, Lodi, Marshalltown and Riverside. The distribution points were kept until the Rural Free Delivery was established and the distribution points were closed.

The Swedes are fond of music and in 1874 a mixed community choir was organized by the early homesteaders, with Axel Bergquist as director. That was a godsend to bolster up courage during the grasshopper raids.

The Dalesburg cornet band was organized with 10 members, sons of pioneer settlers, with Fred Heglin as director and bandmaster. This was the first rural band in Dakota and for two seasons played at the Yankton State Fair. The first public appearance of the band was a farewell reception to Rev. C. J. Carlson who was leaving for Minnesota. It was a cold evening late in fall when an attempt was made to serenade the pastor in the open air as a surprise. The members were unaware of the climate's effect on their instruments, and when the signal was made to play it was found all instruments were frozen, except for the drum.

The Rev. Daniel

Peter Brown

An early character widely known in the settlement was the Rev. Daniel Peter Brown who had filed Feb. 1, 1869, on a claim in Riverside Township and erected a log cabin on a knoll overlooking the Vermillion River. This point was called

Brown's Hill, and numerous immigrants arriving to file, gathered there to have the Rev. Brown assist them in filing claims. Gen. Beadle, surveyor general of Dakota and then stationed at Yankton, came often to visit the Rev. Brown. Gen. Beadle also filed on a claim next to the Rev. Brown, but the entry was cancelled for relinquishment.

Indians wintered in their tepees near the Rev. Brown, on the bottom by the Vermillion River, and Brown was on excellent terms with them. Not much is known about the Rev. Brown, as he refused to divulge much about himself. He was a native of Sweden and educated there for the ministry. He must have fallen from grace and to hide his identity, came to America and enlisted in the Civil War as a priest, on the side of the North. He conducted religious services at his log cabin and in homes in the settlement for many years. He spoke English, German and Indian fluently and knew Latin. He sold his claim in the 1880s and moved to St. Helena, NE. A few years later he died at Yankton under circumstances indicating foul play. The mystery of his death has never been determined.

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