Bio: Morstad, Rev. Erik Olsen (1879 - 1881)
Contact: Linda Cottrell - Saunders
Surnames: Morstad, Rykken, Larsen, Ruh, and Dahl
Source: Family Records
REV. ERIK OLSEN MORSTAD
Early Pioneer Lived In Hatfield Area, Clark County WI
In the late 1800s, early 1900s, Clark and Jackson counties in west central Wisconsin were the home of logging camps and sparse settlements of early immigrants from the east, or across the seas. Some of these early settlers left their names engraved on tombstones, or are found on early records, but they remain virtually unknown to those living here today.
Erik Olsen Morstad was one such early settler, living on 80 acres in Dewhurst township on the east side of the Black River, directly across from the “High Rock” area. The family moved here in 1890, staying about three years and then moving to Wittenberg WI.
Although his stay in this area was brief, the lifetime accomplishments of his missionary work among the Winnebago and Pottawatomie Indians in WI is monumental.
Rev. Erik O. Morstad - Passport photo 1920, (Ancestry.com)
Included (in italics) are several paragraphs that describe Morstad’s work and settlement in Clark County. It is taken from a rather lengthy article written by Morstad’s son, Alexander Erik Morstad (1897-1978) of Milwaukee WI.
Erik Morstad’s Missionary Work among Wisconsin Indians by A. E. Morstad (Volume 27: Page 111)
Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA)
“The Rev. E. O. Morstad, who studied at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, 1879-1881, and frequented the Chicago Theological Seminary, 1886-1889, from where he graduated, had a heartfelt desire to devote his time to missionary work among the sadly neglected Indians, where among some tribes religious work had never been done or even attempted. Unsupported by any public organization he took up the work among the tribe of Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin with the intention to dedicate his entire time in work for their welfare. However, after some three years of toil and hardship among that tribe, he found that they were of such a roaming nature and so unsettled that it became hopeless to do much of anything for them.”
The Morstad family continued to reside at Hatfield for three years, a period that was particularly trying for them all. There was no work in the immediate vicinity, and we do not know how Morstad was able to provide for his family. They were quite isolated, had few if any neighbors, and the nearest doctor was miles away. This fact became very critical when an epidemic of black diphtheria spread through that vicinity in the spring of 1891, and it was several days before the doctor was able to cross the Black River because of the spring floods. Before the doctor arrived, the oldest daughter, Olava Maria, had died. The two boys, Feodor and Philip, recovered. Their mother often spoke of this terrible ordeal. She recalled that two officials came to the house, but were apparently afraid to enter because black diphtheria is very contagious. They simply passed a small coffin through a window and took out the baby and the coffin. Little Olava Maria was buried in a cemetery at Merrillan Junction on May 31, 1891.
This was the beginning of the end of the homestead at Hatfield. Mrs. Morstad insisted upon moving to some community where a doctor and medicine would be available in case of illness. Their property was soon disposed of and the family moved to Wittenberg, Wisconsin, in 1892. Here Morstad became acquainted with some members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eielsen Synod, and in 1893 he was invited to attend their annual convention at Clear Lake, Iowa. He became a member of this synod, which agreed to provide some financial aid for his missionary work among the Wisconsin Pottawatomie Indians.
The new location was only a few miles from Bethany Mission for the Winnebago Indians, but he was now working with the Pottawatomie. Several families of the tribe lived within a few miles of Wittenberg with a total of about thirty children.
Before Morstad’s brief settlement in Clark county, he had been called to missionary work in Wittenberg, Shawano county WI, and in no small way, helped organize the Indian Mission that was established there.
Following are two excerpts from “usgenweb+Shawano WI”
(1) Historical Sketch of the Bethany Mission - Compiled by Rev. T. M. Rykken (1920)
Our Norwegian Lutheran immigrants were a serious and earnest group of people. They came to this country bringing with them no money but an indomitable courage; honesty and upright hearts, and a determination to make this land of great privilege their home. They brought with them deep religious convictions and a determination to spread this most blessed heritage to those less unfortunate. So it was that in the eighties, when Rev. E. J. Homme, cutting his way thru the immense woods of northern Wisconsin, where he proposed to build an orphans' home, discovered the Red Man wandering about without hope and without God. He called the attention of Pastors Larsen, Ruh, and Dahl to the matter, and these men agreed among themselves to start an Indian mission, and as a result, 40 acres of heavily timbered land was bought some four miles west of the village of Wittenberg. This was in 1884. A man by the name of Morstad was placed in charge, and a log house built to accommodate the missionary and a few children.
It was no easy task to get a foothold among these people, as they seemed contented in the immense woods. There were plenty of wild animals for food and clothing, and they saw no need of changing. Mr. Morstad endeavored to learn the Indian language, and succeeded in getting three or four children into the school; but seeing little success, he resigned in the fall of 1886. The children were brought into the Homme Orphans' Home. In the meantime a suitable building had been erected near the village of Wittenberg, and 80 acres of land purchased by the committee before mentioned. Meanwhile the matter of beginning an Indian Mission had been taken up by the Norwegian Synod, and the property was now deeded over to said synod. Rev. T. Larson was called as the first superintendent, moving from Harmony, Minn., to Wittenberg in July, 1887, where the building was dedicated and called Bethany. This was on July 4th, and eight children were then at school.
(2) Lutheran Mission Work Among the American Indians (1922)
THE BETHANY INDIAN MISSION OF THE NORWEGIAN CHURCH
It was in 1883 that the Norwegian Synod, now merged in the Norwegian Lutheran Church, acting on the appeal of Rev. Tobias Larsen, decided to begin missionary work among the Indians of Northern Wisconsin. In order to obtain concrete results it was proposed to establish a school for Indian children near Wittenberg in Shawano Co. However, more than a year passed before the mission board was able to extend a call to Eric O. Moerstad, who arrived on the field September 30, 1884. He was directed to a certain George DeCora, an Indian who might aid him in acquiring the language. "This Indian had discarded his red blanket, was dressed like a white man, and lived in a small log house. He spoke fluent English. The missionary was welcomed by him, and the two were soon busily engaged in preparing a list of words and expressions in the Winnebago language. Mrs. DeCora made dinner for them. An old oilcloth was laid on the floor, as there was no table. Nor were there any chairs, and dinner had to be eaten as conveniently as possible seated on the floor. The meal consisted of pork, potatoes, bread and butter, and tea with sugar. It was relished by the partakers, and showed marked improvements in civilization."
The article in NAHA details the complex task and dedication of Morstad to further the rights and welfare of the Pottawatomies in WI. He relocated to Carter WI, where his wife Laura is buried along with several of his children. Morstad is buried in Norway, as told in the NAHA article:
The Indian Agency had now been moved to Laona, fifteen miles north of Carter, and in 1919 Morstad reported that he also had moved there. In addition to being near the agency, he said that Laona was a larger community with better educational opportunities for his children.
It was decided in 1920 that Morstad should make another trip to Norway. This journey was to have a twofold purpose. His newly completed book on Elling Eielsen was to be presented to the many friends and admirers of the synod leader in Norway. It was also hoped that such a trip would improve Morstad’s health. On June 27, he attended a meeting of Haugesvenner (Friends of Hauge) in Oslo, and it was here that he suffered what seemed to be a heart attack. He never regained consciousness and died on June 30, 1920, at Rikshospitalet.
Instead of notifying the family, his friends in Norway informed the church of his death. The synod in turn expected to hear from the family. Before his children found out about their loss, he had already been buried in Vestre Gravlund (West Cemetery) in Oslo. Although his passing was sudden and unexpected, it is interesting to note that he was laid to rest in the land of his birth in a beautiful cemetery, which also included the graves of several of his blood relatives.
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