Tuesday, June 09, 2009


(Another story from my 90ish parents, told in the nursing home.)

One of the strangest stories in my mother’s family was the tale of her great uncles, Severin and Ottin Sletvold. By the time my parents were born in 1917 and 1918, Ottin had already passed away; but Severin was still a fixture in the community until his death in 1942.

Severin and Ottin were a set of identical twins born to my mother’s great-great grandfather, Ole Sletvold. They were born in 1851 in Sletvold Nordre, Rommedalsvegg, Strange Hedmark, Norway—the seventh and eighth children of Ole and his wife. That, in fact, is how they got their names: the Norwegian words for “7” and “8” are “syv” and “atte,” so the twins’ parents just picked names that were similar to those numbers, Severin and Ottin.

When the family immigrated to the United States, Ole homesteaded a farm in what became Oscar Township, which contained 75 percent Norwegian immigrants. There, as young boys, Severin and Ottin discovered that the untapped muskrat population was a source of cash money, so they spent much of their boyhood trapping and selling muskrat pelts, saving as much money as they could.

By the time Severin and Ottin were young men, they had sold enough muskrat pelts to buy a farm together. In fact, they did everything together—including, it appears, falling for the same girl, Taaline Linner, who lived on a nearby farm.

Both of the twins wanted to marry Taaline. But since they had done all their courting together, the irresolute Taaline said she didn’t prefer one twin over the other and said she would marry either one. So Severin and Ottin decided to resolve the issue the same way they had resolved disagreements before: they arm wrestled for Taaline’s hand in marriage.

Ottin, although the younger at No. 8, won the arm wrestling challenge and married Taaline. Since the brothers owned the farm together, all three lived together in the same house anyway. (I asked my mother why so many Norwegian farmer bachelors lived with their married brothers, and she said that most men couldn’t afford to buy a farm on their own. So they teamed up with a brother to buy a farm. Usually, the more outgoing brother worked up enough courage to get married, while the shyer brother remained single. That was my mother’s theory anyway.)

Ottin and Taaline had several children (maybe 10 or so?). One of their children even went on to become a Minnesota State Senator.

As for Severin, he became one of the wealthier men around the Carlisle area. He lived very simply, and without a wife and children, was able to squirrel much of his money away. Men who wanted to get started in farming often came to Severin for a loan to buy land. During the “Dirty 30s” of the Dustbowl, when many of the men he had lent money to were no longer able to keep paying their mortgage, Severin ended up owning several foreclosed farms in addition to the farm he owned with his brother.

When Ottin was killed in 1909 (kicked by horse, my parents thought), Severin continued to live with Ottin’s family in the farm house, although there was never, according to my parents, any “funny business” between him and Taaline. Severin stood by the results of that arm wrestling contest when Ottin had won the hand of Taaline for life, fair and square.


bd said...

Thanks for another great history story in print!!:-) You are a gem to get this done!!

zach.lange said...

Hi Rachel - Sara (Fjestad) Lange here. I'm doing a paper for my "Scandinavian Heritage in America" class and I'm writing it on grandpa Frank. I was wondering if you could ask your mom some questions for me. What is your email address? You can contact me at sjfjestad@hotmail.com

2to4aday said...

Sara: I would be happy to pass your questions on to my mom. I've emailed you with my address, so ask away! I think I spelled your name wrong in the email, however--sorry! That extra "h" on the end of Sara wasn't right, I see.