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A Field Trip

I am planning a field trip–literally. Our Norwegian forebears raised wheat when they homesteaded on Montana and North Dakota in the early 20th century, and the sites remain as farmed fields. The nearest towns are Plentywood, Redstone, and Homestead, Montana and Palermo, North Dakota. We are heading there soon to visit the homesteads and cemeteries, and to see the land our families knew so well.

Not many people still live in these areas. I found Palermo, with just 74 people, on a list of North Dakota ghost towns. At one time, these places thrived, but the Dust Bowl years began a long period of slow decline. Neither of us has any family left on the MonDak border, although mine still owns farmland near Redstone.

Preparation for this trip began ages ago. First I looked for the homestead files for these ancestors, and they proved difficult to find. Norwegian immigrants came to America with no surnames, and they often tried on several, with various spellings, before settling on one as the new country required. Ultimately, I collected all their land records, and I identified the cemeteries I should visit.

So we will drive and drive through farm country until we come close to the Canadian border. Then we will walk through farmland and fields of eternal rest, remembering the hardy Norwegian homesteaders who lived and died there. If we have extra time, we may drive a little further to visit Mohall, ND, too. An entrepreneur in my husband’s family, M. O. Hall, founded the town and named it after himself. As far as I know, he never farmed anything, and he did not stay in North Dakota. Like so many others, he moved on. Like us, who will leave the fields after a brief visit and return to our busy suburban lives.

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