Our family tree

1892 Andreas and Hannah Opseth family, Thief River Falls

Andreas OpsethAge: 87 years18441931

Andreas Opseth
Given names
Birth calculated 1844
MarriageHannah NordhagenView this family
2 January 1875 (Age 31 years)
Birth of a son
Olaff Andreassen ‘Olaf’ Opseth
about 1875 (Age 31 years)
Note: Birthdate based on Elodee Johnson's story The Opseth Portrait 1892.
Birth of a son
Gustav ‘Gust’ Opseth
about 1882 (Age 38 years)
Note: Birthdate based on Elodee Ranum Johnson's story The Opseth Portrait 1892.
Birth of a daughter
Hilda Opseth
1883 (Age 39 years)
Birth of a daughter
Julia Clara Opseth
24 October 1885 (Age 41 years)
Marriage of a childBenhard RanumJulia Clara OpsethView this family
25 June 1911 (Age 67 years)
Birth of a grandson
Harry Arthur Ranum
31 December 191111:00 (Age 67 years)
Birth of a grandson
Stanley K. Ranum
31 July 1914 (Age 70 years)
Death of a wifeHannah Nordhagen
11 March 1920 (Age 76 years)
Cause: Apoplexy (paralysis from stroke)
Census 23 April 1930 (Age 86 years) Age: 86
Death 3 August 1931 (Age 87 years)
Family with Hannah Nordhagen - View this family
Marriage: 2 January 1875Norway
1 year
8 years
2 years
3 years
Julia Opseth (left) and Nina Mellem (right), from Elodee JohnsonJulia Clara Opseth
Birth: 24 October 1885 41 43Rosewood, Marshall County, Minnesota, United States
Death: 6 November 1966Thief River Falls, Pennington, Minnesota, United States

Building the Sod House

Opseth's first house on the homestead was made of sod. Hannah and Andreas did not take the claim until 1892. It is entirely possible they loaned a sod cutter from their neighbor, Thornus Mellem. Marshall County was flat and swampy, there were no hills to protect their structure. It would be built on the open prairie; exposed to the harsh weather. They arrived in the summer, they may have made some sort of a lean to sleep and protect them from rain.

The idea was to break enough ground for the house and yard. This would hinder snakes, mice, and insects from entering the house.
A sod cutter was also called a breaking plow, was pulled by horses, mules, or oxen. These plows cut the sod into strips 12-inches wide and 4-inches thick. Using a spade,the strips were then cut into about 3-foot lengths. If they didn't have a 'sod buster' then each piece was collected using a shovel. Either way, it was hard work! Only enough sod for that day was cut. Any extra sod would dry out, crumple and be worthless. Before the house was finished, Opseth would cut a half mile of sod for just the house! Walk around a city block to give yourself a feel for how long that is!

The best of builders made certain the ground was made level as they began the stacking process. The bricks of sod where staggered; The base was wider to support the bricks above it. All the bricks of sod where placed grass side down, this allowed the roots of the tough prairie grass to grow into the brick above stabilizing the house. If they had lumber, the door frame was put in on the first round. If they could afford a window, it was added as the walls went up. The door and window were pegged into the sod to keep them in place; poles and space was left above them was left to allow for the weight of the walls. It would take two years before the sod settled.

Opseth's would walk sixteen miles to St. Hilaire to get lumber and a window. That was the last stop for the Great Northern Railroad at that time. Roads, if any, were poor. Marshall County was a swamp land before it was drained. Life was always an effort. There are stories shared about how the oxen and wagon would get bogged down and the owner had to untie the oxen from the wagon, empty the wagon, hitch the oxen to pull the wagon out, then reload the wagon.

The roof was next. In a swamp land, there are trees. The straightest of trees were cut and placed on the roof. If the family could afford rolls of tar paper to act as a moisture barrier, that was applied, if not, thinner sod was used as a roof, sod side up. The roof was the most important part. It must be sturdy or it would collapse leaving the family without shelter.

What was Grandma Julia doing while the house was being built? Was she sitting on a tarp to protect her from the dirt? Was her sister, Hilda, at two being lost in the prairie grass? How about Olaf at 10 and Gust at 7, where they snaring rabbits?

Next: Inside the sod house