THE FAMILY OF KNUD OLSEN REA AND ASTRI TIDEMANDSDATTER HILMEN
by Bruce L. Wiland
Knud Olsen Rea , the youngest son of Ole Pedersen Hove and Rangdi Olsdatter Røen, was born in 1830 on the Hove farm in the Rogne annex of Øystre Slidre parish in Norway. This parish is located in the Valdres Valley in southern Norway, west of Hamar. Knud’s name at birth was Knud Olsen Hove, Hove being the name of the farm on which he was born. Knud’s surname of Rea was derived from the name of the Rye farm on which he lived just before he left for America. Rye was changed to Rea when he arrived in the United States, probably as a result of an American attempt to spell it phonetically. Knud was a steeplejack and carpenter in Norway.
Astri Tidemandsdatter Hilmen, the oldest child of Tidemand Olsen and Guri Alfsdatter Hilmen, was born in 1832 on the Hilmen farm in the Ulnes annex of Nord-Aurdal parish which was also in the Valdres Valley. She was confirmed in the Ulnes church in 1846. Astri also experienced some name changes. A "d" was occasionally added to the end of her first name, and in America she was sometimes known as Esther.
Knud and Astri were married in March, 1854 at the Ulnes church in Nord-Aurdal. Knud probably left the Hove farm shortly before his marriage. Knud and Astri lived on several farms in Nord-Aurdal (Bøe, Rognaas, Oppen, and Rye) after they were married. H.K. Rea, one of Knud and Astri’s children, once said that his father had a winter home in the Valdres Valley and a summer home in the mountain. Knud and Astri’s first child Ole was born on Bøe in 1854. Ole was named for Knud’s father. Tidemand was born on Rognaas in 1856. He was named for Astri’s father. Rangdi was born at Bøe in 1859. She was named for Knud’s mother. Several documents indicate that Knud, Astri, and family then moved to the Oppen farm, probably in 1859 or 1860, where they lived until sometime in 1861 or 1862. The cowpox vaccination certificate of Ole is dated December 28, 1860 and gives Ole's last name as Oppen and residence as Ulnes annex in Nord-Aurdal parish. A document dated January 28, 1861 states that Knud Olsen Oppen had loaned Ole Tidemandsen Hilmen (Astri's grandfather or brother) some money, so Knud was living at Oppen at this time. Guri, the fourth child, was born at Oppen in April, 1861 and died only 3 months and 20 days later. She was named for Astri’s mother. Knud and Astri eventually settled on the Rye farm in Svenes parish, where Knud became known as Knud Olsen Rye. Another document indicates that Knud Olsen Riye [sic] loaned Ole Olsen Hipe some money that was to be paid back on April 14, 1862. Hence, Knud appears to have moved from the Oppen farm in Ulnes to the Rye farm in Svenes sometime between January, 1861 and April, 1862. The fifth child Peder was born on the Rye farm in July, 1862. A cowpox vaccination certificate for Peder is dated June 29, 1865 and gives Peder's last name as Rye and residence as Svenes annex in Nord-Aurdal. A letter of recommendation dated January 30, 1863 states that Knud Olsen Rye had repaired and built the tower and roof of the Svenes Church three years prior and that the work had been completed very well and to the satisfaction of all concerned. Knud's military service record indicates he served in the Valdres Muskets Corps for six years from January 1, 1853 to December 31, 1858 and in the Corps' Second District Militia. The 1865 census lists Knud (age 36), his wife Astri (age 34), and five children , Ole (age 12), Tidemand (age 10), Peder (age 4), Rangdi (age 7), and Knud (age 1), living on the Rye farm in Svenes parish, Nord-Aurdal.
Astri's parents had previously emigrated to Wisconsin before the Civil War and probably persuaded Knud and Astri to come to the United States. In April 1867, Knud (age 36) and Astri (age 35) left Norway for America with their five children: Ole (age 12 yr 5 mo), Tideman (age 10 yr 6 mo), Rangdi (age 8 yr 2 mo), Peder (age 4 yr 9 mo), and Knud (age 1 yr 4 mo). Astri was about three months pregnant with Oscar John when they left. The family and large number of others from the Valdres area first journeyed from Valdres to Bergen. They left home with sleighs traveling over Fillefjell to Borgund where the sleighs were exchanged for wagons and carts going down to Laerdalsøri on Sognefjord. This trip usually required four or five days but was somewhat longer because the demand for wagons and carts was greater than the supply. At Laerdalsøri, a fight ensued with the Laerdals and things looked bad for the Valdreses. However, since the Laerdals had struck the first blow, there were no arrests made as had been threatened, and the emigrants were permitted to continue. The group took the steamer Framnes to Bergen. After a nine-day wait, the ship Nordkap set sail from Bergen on April 24, 1867, the Wednesday following Easter. On board were 235 adults, 97 children between the ages of one and fourteen years, and seventeen infants under the age of one year.
After seven weeks sailing, the ship arrived at Quebec's harbor on the night of Pentecost, Sunday June 9. The next Thursday (June 13), they went ashore and on Saturday (June 15) of that week boarded a train to Port Sarnia arriving there on Monday night. On Tuesday (June18), they were brought over the river to Port Huron. U.S. custom duties were paid, and everyone was packed together below deck on the screw steamer Sun that evening. On Thursday night June 20, it landed on the old pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Knud and Astri added four more children to their new home in Wisconsin. Oscar John arrived about four months after coming to America and a daughter Gelena was born in 1870. Gelena’s name was probably an americanized form of Gurine, and she was probably named after her deceased sister Guri in accordance with Norwegian naming practices. A letter to Gelena from her father written in 1899 greeted her as Gurine. In this letter, her father also asked her to greet his son Knut for him ( referring to H.K.) indicating that he still called his children by their Norwegian names. Emma was born in 1872 and Clara Pauline, the youngest, in 1874.
Knud bought a 40-acre farm and settled near Gibson Township, Manitowoc County, one and one-half miles northwest of Mishicot on the road to Green Bay. Knud pursued several occupations including farmer, mason, carpenter, and steeplejack. He later bought another 40 or perhaps 60 acres and managed to maintain his large family in some comfort. The children walked (somewhere between one half mile and two miles depending on who was telling the story) to the one room Jambo Creek school. This was probably a German Parochial School then and Ole (or O.K. as he was known) learned to speak German fluently from one simple textbook. He also learned a great deal of French from the settlers and the Indians in Wisconsin. The area around Gibson Township had a large number of emigrants including the Norwegians, French, Bohemians, and Italians. Gelena started school at the age of six. Mr. Westgate conducted the school. She recounted that there was "such a buzzing of voices until the bell rang, then all was quiet and students got busy preparing their lessons." Gelena had no primer but was busy copying what the teacher printed on the blackboards. Maps and blackboards covered all the walls in the school room and the alphabet was printed on the board for the students to copy. Gelena said that she "was very interested in printing and writing, loved to draw pictures of people, but that was against the rules". Gelena had a little French boyfriend that was reprimanded more than once for working on his carving during school. This carving turned out to be a beautiful bird, which he gave to Gelena on her birthday, and for many years she kept this as one of her secret treasures. While snow was melting in the spring, there was no school.
At home in Wisconsin for entertainment, such games as Checkers and Fox & Geese were played, sets of which could be made by hand. The children also played Pump Pump Pull Away, Hide and Seek, and Jump the Rope. The family regularly attended the Norwegian Lutheran Church, the children were taught Catechism by the minister, and each was confirmed in the Lutheran Church at about the age of 14. Astri regularly read the Bible to the family. Her father was a staunch churchman and one of her brothers, Peter T. Hilmen, became a Lutheran minister. The family lived in a big stone home and Astri would sit several hours almost every day at her spinning wheel. Of course, her daughters gathered around to watch, and soon learned to help her. Gelena says she knitted when she read books. She learned when very young from Astri and knit her own stockings.
The U.S. Census taken in 1880 shows Knud (age 50) and Astri (age 48 and listed as Ester is the census) living in Gibson Township with five of their children: Randy (age 20, listed as Eranda), Knud (age 14), John (age 12), Gelena (age 10, listed as Gelina), and Emma (age 8). Ole and Tidemand had already left home. Clara Pauline had died in December of the previous year at the age of five and was buried at the Jambo Creek Cemetery in Gibson Township. Six of Knud and Astri's children came to Texas beginning in 1877. Peter alone stayed in the North, establishing himself in Joliet, Illinois. Knud, Astri, and daughter Emma (age 13) also came to Texas in 1885, very possibly traveling with T.K. and his family as far as Norse. Knud, Astri, and Emma stayed at the home of John Rogstad in Norse. In 1886, Astri (or Esther as she was now known) went to visit her sons O.K. and T.K. near Pottsville in Hamilton County. During those days, there was trouble between the cattle and sheepmen. The cattlemen did not want the land fenced and tried to drive the sheepmen out, even though the sheepmen had bought the land. One night, the cattlemen tried to set the O.K.'s house on fire. Astri and O.K.'s wife Anna heard some noises in the night and managed to extinguish the flames. About two weeks later while the men were away, the house was set on fire again. This time it burned up. Anna was pregnant at the time and Astri dashed back into the house to retrieve a trunk with some of the boys clothing. Astri was so severely burned that she died the next day. O.K. and T.K. took her in a wagon to Norse, fifty miles away, reaching the church in the night. They left her at the church in her coffin and went on to the Rogstad's. She was buried at Norse. Knud and Emma continued living with the Rogstad's and O.K.'s family lived with T.K. while a new house was built.
At some point Knud returned to Wisconsin. Knud died in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in March, 1900. His body and possessions were sent by train to his daughter Gelena living in Clifton, Texas, and he was buried next to his wife at Our Savior’s Lutheran Cemetery at Norse.