The Galesburg Land Company
by Terry Hogan
Many of us know at least a bit about Bishop Hill, the Swedish religious community that was established north of Galesburg. It was settled in the mid-1800’s and populated by Swedes who wanted to worship in a manner inconsistent and unacceptable to the Lutheran State Church of Sweden. But I’m betting not many of us, including me, know much about the Galesburg Land Company and its efforts to establish Swedish Lutheran settlements in Kansas.
It’s hard to know where to start this story as it has no clear starting point, so I’ll start it a little early with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This act had more than a little to do with the North-South disagreement on the expansion of slavery, and the Civil War. It also acted to accelerate the settlement of the area by both pro- and anti-slavery advocates. Despite this pre-Civil War turmoil, Kansas was also a new location of cheap farm land. It was being touted by railroads which owned large parcels of land that they wanted to sell. The railroad wanted to sell the land for at least two reasons - (1.) immediate cash flow, and (2.) the creation of future railroad customers for shipping agricultural items out and finished goods in to Kansas.
In this environment, European immigrants, including many Swedes, in the 1850’s and 1860’s were coming to America. It was the country of promise. America was the source of cheap land, no class society, and the opportunity to improve oneself by hard work and good sense. The Swedes knew this by “American letters” sent back to Sweden by those who had already arrived in America. Swedes also knew it because of aggressive recruitment efforts by private interests, including American railroad companies, seeking sources of cheap labor and new customers.
According to a published Kansas history, the settlement of Swedes in Kansas dates to 1855 when John A. Johnson arrived from Galesburg, Illinois and settled in Kansas (Blackmore, 1912). But this hardly started a trend.
An early supporter of Swedish immigration to Kansas in the mid-1850s was Rev. T. N. Hasselquist. Hasselquist was an important and influential Swedish Lutheran clergyman in Galesburg and the surrounding communities. He became the publisher of the first Swedish-language newspaper in America. It was called Hemlandet and was founded in 1855. It was initially published in Galesburg. Hemlandet served Swedes mostly in Illinois and nearby states, but its issues also found their way to Sweden. Hasselquist used the paper to express his views and to guide Swedes. For example, in the July 14, 1857 issue there was a special feature, titled “Some Words to Recently Arrived Immigrants and Others Who Are Seeking Their Luck in America”. The article reported that the eastern states offered few opportunities and that land in Illinois and Iowa was already too costly for immigrants of limited resources. He advocated that such Swedish immigrants would be wise to go to some new territory like Kansas or Nebraska.
Dr., C. H. Gran, from Andover, Illinois, was also a big supporter of Swedes settling in Kansas. Dr. Gran had visited Kansas and had a dream that never materialized, of establishing a Scandinavian colony in Kansas. However, he also used the Hemlandet to warmly endorse the merits of Kansas. In the December 3, 1857 issue, Dr. Gran writes, “…when one gets up on a bluff and looks about these fruitful plains and woods, and sees these wonders of God’s creation, the soul is filled with a stirring that words cannot describe.” Dr. Gan visited Big Blue, Smoky Hill and Republican River valleys, which were later to become significant Swedish settlement areas. (Lindquist, 1963)
Perhaps not to be outdone, Henry L. Kissel who had been in America for about 8 years also put his endorsement of Kansas in the Hemlandet on December 15, 1857:
“Countrymen in New York and in other eastern states! You who work hard every day for your small daily wage, now is the chance for you to get your own home where you can live independent of Americans, and you will escape working so hard and cease to be dependent upon your daily wages…. Hurry to Kansas.” (Lindquist, 1963)
However, as time passed, and the killing of slaves and abolitionists in Kansas occurred with greater frequency, the warm endorsements of Kansas were replaced by a much more somber note. An article in the July 6, 1858 issue of Hemlandet, written by A. Thorson provides the revised view:
“Kansas is the battle ground and the scene of conflict between two great political parties and the end of the struggle is far off. For this reason at present Kansas can only with difficulty be settled and occupied by peaceable people, who must earn their bread by the sweat of their brows.”
Hemlandet reported in the March 9, 1859 issued that a letter “earnestly urging Swedes not to come to Kansas” had been read at a large meeting in Galesburg on February 28. Finally, in 1860, Kansas suffered a bad draught that created severe hardship on new settlers. This received significant coverage in the American press and further discouraged immigrants from going to Kansas.
However, after the American Civil War ended in 1865, Kansas received renewed attention as a place to settle. This was promoted not only by railroads, but also by Swedes already living in America. There were two notable Swedish-developed companies that promoted Swedish immigration to Kansas. One was “The First Swedish Agricultural Company” that was organized in Chicago. The second was “The Galesburg Land Company”, formed in Galesburg in the fall of 1868.
The Galesburg Land Company purchased 14,080 acres (22 sections) of land in Saline and McPherson counties in Kansas from the Kansas Pacific Railroad. The centers of activities in the parcel were Freemount and Salemsborg. In 1868, the Scandinavian Agricultural Society of Chicago was reported to have also purchased 12 sections of land along the Republican River.
The motive force behind the Galesburg Land Company in 1868 was Rev. Anders W. Dahlsten, pastor of the Galesburg Lutheran Church. A meeting was held at the church, which was attended by over 300 people. It is recorded that most of the members of this group were Swedes from Smaland and that the organization was fostered through the efforts of both the Galesburg and Andover Swedish Lutheran churches. At the meeting, the group decided to send a committee to Kansas to investigate the area for potential settlement. The investigative committee was headed by Anders W. Dahlsten. The committee visited the Smoky Hill of Central Kansas and found it to have significant potential for a Swedish settlement. Thus, the Galesburg Land Company bought a large block of land in that area. First, there was settlement by a few Swedes from Illinois. However, this was soon followed by much larger numbers of Swedish immigrants. In turn, many Swedes moved to the Smoky Hill area of Kansas.
One of the early Illinois settler families was John Peter and Matilda Stromquist. They were originally from Smaland, Sweden, but had settled in Galesburg. In 1868, they settled in Fremont, Kansas. John Peter Stromquist was secretary of the Galesburg Land Company (Blackmore, 1912).
Lindsborg became the central Swedish town for the Swedish settlements promoted by the Galesburg Land Company and several others in the region. Salina, Fremont, Salemsburg, Assaria, Falun, Marquette and Smolan are towns all located with the territory controlled by the Galesburg Land Company. These immigrants via the Galesburg Land Company founded both the Freemount and Salemsborg Lutheran Churches in 1869.
It wasn’t long before Swedish was heard as commonly as English in the Smoky Hill region. The Swedish culture slowly started to become Americanized, but the Swedish language stayed the language of the Swedish Lutheran Church long after English was spoken in Swedish homes. By 1890, there were 17,096 Swedish-born settlers in Kansas, representing 11.6% of the foreign-born population (Lindsborg C of C, undated).
At the time of this writing, you can log onto the Internet and find the history of Salemsborg Lutheran Church in Smolan, Kansas (Anon. undated). It reads, in part,
“In the summer of 1868, Anders W. Dahlsten, pastor of 1st Lutheran, Galesburg, lead a party representing the Galesburg Land Company to Kansas to search for a place where a large group of Swedes could settle, find economic opportunity, retain their Swedish culture and most importantly worship God’s environment.”
Perhaps one of the unanticipated effects of the influx of Swedes to Kansas was the effect on politics. Swedes were by very nature, more comfortable with the Republican Party in the mid and late 1800’s. One Kansas Swede was quoted to sum it up this way: “I am a Lutheran, I am a Republican, and I drive a McCormick self-binder.” (Lindquist, 1963)
With the help of the Galesburg Land Company and other Swedish immigrant companies, Swedes found fertile American soil to place their Swedish roots. Dr. Carl Swensson wrote in 1887 (Lindquist, 1963):
The sod-house yields to a comfortable wood house, the shade trees are large, the fruit trees have already started to bear fruit, the fields are extensive and well-cultivated, the farmer is the happy proprietor in the largest and best country in the world. So, it goes from year to year. Children are born, the family grows up, there are churches and school, and with respect for and love of God’s word they will become a large and happy people.”
Even today, a trip to Lindsborg (“Little Sweden”), Kansas will confront the traveler with bits and pieces of old and new Sweden. If you arrive at Swedish mid-summer, you may find Swedish folk dancing, storytelling, and song and theater (Anon. 2000). Or as one author put it,
“As you visit this lovely valley, pause occasionally and listen for a violin, a voice or a piano. A child will be diligently mastering a classical phrase. Pass a studio and notice the deft fingers of a local artist bringing beauty to an empty canvas or a bit of wood. Visit a classroom and observe the children learning about their heritage. Better yet, visit a secluded spot overlooking the valley, gaze quietly across the bounteous fields, and perhaps you too will hear, just audibly above the wind, the whispered strains of a hymn, sung in Swedish, and reminding us of the blessings we share in the Smoky Valley of Kansas.” (Holmquist, 2007).
Such is the story of how the Galesburg Land Company helped plant Swedish roots in central Kansas soil over 125 years ago.
Anon. 2000. Lindsborg. www.nordicway.com/search/Places/places_lindsborg.htm
Anon. undated. Salemsborg Lutheran Church, Smolan, Kansas. www.luthernsonline.com
Blackmore, Frank. 1912. Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. Standard Publishing Company. Chicago.
Holmquist, Tom. 2007. The Smoky Valley of Kansas. Svensk Hyllningsfest 2007.
Lindquist, Emory. 1963. The Swedish Immigrant and Life in Kansas. Kansas Collection: Kansas Historical Quarterlies
Lindsborg, Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Undated. Lindsborg. www.lindsborg.org/community_info.html