I didn’t think it would take this long to get back to my Road Trip to Red River Valley series of blog posts.  (Access chapter 1 here and chapter 2 here.)  But here we are.  Finally!

As described previously, my 2nd great-grandparents Ole & Dorthea Bohn and three of their children – Laura, Christ, and Ole – all resided in Marshall County, Minnesota upon their immigration from Norway in the 1880s.

Property records show, however, that only Christ O. Bonn owned land during that period, as best I can determine.  When we visited the area around Stephen, Minnesota last summer, we drove to the two property locations he owned.  I will refer to him throughout this post as Uncle Christ since that’s what my Mother always called him. He was actually her great uncle.  (Christ is pronounced like Chris with a t.)

Here’s a custom Google Map indicating the locations of the two land properties in Marshall County, as well as the cemetery location for Ole and Dorthea’s burial site in Stephen.  (You can zoom in and out of the map and navigate around.)

The first property we visited was a 160-acre plot of land in Donnelly Township.  This is the residence indicated by the blue marker.  It’s 7 miles due west of Stephen.  Here’s a view of the property last summer.  If I remember correctly, the crop being grown there is sugar beets.

160-acre Christ O. Bonn homestead in Red River Valley (Photo by author)

This scene more than anything simply shows how similar-looking all the farmland is in the Red River Valley.  It’s an eerily flat landscape that is beautiful in its own way.  What struck me was the distortion of distance.  You think a tall grain silo is maybe 2 miles away as you’re driving down the road, but it turns out it’s actually 5 miles away!  I can’t help but imagine what a shock it would have been for our Norwegian ancestors to swap the mountainous landscape of their homeland for this flat topography.

The second property was a 44.5 acre plot of land located in Fork Township about 6 miles from the first property.  It’s situated right on the Red River.  The property is indicated by the green marker on our custom map.  Here’s a view of it last summer:

View toward 44.5-acre Fork Township property where Bonn/Bohns lived c. 1895-1905 (Photo by author)

The line of trees in the distance is the foliage surrounding the Red River.  We did not drive down this tractor “road” for obvious reasons, but there would have been a farmhouse down at the end where the family lived next to the river.  The yellow marker on our custom map indicates where this tractor berm leaves Highway 220 and where we took the photograph.

So what is the history of these properties in connection with the Bonn/Bohn family?

Let’s start with the smaller Fork Township property, which was located at Lot 3, Section 9, Township 157N, Range 50W, 5th PM.  Here’s a timeline of what we know:

  • 1892 Marshall County plat map indicates C. O. Bohn occupies lot1)Marshall County, Minnesota plat map, 1892; photocopy excerpt obtained by Steven Jonnes 27 Jun 2018 from Marshall County Historical Society, Warren, Minnesota.
  • 1893, 20 Sep – Dorthea (Dalum) Bohn dies2)Marshall County, Minnesota, Index to Death Records, Book A, Page 31, Line 23, for Dorthea Olsdatter Bohn, 1893, transcribed by hand; Marshall County Recorder’s Office, Warren, Minnesota
  • 1895 Minnesota State Census: Residents are Ole L. Bonn, Ole O. Bonn, and Christ Bonn3)1895 Minnesota State Census, Marshall County population schedule, District 5, Fork Township, p. 11, line 35, Christ Bonn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 March 2019), citing MNSC roll V290_75.
  • 1896, 25 Jan – Christ O. Bonn purchases lot from railroad for $311.504)New York city and county, New York, Commissioner for Minnesota in New York, The St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railway Company, Trustees’ Deed, 15 Feb 1896 p. 585, indenture sale to Christ O. Bohn, 25 Jan 1896; photocopy obtained by Steven Jonnes 27 June 2018 from Marshall County Historical Society, Warren, Minnesota.
  • 1900 U.S. Census: Residents are Christ Bohn, Ole L. Bohn, and Laura Miller5)1900 U.S. Census, Marshall County, Minnesota, population schedule, Fork Township, enumeration dist. 108, p. 5A, Christ Bohn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 March 2019), citing NARA microfilm T623, Roll 31077.
  • 1902, 12 Feb – Ole Larsen Bohn dies6)“Minnesota Deaths and Burials, 1835-1990,” database; digital image,  FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FDMD-6YM : accessed 5 August 2018), Ole L. Bohn, 12 February 1902, Fork, Marshall, Minnesota; citing FHL microfilm 2,117,533.
  • 1905, 14 Jun – Minnesota State Census: Christ Bohn lives alone7)1905 Minnesota state census, Marshall County population schedule, ED 28, Fork Township, line 39, Christ Bohn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 March 2019), citing MNSC roll 133.
  • 1905, 7 Dec – Christ O. Bonn sells lot 3, sec. 9, 157-50 to Martin J. Nelson for $1,2008)“Real Estate Transfers,” Warren Sheaf, 7 Dec 1905, vol. 5, page 2; digital image: GenealogyBank (https://genealogybank.com : accessed 22 May 2018), Newspaper Archives.

We’re assuming that the deaths of both parents, Dorthea (Dalum) Bohn and Ole Larson Bohn, occurred at the Fork Township residence but we don’t have proof.  Ole’s Minnesota death card at least says he died in Fork Township; Dorthea’s certificate only says she died in Marshall County.  Both are buried in Stephen, Minnesota.

The Fork Township property was owned previously by the St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railway Company (another James J. Hill enterprise).  Uncle Christ bought the land from them in 1896, so I assume he must have been paying rent to the railroad before buying it.

The other property – the 160-acre Donnelly Township property – was settled by Christ O. Bonn as homestead land.  That property chronologically precedes the Fork Township property.  It was located at SW 1/4, Section 32, Township 158N, Range 49W, 5th PM.  Here’s the timeline:

  • 1880, 24 Apr – Kristian Ols. Bønsmoen, age 21, emigrated from Norway
  • 1882, 26 May – Christ O. Bonn entered homestead claim #7339 at U.S. Land Office, Crookston, Minnesota
  • 1882, 10 Oct – Christ began building house on property
  • 1882, 15 Oct – Christ’s began residing on property
  • 1887, 26 May – Christ O. Bonn naturalized as U.S. citizen
  • 1887, 9 Jul – Homestead application proved by a U.S. land officer (5 years residence required)
  • 1887, 12 Jul – Christ Olson Bonn received homestead certificate #4093
  • 1889, 10 Jun – Homestead patent issued to Christ O. Bonn

Reviewing the Land Entry File:  I ordered the land entry file for Uncle Christ’s homestead from the National Archives and received 29 photocopied pages of the original documents.9)Christ O. Bonn, (Marshall County) homestead file, final certificate no. 4093, Crookston, Minnesota, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.  What a resource!

Here’s a timeline of Christ O. Bonn’s homestead claim as prepared by a land office examiner in 1889.  (How to order a federal land entry file is detailed in a previous post here.)

Many new details emerged from the file.  Christ O. Bonn entered a claim for this homestead property almost exactly two years after immigrating from Norway.  He filed the claim at the U.S. Land Office in Crookston, Minnesota on 26 May 1882 and paid an $18 filing fee.  He began building a single-story 12 x 16 ft. log and frame shingle-roof house on the property on 10 October 1882 and took up residence starting 15 October 1882.

Uncle Christ subsequently built several other structures.  In 1883, he built a 16 x 24 ft. frame & sod stable; in 1884, he built a 16 x 18 ft. granary and a machine shed.  One well was dug in 1882, another in 1886.  The furniture in the house included two bedsteads, one lounge, one stove, one table, 5 chairs, one cupboard, one clock, one looking glass, plus dishes and cooking utensils.

U.S. Land Office 1889 Summary (Source: NARA Land Entry File for Christ O. Bonn, certificate #4093)

Uncle Christ never farmed the entire 160 acres.  Only 5 acres were farmed in 1882 and 1883, 10 acres in 1884 and 1885, and finally 35 acres in 1886 and 1887.   In 1886, he produced 400 bushels of oats, 100 bushels of wheat and potatoes each, and 10 bushels of turnips on his 35 acres.  However, in his 1887 testimony, he says:

“My crop was destroyed by hail last year.”

As for livestock and pets, Uncle Christ had one cat, two horses, one cow, one calf, 12 chickens, and one hog.

Uncle Christ left his residence every year in the fall for two months to provide labor on neighboring farms.  This was for the purpose of “earning means to live.”  I take this to mean that he needed additional income beyond whatever he was making from selling his crops.  In 1883 and 1884, he lived and worked on Benny Nelson’s farm; in 1885 and 1886, he worked on C.M. Ramsey’s farm.

As required by homestead law, Uncle Christ lived on the property for five years, which was proved 9 July 1887.  Two neighbors,  Benny Nelson and Halvor Slang, submitted affidavits attesting to Christ O. Bonn’s homestead claim.  He was granted his land patent on 10 June 1889, basically giving him deed ownership to the property.  He was almost 31 years old.

The file further revealed that prior to his arrival in Marshall County, Uncle Christ worked as a farm laborer in Goodhue County, Minnesota.  That was a surprise.  Goodhue County is in southeastern Minnesota a long ways from Marshall County.  It is also about 200 miles from the home of his brother Bernt O. Bonn in Chippewa County, who immigrated several years earlier.  One would think that Christ would have visited or even lived with his brother Bernt in Montevideo, Minnesota because they were the only two members of the family in America between 1880 and 1882, but you can never be sure.

Like all good genealogical sources, the land entry file also generates new questions and new mysteries.  For example, one unfortunate surprise from the file was that Uncle Christ lived alone on the homestead – at least up until mid-1887.  He is consistently described as a single man with no family.  Since his brother Ole immigrated in 1882, his parents Ole & Dorthea in 1883, and sister Laura in 1886, I had expected that we would find one or more of them living with Christ.  Apparently not so.  Where were they living in the 1880s?  I can only speculate that maybe they were renting rooms in Stephen, or possibly living with Bernt in Montevideo, Minnesota, or were somewhere else.

Another mystery is when and why did Christ move to the 44.5 acre property in Fork Township, and when did his parents and siblings join him there.  Based on the land entry file, Christ O. Bonn lived on the Donnelly Township homestead until at least 1889, but there is a gap of three years before we next see him occupying the Fork Township property in 1892.  We know from census records that his father and Ole were living with Uncle Christ at Fork Township in 1895 and that his father and sister Laura were with him there in 1900.  (The 1890 U.S. census, if it still existed, would have shed light on these questions.)

My hypothesis is that sometime between 1889 and 1892, Christ moved from his homestead to the smaller Red River residence.  His parents and brother Ole likely moved in with him during the same time period.  Laura would have joined them after 1895.

We still don’t know the disposition of Uncle Christ’s homestead land.  Did he sell it and then move to the Fork Township property?  Possibly.  However, I noticed the 1905 state census lists Christ’s occupation as “landlord.”  That’s interesting.  Thus, another possibility is that he continued to own the homestead property in Donnelly township but rented it out for many years.  Regardless, I have been unable to find its sale.

I did find evidence for the sale of the Fork Township property though.  On 7 Dec 1905, Christ O. Bonn sold the Fork Township lot to his next-door neighbor, Martin J. Nelson, for $1,200.  That’s nearly 4 times the amount he paid nine years earlier.  A very nice return.  The following summer, at the age of 48, he made the first of many sea voyages back to Norway, obviously financed at least partly by this sale.  When he returned to Minnesota, he moved in with his sister Laura and her new husband, Paul Berg, in Crookston, Minnesota, where he lived for many years.

After Laura died in 1923, Uncle Christ moved south to Montevideo, Minnesota to live near his brother Bernt.  The 1930 census shows him living with nephew Bertram Bonn, but for at least the last 10 years of his life, he lived with his nieces Madeline and Dorothy Bonn.  The 1938 photograph below shows him with family members in Montevideo.  He died peacefully in 1943 while resting after his daily afternoon walk.

Christ O. Bonn in 1938 in Montevideo, Minn. with nieces Madeline and Dorothy Bonn, grand-niece Beverly, grand-nephew Stephen, and their mother Helen Bonn (Photo from author’s collection)

Another intriguing lead emerged from the homestead file.  When asked by the land officer – How long have you known the claimant? – Christ O. Bonn’s neighbor Benny Nelson answered:

Since he was a little boy …

So here’s a guy who grew up with Uncle Christ in Norway!  Benny testified that he visited Uncle Christ between 20 to 50 times each year during all seasons and had dinner at his place often during the 5-year homestead period (1882-1887).  Benny was also a homesteader and received his patent (certificate #3358) the same month, June 1889, that Christ did.  He was probably Christ’s best friend during the 1880s and must have known the rest of the family.  The name on his homestead claim is Bernard Nelson.

Benny also testified in 1887 that he had lived at his residence for 6 years, which by subtraction, would mean he settled there in 1881 – one year before Uncle Christ.   If so, there is a possibility that Christ O. Bonn moved to Marshall County because of Benny.  While working on a farm in Goodhue County, he may have heard of available land in Northern Minnesota from an old childhood friend.

I checked the Norwegian Kirkebøker Out-migration records, but did not immediately find anyone who might match Bernard “Benny” Nelson.  This will require follow-up.  More fun!

References   [ + ]

1. Marshall County, Minnesota plat map, 1892; photocopy excerpt obtained by Steven Jonnes 27 Jun 2018 from Marshall County Historical Society, Warren, Minnesota.
2. Marshall County, Minnesota, Index to Death Records, Book A, Page 31, Line 23, for Dorthea Olsdatter Bohn, 1893, transcribed by hand; Marshall County Recorder’s Office, Warren, Minnesota
3. 1895 Minnesota State Census, Marshall County population schedule, District 5, Fork Township, p. 11, line 35, Christ Bonn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 March 2019), citing MNSC roll V290_75.
4. New York city and county, New York, Commissioner for Minnesota in New York, The St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railway Company, Trustees’ Deed, 15 Feb 1896 p. 585, indenture sale to Christ O. Bohn, 25 Jan 1896; photocopy obtained by Steven Jonnes 27 June 2018 from Marshall County Historical Society, Warren, Minnesota.
5. 1900 U.S. Census, Marshall County, Minnesota, population schedule, Fork Township, enumeration dist. 108, p. 5A, Christ Bohn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 March 2019), citing NARA microfilm T623, Roll 31077.
6. “Minnesota Deaths and Burials, 1835-1990,” database; digital image,  FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FDMD-6YM : accessed 5 August 2018), Ole L. Bohn, 12 February 1902, Fork, Marshall, Minnesota; citing FHL microfilm 2,117,533.
7. 1905 Minnesota state census, Marshall County population schedule, ED 28, Fork Township, line 39, Christ Bohn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 March 2019), citing MNSC roll 133.
8. “Real Estate Transfers,” Warren Sheaf, 7 Dec 1905, vol. 5, page 2; digital image: GenealogyBank (https://genealogybank.com : accessed 22 May 2018), Newspaper Archives.
9. Christ O. Bonn, (Marshall County) homestead file, final certificate no. 4093, Crookston, Minnesota, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives, Washington, D.C.