I hate to rain on Jim Maxson’s May 4 article, “On Burgum, Nelson, Stenehjem, At Least We Know We’re Getting a Norwegian,” from theMinotVoice.com. In it, Maxson claims North Dakotans will have a choice between three gubernatorial candidates of Norwegian descent.
Only problem — Fargo Republican Doug Burgum is not Norwegian. Most of his Burgum ancestors were English. I traced his family tree, and the following are his great-great-grandparents: William Burgum and Edith Bowery (both born in England), Aaron Bradley and Elizabeth Harper (both born in England), Phillip Slaughter and Harriet Castleman (born in Virginia and Kentucky, respectively), Gen. Charles Warfel and Mary Boyd (born in Pennsylvania and Ohio, respectively), Dr. Henry Kilbourn and Fanny Briggs (both born in Vermont), Amasa Feltt and Elizabeth Young (both born in Vermont), James Conwell and Harriet Conner (born in Delaware and Indiana, respectively), and finally James Higgins and Lucinda Craig (born in Pennsylvania and Ohio, respectively).
None of these names ring Norwegian, and the beginnings of Norwegian emigration to the United States didn’t start trickling in until the 1820s-1840s, after most of these people were born. Not that donning a bunad and feasting on lutefisk needs to be the litmus test for governorship. North Dakota has a rich history of English settlers as well, with many towns and cities bearing English names.
But alternately, fellow candidates for the state’s highest office — Wayne Stenehjem and Marvin Nelson — are quite Norwegian. Breaking down the candidates by their heritage, Stenehjem can claim he’s at least half-Norwegian. Wayne’s father Martin was 100 percent Norsk. His mother, Marguerite (McMaster) Stenehjem was mainly Scottish and German. Nelson’s great-grandparents Julius and Alethe Nelson emigrated from Hedmark, Norway. He has other Norwegian ancestry as well.
I’m not exactly sure what level of confidence or comfort North Dakota residents harbor with a Norway-descended resident at the helm, but the tone of Maxson’s article makes it appear palpable. Or somewhat amusing.
But as a former president of the Fargo Sons of Norway Kringen Lodge, I am well aware of the pride this group feels in its cultural and historical imprint on the state. Tens of thousands of Norwegians spread across the state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and their descendants number greatly among the present-day population.
I am among them. My great-great grandfather Jorgen Sunderland walked barefoot, as the story goes, 600 miles from Iowa to Dakotah Territory (before 1889 statehood) over several fall weeks to settle here. He walked in lead of the family’s horses and carriage on the journey. These ancestors of ours all had a dream of a better life.
In forwarding Maxson’s message though, North Dakotans can be assured that these men have stepped up to public service to the best of their collective abilities. All are born and bred here. They carry with them North Dakota sensibilities and work ethic. Whatever happens in November, at least there will be no outsiders. And maybe … just maybe … lefse and krumkake at the governor’s residence.