About the Book
In the spring of 1853, a family of eight drove their wagon to the wharf in Bergen, Norway. They unloaded their belongings alongside the other stacks labeled, AMERICA, MINNESOTA, ILLINOIS, MICHIGAN, NEW YORK CITY, CHICAGO and boarded the crowded ship.
Hopeful, nervous Norwegians—giving up everything for a place they knew of only through second-hand tales of freedom and opportunity—watched as the shoreline retreated, knowing they would never see their homeland again. Their trip ahead would be spent in cramped conditions for two or three months until they reached Ellis Island. The United States, where they were immigrating to, was facing many problems including tensions over slavery and the subsequent beginning of the Civil War.
The family moved west to farm the free land that was offered to them but were met with resistance, as it was land that had been cultivated by Native Americans for thousands of years before. The family was nearly eliminated during these times, often referred to as the American Indian Wars.
Future generations carried on to the Dakotas and Alberta with difficulties. These Norwegians persisted. Through ardent research and narrative biography, Robert Dodge reflects on the immigrant experience of one Norwegian family from the mid-19th century through World War II in FIELDS OF FORTUNE: ‘Viking’ Farmers in America.
Excerpt from the Book
Rabbits, gophers, and field mice did not make very sociable pets. In the solitude of frontier life, Irene had one close friend, her long haired black dog she named Billie Bean. He was a stray that showed up on the Fortune homestead, and was adopted. Although her father was not initially taken with the dog, his attitude changed as a result of an incident that took place one evening. The family was in bed when the dog began barking outside the front door. Oliver got up from his bed, and went out to scold Billie Bean. The same thing happened again, further angering Oliver. However, the dog kept at it, and since Billie Bean had never behaved this way before, Oliver went outside to see what the trouble was. In the middle of the night Billie Bean led Oliver to one of his horses that had broken through the barbed wire enclosure, and had fallen, unable to get up. The horse was thrashing in the barbed wire, and would have died, had it not been for Billie Bean’s intelligence and perseverance. From then on Oliver was a loyal fan of Billie Bean.
The young Irene was convinced that Billie Bean smiled when she talked to him, and the two of them spent hour after hour together, keeping each other entertained. She also had a second pet, a tomcat. One evening when she was playing with her cat, it bit through one of her fingers. Her father said that once a cat bites, it will bite again, and it would have to go. The next morning Irene heard a shotgun blast come from behind the barn. She never saw the cat again.
Irene’s one great fear regarding her companion Billie Bean was the danger posed by coyotes. Coyotes were very common, and would gather in groups in the pasture or field at night and howl at the moon. In the daytime they traveled in twos, and if they came near the farm, Billie Bean would chase after them. The coyotes would split apart, and while Billie Bean was chasing one, the other would get behind him and be chasing Billie Bean. Somehow, the dog always managed to survive unharmed.