The First Pastor of Cordelia. By Larry Lass
Peter Carlson was born to Carl and Anna (Isaksdotter) Andersso on December 7, 1822. Carl and Anna were subsistence farmers on a rocky, unproductive family farm near Hjortberga Parish, Kroberslän, Småland, Sweden (also spelled Hjortsberga Parish in Kronoberg län.). Peter had three younger sisters and a younger brother who survived the tough times on the farm. Formal training as a youth consisted of occasional readings from the family psalm’s book, limited religious instruction and scoldings, and occasional punishment from his father’s mother.
Rev. Peter Carlson
Hjortsberga Parish in Kronoberg län, Sweden
Schools were not an option for Carlson because of the costs and meager family income from farming. At age 11, he was given a glass of whiskey and became very drunk. After awakening from the stupor he resolved never to drink again and held true to the resolution all his life.
He learned to play the fiddle at age 15 so he could earn some pocket money and help with the family expenses. His father went blind when Peter was 15. The support of the family fell on Peter’s shoulders since he was the eldest son. Peter worked as a carpenter, constructing many buildings in the town and country.
Peter was confirmed at age 16. For the next four years, he was a serious Bible reader and found the need to evangelize in order to explore religion. He had many heated discussions and preached repentance. At age 21, Peter set religion aside and lived a free worldly life. During this time he put aside the Bible for newspapers, novels, and historical works. In his autobiography he wrote, “If I was saved by God’s grace from serious burdens and rupture, nevertheless I was altogether out of my mind in sport, joking, dancing, singing of light songs, etc. and increased in this such a level, that I never met more than one, who was my superior, and then I was ashamed of myself.”
Peter married Stina Kajsa Andersdotter when he was 25. They moved to Aneboda parish where their house became the party and dance house. This changed in 1849, when an evangelist who farmed near the Carlson’s home awakened the religious spirit in Peter and his wife. Peter called this farmer a Hofvian and Nohrborg’s reader. Readers were Bible interpreters and would often publish books or booklets to increase their following. Anders Nohrborg (1725 to 1767) was an early author of Bible interpretations and a Swedish pastor. Hofvian has been lost in history, but Carlson defined Hafvianers as stern and distinguished themselves with a special dress. Peter followed this doctrine for about two years. Other Readers influenced Peter’s understanding of the Bible. About 1852, he read “The one way of Salvation,” by the Finnish Pastor Hedberg, many times until he nearly wore it out. This prepared him for reading Luther’s interpretation of the Epistle to the Galatians, and he was strengthened by his new Antinomianism opinions and became a follower of Luther’s doctrine. Peter’s mother died in 1852.
Anna was born on April 15, 1853 to Peter and Stina Carlson in Aneboda parish, Kroberslän, Småland, Sweden. She was baptized on April 23, 1853.
Carlson 1870? Photo
In 1854, Peter and Stina decided it was time for a change, but reasons for this are unknown. Most Swedes were lured to America in hopes of betterment. The Carlsons seemed to have no special motive since his material circumstances appeared to be comfortable. His sisters may have had a role in it. The historical record indicated they were living in Geneva, Illinois in 1857. The decision to immigrate appeared to have come gradually without a facilitating crisis. It was common for large groups from a single district to immigrate and settle in a single location because a family friend or distant relative had a need for workers. Late in April 1854, the Carlson’s traveled with others 188 miles to Gothenborg. They waited four weeks before boarding the vessel for Boston. Stina’s name was changed to Christina when she entered through U.S. Immigration.
From Boston, they traveled to St. Charles, Illinois with 30 others from the original group. St. Charles, located 35 miles west of Chicago, was founded on the Fox River in 1834. All of Peter’s brothers and sisters and his father settled in the Geneva/St. Charles area. After nearly two month’s travel, they arrived in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Half of the group that arrived with Peter died within a short time. The Carlsons helped Pastor Erland Carlsson with the sick and dying and assisted in the burial of the many victims. Cholera was prevalent in the 1800's in the United States, but was virtually eliminated by modern sewage and water treatment systems. Cholera bacterium is spread by drinking contaminated water or eating raw food contaminated when washed or growing in contaminated water. The disease does not spread directly from person to person.
Pastor Erland Carlsson
(1860's? from Augustana College website)
Peter and Christina became ill with both fever and chills causing severe shivering. They had lent their remaining funds to members of the group in real need and the borrowers were in no position to repay the loans soon. Peter wondered about his decision to come to America. Thirty-three years later he wrote in his autobiography, “If I stood naked on the shores of Sweden, then I would count myself fortunate, and if God give me enough money once more, it will be we who will journey home.”
In the fall of 1854, the Carlsons moved two miles south to Geneva, Illinois. Geneva was established in 1835 by James Herrington and named for his third daughter. The next year it was selected for the new county seat. In 1843, early settlers established one of the early Unitarian Churches west of New York State. The railroad established passenger and freight service in 1853. The Methodist, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, and Swedish Lutherans had built churches in 1850 to 1860. Geneva was officially incorporated into a village in 1858. Friendships formed in St. Charles translated to Geneva. Pastor Erland Carlsson served both St. Charles and Geneva Swedish Lutheran Churches. He was qualified to teach and train new pastors and ultimately served as president of the Synod from 1881 to 1884. He gave spiritual strength to Peter and tutored him in English.
Peter Carlson found work at the Danford Reaper and Mower Company as a model maker of threshing machines. Eben Danford, a machinist and inventor, built and patented the Danford Reaper and Mower in 1850. They made between 400 and 600 reapers and harvesters each year and employed 50 to 100 men. The factory closed in 1862 due mainly to Cyrus McCormick competition with his reaper and mower. McCormick’s company later became International Harvester, and is now Case IH.
Pastor Carlsson held services in St. Charles once a month and during his absence Peter was selected to take charge of the service in Geneva. He started in November with the reading of a sermon prepared by Pastor Carlsson. It was not until after Christmas that Peter preached his first real sermon. Unfortunately the weather was so bad only three people were present. The St. Charles and Geneva congregations chose Peter as a representative at the Synod Conference which met in Chicago in the spring of 1855. The focus of that meeting was bringing together the Norwegian and Swedish congregations, but much of the discussion was on the expanding need for new pastors in America. Peter clearly wanted to give himself to spiritual work, but was unsure of the direction to take since he had a family to support while he received training. In the summer of 1855, Peter often walked 28 miles to Elgin, Illinois to lead two services on Sunday mornings. He returned home to be at the Danford factory on Monday.
In 1855, Peter was working for the Danford Reaper and Mower Company and leading services on Sundays as a lay-pastor. In the fall of 1885, He was again selected to be a delegate to the Synod meeting of Northern Illinois. During this meeting he met Dr. Eric Norelius. This friendship evolved to the point where they exchanged spiritual advice and personal communication for the rest of their lives. Dr. Norelius later trained the second pastor of Cordelia (Ramstedt). During the Synod meeting Peter requested admission to Illinois State University for religious training, but was not accepted because of his age (33) and family status.
Illinois State University was a Lutheran institution established in Springfield as early as 1847 and re-established in 1852. It closed its doors in 1867, and was again re-established in the old buildings under the name Concordia Theological Seminary in 1875 by the German Lutherans, as an institution of the Missouri Synod.
In November 1855, Peter was called upon to travel to De Kalb, Illinois to minister to the sick and dying immigrants of another cholera epidemic. He remained in this capacity during most of the winter of 1855. In the spring, Pastor Erland Carlsson found Peter another job at the American Tract Society as a Colporteur (commonly called a Bible salesman). Much to Pastor Carlsson’s dismay, after hearing the salary offer of only $12 per month and $18 if the salesman owned a horse, he advised Peter not to accept. Average wages in 1855 for a male factory workers were about $24 to $25 per month, and about half that for the women workers. Cost of living was less -- flour was $0.05 per pound, shoes were about $1.25 per pair and meat was $0.07 to $0.13 per pound -- but the sum offered was not sufficient to support a family. With much thought, Peter accepted and trusted God would provide. His sales area covered the states of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin and the Minnesota Territory.
Peter moved his family to Bostvicks Valley near La Crosse, Wisconsin. The books and sales material given to him were written in English, German, Swedish and Danish. The first summer, he carried his books on his back and worked the area near La Crosse to be close to his wife, who was pregnant with their second child. He called on 15 to 20 families each day. His sales pitch was to read the Bible, offer prayer, sell books, and invite them to a central location where he held services in the evening. John W. Carlson was born on August 28, 1856. Peter continued his work and had completely sold all the books given to him by the fall of that year. The society did not send additional material, and added to this disappointment was a period of sickness that increased his worries. For almost a year he lacked employment, his family suffered from need and poverty, he was abandoned by all but a few close friends, and he lost hope of becoming a pastor.
In the late fall of 1856, Peter found work cleaning and preaching at a church with a school in the Bostvicks Valley. He kept fires in the two stoves at the school and swept the building for his family’s board and room. At the same time, he tried to learn a little from the school books. Meals were often bread with molasses as jelly, and a weak tea without milk or sugar. He often collected the food thrown out by students after they left and would make a feast of it for his family. His shoes that winter consisted of a pair recycled from the trash.
In the spring of 1857, he worked as a common laborer in a gravel pit, shoveling sand. Peter was encouraged by two minsters to try selling Bibles once again. The American Bible Society sent both Bibles to give away and to sell, with additional religious material. His sales area remained the same three states and territory. The thought of giving away Bibles pleased him, even though the terms for employment were the same as before. Peter bought a horse and old wagon and fixed up a harness. His sisters who lived in Geneva sent him some clothing so his severe poverty was not always evident.
These were rough times in the frontier states, and Peter was not always spared. In Redwing, Minnesota Territory, one man in a group confronting him asked if he was selling light songs. His answer that he was giving away and selling the Word of God yielded him a complete silence after he had spoken. In Vasa, someone stole his wagon with a load of books while he was holding a service in a school. They dumped the books in a ravine and turned the wagon over.
These were also troubling times for our nation which was headed for Civil War. The Dred Scott decision was rendered in 1857, where a Missouri slave sued for his freedom based in part upon his residence in Minnesota. The Panic of 1857 sent prices skyrocketing. Banks went bust and businesses failed. Economic depression set in. Peter weathered the economic storm and things were looking up for his entry into the ministry.
In November 1857, Peter was urged to settle near Carver, Minnesota by Pastor Eric Norelius, a friend and mentor. Pastor Norelius had visited the area in May 1857 and found religious services being held in the partly completed church at Oscar's settlement (4 miles southwest of Carver), and in homes. Through Pastor Norelius, the United Conference had requested Carlson conduct preaching services as a lay preacher for the rapidly increasing number of settlers.
Eric Norelius 1903
Carver's history as a town site started in 1854, although Axel Jorgenson, a squatter, opportunistically claimed the site in 1850 and sold 415 acres to the founding group of land speculators (Carver Land Company). Jorgenson had discovered steam boats could not navigate the Minnesota River near Carver during low water, and this proved profitable. Cargo needed to be offloaded and reloaded above a limestone barrier in the river called Carver Rapids. The town was platted in 1857, and each investor received a portion of the town site.
Town growth was rapid, and in late 1857 there were 35 buildings. The Antelope, a steamboat captained by George Houghton, was making daily trips between Carver and St. Paul, 32 miles by river. Rich river bottom land surrounding Carver was sold to farmers for $1.25 an acre. This caused a flood of recent immigrants looking for good farmland. Carver was the first to establish a public school in Minnesota. In 1858, Carver had a small gold rush on Little Creek, later called Carver's Springs Creek.
Peter moved to Oscar's settlement and received a generous response from the Swedish community there, later known as Union settlement. He a knew how to preach and control the rough and good elements of this frontier settlement. The effort was rewarded by Pastor Norelius urging Carlson to apply for a license. The Swedish community of Oscar's settlement supported this idea and offered to support Peter and his family while he studied under Erland Carlsson in Chicago. Peter started studies in January 1858. Erland's teaching was more hands-on preaching and valuable experiences than book learning. In May 1858 he returned to Carver. His license was granted in April, but not conferred until the fall at the Synod Meeting in Mendota, Illinois.
In June 1858, the congregation at Union settlement was officially organized as East Union Lutheran Church. In December, a second congregation was organized 4 miles west of East Union, called West Union Lutheran Church. Peter was ordained on September 13, 1859 and was called by the East Union and West Union Churches. Ultimately his brother and all his sisters and father moved to the East Union area. In the summer of 1860 members of the congregation came to an awakening that, with this minister in the community, there would be no more going to church in the morning, then drinking and dancing in the afternoon. There was a move to get rid of the minister and return to the past. A church meeting was held to call a new pastor. The vote was 16 for calling a new pastor and 100 against.
Original West Union Lutheran Church building in Gotha in rural Carver County, Minnesota. This church was an offshoot of the East Union Church. The two original buildings (East and West Union) look very similar to each other. (Photo on Pinterest and taken by The WOODSHED Revisited).
Pastor Carlson did not let the grass grow under his feet while serving the two Union Churches. He was active in the mission field with many trips to settlements needing a minister. Sometimes he would be gone for a month at a time, and in most cases received little money to cover travel expenses. For example, he traveled six times to one settlement for a total of 720 miles, and eighteen times to Camden, Minnesota for a total of 900 miles. Both settlements gave him one dollar for all the visits. On several occasions, Peter gave 50 cents to a sick man who lived in Camden, so the account was in the red for that place.
One trip to Camden proved to be a life changing experience, and he told the story for years afterward. It is the most-remembered story by many who knew him in later life. On his way to Camden his horse and wagon became stuck in a bog, and after unhitching, the wagon the horse could not be driven out of the soft ground, but only sank deeper and deeper. All seemed hopeless, so he offered prayer: “Yes, dear God: Now I have done what I could and human help and creature strength is not to be found here, and worship is announced, and I am on time and have neglected nothing on my part. Now if I can’t come and the people complain to me, and as a result your honor suffers, you will have to be responsible, for I will not take it upon myself. If you will you can help the case, otherwise it remains like it is. Therefore, Lord, complete your promises. Amen.” “Then I gave the sign to the horse that he should renew his efforts, and then he was able to get up and the Lord protected me, otherwise the horse would have fallen upon me, for I could not move my feet.” Pastor was an hour late to the meeting and covered with mud, but still preached to the people. His travels from the Union settlement were ultimately fruitful and he helped organized an additional 18 churches in Minnesota during the next 20 years.
Peter focused many of his sermons on the social ills of drinking and narcotics. Whiskey proved to be the downfall of many Swedish farms. Some profited by proceeding to set up a still they had brought with them from Sweden. His admonitions and warnings availed nothing, but his prayer of David’s prayer (Psalm 140), that they might be brought to disagreement, seemed to work. Eventually the owners of the still began to quarrel and in their drunken anger destroyed the equipment. It was told that one of them cried out, “Now I perform the will of Carlson,” as he destroyed the last barrow of mash.
Peter’s preaching was tough on the business of many frontier peddlers and roving snake-oil salesmen that marketed alcohol or narcotics for good cure-alls, and they fought back. One notable was Dr. Carl Erickson, a self-styled militant type, former Sunday school teacher, and quack doctor. Erickson used the printed word against Peter’s work with a book titled The Eye Opener and a paper titled Enlightenment of Changing Times. He opposed all that Peter tried to do in Minnesota with little success, but years later would negatively impact Peter’s first visit to Portland, Oregon with additional printed materials and outspoken opinion.
Andrew Emanuet Carlson was born to Peter and Christina on September 13, 1861 in their home in East Union, Minnesota. He was baptized on September 28, 1861.
Watchers of the History Channel know in January 1861 a large block of southern states seceded from the United States, and Civil war broke out that summer. Two battles in Minnesota between Native Americans and settlers have been credited to the Civil war but not really related to north/south and slave ownership issues. These conflicts impacted Peter’s ministry.
The Santee Sioux of Minnesota, angered by the failure of the United States to meet treaty obligations in 1861, killed about 800 settlers and soldiers throughout the Minnesota River Valley. Most of the soldiers of the Minnesota regiment were away fighting in the Civil war. The U.S. Army responded with too few soldiers, and half of them were killed by a large Native American force. Surviving solders retreated to Fort Ridgely (about 60 miles west of Carver) and repelled repeated attacks by the Sioux on August 20 to 22, 1862. In late September 1862, having recruited 1,500 volunteers, the U.S. Army engaged the Santee near Wood Lake (100 miles west of Carver) after being ambushed by 700 warriors, but were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Sioux and won the day’s battle.
Many settlers fled to safety in the homes of Carver and Union settlement. Whole communities came to Carver because of the steamboat service on the Minnesota River and the potential link to a safer world. Additionally, the duty of Chaplain for Forts Snelling (29 miles east of Carver), Glenco (27 miles west of Carver), and Hooker (location unknown) fell on Pastor Carlson because he was closest to the forts. During his monthly visits to the forts he had a soldier escort.
In 1863, the Minnesota Preparatory School, started by Pastor Eric Norelius in 1862, moved to East Union Lutheran Church. The mission of the school was to train teachers and prepare ministers. A building and land were purchased by the East Union Congregation with funds they had raised ($300). The school’s name was changed to St. Ansgar’s Academy. Pastor A. Jackson, a Santee Sioux War refugee, became the first rector and teacher in 1863 and continued to 1872. The Academy remained there for 13 years until moving to St. Peter, Minnesota where it was named Gustavus Adolphus College to honor the Swedish King Gustav Adolf II (1594-1632). Today, the modified original building for St. Ansgar’s Academy still stands across the road from the East Union Lutheran Church.
A son, Adin Carlson, was born to Peter and Christina in 1865 and died on January 27, 1871 at 6 years of age. Peter suffered a mental-physical breakdown during the winter of 1871. He was advised to take a trip to Sweden to see if that would benefit him, after exhausting local doctors and medicines to no avail. He received permission from East and West Union Congregations for a year’s leave of absence and enough money for the trip. Pastor Johnson took care of the congregations in his absence.
Pastor Carlson traveled to the mineral springs of Småland (the town where he was born) and Halland, Sweden and rested for a time. One account of his travels indicated Bishop Hultman granted him authorization to preach in all the churches of the Vexio Parish. Another account indicated Dr. Peter Fjällstad invited him to preach at the churches of the Växsjö Parish. Regardless, it proved more instrumental to his recovery than rest and hot baths. He preached more than 170 times at 30 churches. In addition, he made many trips to Skäne, Stockholm, and Göteborg. The need to be always moving and preaching appeared to be a constant that helped him recover his health and stay healthy.
In 1879, Peter again felt the need to rest and secured the permission of his congregation to take three months rest at the hot springs of Colorado. The Augustana Mission Board had another thought that would help fill vacancies in the Pacific Northwest. Peter was not their first choice, but as the third choice, he met the criteria of a congregation builder and musician. Pastor Norelius came to East Union Congregation and convinced them to give Peter a full year's leave. Peter left for Omaha to catch the train to the West Coast on August 23, 1879. The East Union Church arranged for his wife and children to remain in the parsonage and provided enough grazing land for a cow. While in Omaha, he visited the Immanuel Deaconess Association, a provider of health care with a hospital. He would return to this institution the final years of his life.
Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Pastor Carlson discovered Augustana Mission Churches had lost ground because current pastors were "flying under the false colors of being "Augustana Lutheran" in hopes to gain additional membership" and several members of the community blocked his requests for changes. He could see more problems than he had solutions and it just gave him a major headache.
After a week and a half, he took a ship to Portland, Oregon. The weather turned stormy and nearly all on ship became ill. The reception in Portland was not much better. The men at the boarding house where he stayed cursed and swore at the Bible, ministers, and religion in general. They swore there were too many churches or congregations in Portland.
Pastor Carlson rented an old Episcopal church for ten dollars a month, where he could hold meetings. He started by inviting a small group of people with diverse beliefs who had been meeting once a week for prayers. On September 29, he reported the collection was $7.50 for the evening service.
The good start toward organizing a congregation and church was blocked by an enemy out of the past from Minnesota. Dr. Carl Erickson sent sample copies of his papers out to Portland for free distribution. In them, he accused Peter of merely being in Portland to beg, having come from Minnesota where he could not find work. The result of this attack was an even stronger opposition from those already against the church. Pastor Carlson prevailed, and even this obstacle was overcome and his ministry was spreading.
In November 1879, Peter traveled to Astoria and found about 30 families wanting to worship. He preached twice and gave a sermon at a wedding. Later in the month Peter traveled to the Puget Sound area, visiting Tacoma, Seattle, White River, Stanwood, La Conner and Skagit. He was pleased with the possibilities for establishing churches at La Conner, a settlement with about 50 Scandinavian farmers. Pastor Carlson found conditions existing among Native Americans to be deplorable and wrote, in a letter dated December 1, 1879, of the need to work among them.
On December 28, Peter organized the Immanuel Lutheran Church of Portland with 23 members. It had a rocky start with two leaders taking it upon themselves to discipline members of the church who continued to attend dances. Some feared this would cause everything to fall to pieces. An assistant called for Pastor Carlson to move on and predicted all church activities would stop when he moved. Peter responded by replying "If you go, then I shall not go, and if I go, even then God will not go." The assistant left for Spokane. Pastor Carlson remained and the work continued.
Peter's one year call as a missionary to the West had a few months to go when he saw many needs yet to be filled by his ministry. He needed to bring his family to a place where his sons could farm. The new location to settle needed to be away from the high humidity of the coast (which caused him to have fainting spells and colds), and the cold winters of Minnesota for him to remain in good health. In February, Peter wrote the East Union Church a letter informing them that he would resign from the church that he had served for 23 years and dearly loved. The family would move to Idaho. Pastor Carlson's resignation was to take effect September 1, 1880, giving him plenty of time to plan.
It was now time to get serious about finding land and Peter knew the right person to do it. Several from East Union and Carver, Minnesota had used Mr. Almen to investigate the territory for potential new farms. Peter paid him $60 for this purpose.
His coastal ministry continued with once-a-month travel to Astoria to hold services, and persistence paid off. On March 23, 1880 the congregation organized with 3 Norwegians, 1 Dane, 3 Finns, and 11 Swedes. Prior attempts to organize were stalled by the sticky situation that most of the men belonged to the Oddfellow Secret Society, and the congregational constitution forbade taking such members. Peter did not think it practical to organize just the women and children, but history does not record how the problem was resolved. The congregation purchased a lot and erected a 42 by 24 by 14 foot building by the end of the year. This church was the first Lutheran church built on the Pacific Coast.
He traveled to The Dalles, Oregon in April 1880, where he preached for three weeks, but found no relief from the high humidity. He continued to Colfax, Washington where friends from Minnesota had recently moved using the advise purchased from Mr. Almen. Upon his arrival he found many of them had continued to the small community of Lenville, Idaho where they found good farm land. These friends would later become the starter families for his Cordelia, Idaho congregation. He also visited Lewiston, Idaho on his return trip to Portland.
In June 1880, Peter went to the Synod meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. He submitted an extensive report detailing the need for more workers in the West. Privately, he expressed his desire to move to the drier side of the Cascades for his health and to continue his ministry. The Synod extended his call for another year, specifying he should focus on east of the Cascades settlements.
Peter returned to his East Union congregation in Minnesota and continued to serve them until his resignation took effect in September. Upon his arrival he sent his two sons, John and Andrew, to establish a homestead for the family in Lenville, Idaho Territory. John homesteaded land in the northeast corner of Section 1 of Township 38 N Range 5 W. The 159.57 acre site was the next homestead to the north of Andrew Olson's site (current location of the church). Andrew Carlson chose land in Section 7 of Township 38 N Range 4 W. The 163.11 acre site was located about one mile south and one-half mile east of John's site. Peter homesteaded land in Section 30 of Township 39 N Range 4 W. The 160 acre site was located about a mile northeast of John's site.
Locations of Homesteads.
Peter and Christina = green
Edwin = blue
John = red
Andrew = yellow
The congregation at East Union held a real party before Pastor Carlson and family left his old friends for Lenville. A collection had been taken and $550 was given to Peter for his many years of service in Minnesota. Peter, his wife, Christina and daughter, Anna, left East Union on September 12, 1880 and arrived in Astoria on September 25.
The warm welcome of the Astoria congregation helped uplift the spirit of the family after a difficult boat ride. Peter preached and Anna played her guitar and sang. Two days later they traveled to Portland where they met with Pastor Jonas Vender. Peter was excited to see the progress made towards establishing a church. He and Pastor Vender arranged for the purchase of a lot and Peter supported Jonas's appeal for funds to support this new church. The congregation was short about $500 of the $1500 needed for the property. Pastors Carlson and Vender signed a loan to secure the remaining funds for the land but Peter was a little nervous about repayment since his salary was set at $60 per month. In October 1880, the family traveled to The Dalles in Oregon Territory where Christina and Anna stayed with friends for the first winter. Peter continued up the river to Umatilla, traveled by train to Walla Walla and on to Lewiston by stage. He purchased a horse and traveled to his homestead.
Peter found a group of Swedish and Irish homesteaders from Minnesota had formed a loose community along the south fork of the Little Potlatch Creek between Magee Road and Campbell Loop. In 1882, a small store owned by Len (Leonard) Nichols, which sold a few grocery items, trinkets and tobacco, was the focal point for trade until 1894. Mr. Nichols named the group of buildings after himself, though the area was also called the "soldier neighborhood" because most of the homesteaders in the area were former Union Civil War soldiers.
In November of 1880, Peter nearly froze to death in the poorly built house which his two sons had erected, and he had a bad cold and sore throat most of the winter. Despite poor health he was able to meet with local members of the Swedish community at Lenville and started Cordelia Lutheran Church. Organization papers for "The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, Cordelia, Nez Perce County, Idaho Territory" were signed on November 14, 1880 by 18 members. It was the first Swedish Lutheran Church in Idaho. Peter wrote in a letter dated November 15, 1880 that Cordelia was the name of the mountain district to the north. Today the Cordelia Mountains are recognized as Montgomery and Tomer Buttes and Fix Ridge. For the flatlanders of Minnesota who homesteaded the area they were mountains with timber for buildings, and good farmland.
Peter traveled back to The Dalles to be with his family over Christmas. The trip was very difficult. He wrote of the journey, "I made the 300 mile journey by sled, horseback, stagecoach, train and steamer. The 60 mile, 15 hour ride from Lewiston to Dayton was made in a lumber wagon over rough roads. I sat on the bare floor, praying for patience to endure it. I had the advantage of enough room to stand, kneel sit or lie on either side. A kindly farmer tossed me some straw at noon. Stepping from the wagon at 9:30 in Dayton, I could not walk to the hotel for some time. The following day I had another 30 miles by stage to The Dalles." Peter preached at the Christmas Day service in The Dalles.
After the holidays, Peter and his daughter went to Portland. Work on the new church had not gone as expected and he found Pastor Vender in poor health with chronic heart problems and in financial need. Peter agreed to stay and relieve Pastor Vender of some church duties. The support of Carlson's preaching and Anna's singing, playing and teaching was of great help.
Ice on the river delayed their return, but allowed Pastor Vender to visit the Puget Sound area and organize a congregation at La Conner on January 22. Upon Pastor Vender's return, Peter made a trip to New Lebanon near Goldendale, Washington to preach and have late night discussions about religion. They returned to Portland to wait for the spring thaw.
The long winter finally ended in April and Peter was able to return to The Dalles. Upon his return he found many of the Swedes had moved or lost interest in establishing a church. The severe winter of 1880 caught many ranchers in The Dalles area unprepared, so most of the cattle and horses were unable to find feed and starved to death. He wrote of the disaster in his Mission Report. He moved his wife and daughter to the homestead near Lenville, Idaho.
Anna Carlson married Charles (Carl) Johan Edwin on April 15, 1881. Cordelia records indicated Carl was born in Fagwhalt, Sweden on July 16, 1851 (it is spelled Fagerhult). His parents were Petter Magnus Nilsson and Stina Caisa Magnidotter. Their other known children were Gustaf Petter Alfrid born in 1854 and Claes Uno born in1858. Carl entered the United States in 1871 and went to Rockford, Illinois in 1872 before moving further west. His name was changed from Carl Johan Pettersson to Charles Edwin when he came into the United States. Gustaf immigrated to the United States in 1873 and Claes followed in 1878, and may have taken Peterson as a last name. They may have followed Carl Edwin west, but records of their movement were not found. Charles (Carl) was not listed in the 1880 census records for Idaho so it is assumed that he and Anna met at The Dalles.
Anna and Carl Edwin moved to a homestead (160 acres) in Sections 31 and 32 of Township 39 N Range 4 W. The site was located about 1.25 miles north and slightly east of the Olson's homestead, and was a quarter mile south of Peter's land. The 1890 census indicated they owned the farm and were still working the land.
Peter's health problems and the untamed region required one of his sons to travel with him in the summer of 1881, and without them he would not have been able to work. They would take charge of the music and the singing as well as drive the horse and buggy. Extensive travel was slowed by his wife's broken arm and his sons building a house for them in July. He was able to travel to Cheney, Camas Prairie, and to a settlement then known as Spokane Falls.
Pastor Carlson spent the winter of 1881 on his homestead at Lenville in a new and warmer house. He was home to witness the birth of his first grandson, William Nathaniel Edwin, on January 28, 1882. Cordelia records indicate William was baptized on February 19, 1882.
In November 1881, Jonas Vender, the pastor serving Portland, was forced to take sick leave and seek treatment in Denver for tuberculosis. The Mission Board requested Pastor Carlson return to Portland in 1882 to take care of the neglected work of building a church. The congregation was prepared to use the property Pastors Vender and Carlson purchased from Dr. Lindsay in 1880, and selected a building committee lead by Sven Anderson. They were ready to build, but funds for reimbursing Pastors Vender and Carlson for the land purchase and construction never seemed to materialize.
Pastor Carlson arrived on April 26, 1882 to find Dr Lindsay trying to back out of the land deal made in 1880 and Sven causing major problems in moving the building process forward. Peter was able to raise the funds for the building and transfer of the land deed to the congregation, but it was an uphill battle for many who thought they would never see a Swedish Lutheran Church in Portland. The church was finally completed in late summer 1882.
Pastor Carlson made monthly visits to Astoria where he served as vacancy pastor and also made several trips to Skamokawa, Tacoma, Seattle, and Skagit, and returned home to Lenville for a brief visit. The dry summer of 1882 caused large fires that covered much of the west with smoke. His dizzy spells were more frequent and lasted longer.
During his summer visit to Tacoma, a land company gave Peter the promise of two lots for a church if the congregation would build within a year. He quickly organized a congregation of 16 members at the close of service on July 11, 1882. This would become Peter’s fifth church in the west. First Lutheran Church of Tacoma was chartered October 17, 1882 with a roll of 22 members. Members of the congregation started to clear land on the timbered lots while funds were raised for the building. In March 1883, a new land agent tried to retract the promise and substitute lots, but Pastor Carlson and Gust Sahlstrom (church member) reminded him they had started to clear stumps from the land and would keep their promise to complete the church in six months. After completing construction, Peter returned to Lenville.
Once again Peter found himself serving several congregations and appealed for help in 1883. Pastor John Telleen of San Francisco answered his call for dedicating the new churches in Portland and Astoria. Telleen was instrumental in urging the President of the Synod (Erland Carlsson) that the west be permitted to organize a conference of their own. President Carlsson advised against it since the churches in the west were not self-sufficient and still required considerable synod funds.
On June 24, 1883, Nelly (Nellie) Effietta Edwin was born to Anna and Charles, and baptized on September 16, 1883 when Pastor Carlson returned from Tacoma.
Peter returned to Cordelia in the Fall of 1883 to find the small congregation preparing to build a church on Andrew Olson’s homestead. The cost of materials used in construction was $72.83. Construction started in October and was completed in late December 1883, and the porch was added in 1884.
Pastor Carlson was sent to Marshfield, Oregon by the Mission Board to organize another congregation in the fall of 1884. A large group of devout Swede-Finns had met for years in Bible Study and prayer, but a congregation was never formed because several members belonged to secret societies that were forbidden by the church constitution. The Coos Bay Swedish Evangelical Lutheran church was organized with 24 members on September 8, 1884 with 55 communicant members. Land was donated and a 35 by 50 foot church costing $150 was built by volunteer labor and completed in May 1885. This was Peter’s sixth congregation in the West.
His seventh western church was Zion Lutheran Church in Moscow, Idaho. The seeds of beginning were sown on Christmas Day in 1883 when Peter met with the Olof Olson, and A. P. Magnusson families who had gathered at Gustaf Johnson’s home. In the fall of 1884, Peter held a series of Sunday worship meetings. On October 12, 1884, Gustaf Johnson, Allen Ramstedt, P.J. Sundell, Olof Olson, John O. Olson, Widow Berta Olson, and Mrs. Lessa Karin Magnusson agreed to organize Swedish Evangelical Zion Congregation in Moscow, Idaho Territory, later called First Lutheran, and now called Emmanuel Lutheran.
John W. Carlson received title for his homestead land on April 10, 1884.
In the spring of 1884, the Mission Board sent Peter to Seattle to establish a church. He took a build-it-and-they-will-come approach. He borrowed $3,500 and purchased a desirable location with two houses. In the fall he and his son, John, returned to build a 34 by 50 foot church building. The congregation did not organize until February 4, 1885 and the church was completed a week later.
Charles (Carl) J. Edwin received title for the land he and Anna were homesteading on March 10, 1885. Cordelia church records indicate Pastor’s second grandson was born on July 27, 1885, but his sister, Nellie, in a family history, and his headstone indicated his birth date was July 25. Clarence Daniel Waldemer Edwin was baptized on August 8, 1885.
In the summer of 1885, Peter attended the Synod meeting in Rockford, Illinois. During the meeting he received a renewed call to continue his work for another year. On his return to Lenville, Peter took a bold step to establish a building in Moscow by borrowing $200 to purchase a lot on the corner of Second and Van Buren from William J. McConnell, later governor of Idaho. It took members two congregational meetings and several votes before the building project was approved, and new optimism from a growing new membership stimulated the need for a church. The group purchased the lot from Peter on October 22, 1885 and resolved to incorporate under the laws of Idaho Territory.
The Mission Board ordered Peter to Sacramento, California for the purpose of discovery in the fall of 1885. He did not want to go because his health suffered from the California climate. Before leaving for Sacramento, he purchased a lot at 510 East Third Street in Moscow, Idaho and contracted with P. Sundell and Allan Ramstedt to build a duplex house. Peter left for California and stayed for five months but really did not accomplish much.
On February 5, 1886, Clarence Edwin, third grandchild of Pastor Carlson, died at age 7 mouths.
The following June 1886, Pastor Carlson (age 64) was called by Cordelia and Zion Lutheran, to be their permanent pastor. For serving the country and city churches, he received $6 per male and $4 per female member per year. Zion church then grew at an amazing rate. Hula Johnson, daughter of founding member Gustaf Johnson, would later write, “...there was not room in any of the homes for services, so we were in the Presbyterian church and then in the Methodist church ...”. Cordelia membership slightly increased.
Although based in Moscow, Idaho, Peter still continued to travel for the Mission Board to help supplement his salary. He focused his regular visits on five churches and still preached at 20 others during his ministry at Moscow. In October 1886, he traveled to Nehalim Valley (Mist), Oregon to organize Bethlehem Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church. He also traveled several times to Troy, Idaho and Spokane, Washington. His labors of two years at Troy, Idaho were fruitful with formation of the congregation on December 12, 1886. There were 17 adults and 14 children at the organizational meeting.
During the summer of 1886, Peter and Christina moved from their country house to their new home in Moscow after they had met the required time on the homestead. The property title for the homestead was transferred on June 9, 1886. Records show they received about $100 per year for rent from the farm land in 1886.
In the fall of 1886, the congregation at Zion in Moscow started to raise funds to construct a church. Construction started in 1887 and, after three years of volunteer labor, was completed in 1890. It was a simple frame building measuring 28 by 40 feet with a tower on the southeast corner. The total cost of construction was about $1,500 and all but $350 had been raised by the members. The formal dedication ceremony for Zion Lutheran Church was on February 16, 1890. A history of Zion Lutheran is posted on Emmanuel Lutheran Church’s website or available through the Latah County Historical Society.
John Carlson started to sell some of his land holdings to consolidate and prepare to purchase others. His first sale was to Jacob Navenfrian in February 1888.
Pastor Carlson made several trips in 1888 to Spokane Falls, later called Spokane. There he purchased a lot worth $800 that would make a good location for a church. He organized the Salem church of Spokane Falls on June 25, 1888 with 40 charter members. The church purchased Peter's lot but traded for a better location at Broadway and Walnut. They had a new church building a year later.
During the summer of 1888, Pastor Carlson suffered a series of dizzy spells. During these spells his movements were limited. He always had someone drive his wagon to the meeting place. His sons would often travel with him. More than once they found him lying on the ground and he had to be carried into the house.
Pastor Carlson saw he needed to prepare for his eventual retirement. Carl, the son of Allen Ramstedt who built Peter’s house in Moscow, was studying to be a teacher and hoping to become a pastor. Carl would often help Pastor Carlson teach English and Sunday school during his vacations from college. Peter saw promise in the young Ramstedt and suggest he might consider returning home after seminary to replace him. In 1890, after Carl had spent the summer helping, Pastor Carlson showed his interest in Ramstedt completing his education by paying the sum of $63 for his fare to and from school (see Pastor Ramstedt).
A third son was born to Anna and Charles Edwin on September 18, 1888. Andrew Raymond Edwin (known as Raymond) was baptized on September 30, 1888. On March 31, 1889, William Edwin, oldest grandson of Pastor Carlson, died at age 7 years and 2 months.
Peter’s youngest son, Andrew, married in late 1888 or early 1889. The 1900 Census indicated A. E. Carlson and K. L. Carlson of Shoshone County were married for 11 years. Latah County Land Records indicate it may have been in 1888. Andrew E. Carlson and wife recorded the sale of their land to John W. Carlson on December 13, 1888 and July 12, 1889. It was interesting Andrew added “and wife” to the sales record since legally his wife could not hold property in Latah County at that time. Cordelia’s records show Andrew transferred membership to Zion in Moscow on July 4, 1889, but does not indicate if he was married. The marriage is not recorded in Latah County Records and may have been in Shoshone County.
Andrew moved to Wardner, Idaho, a mining town south of Kellogg. Fay Carlson was born to K. L and A. E. Carlson in 1891. Andrew was instrumental in having the State of Idaho recognize Wardner as a town. His occupation was listed as a bookkeeper in the 1900 census. In 1894, he ran for Shoshone County Clerk, but lost to Barry Hillard. The family later moved to Boise, Idaho. Daughter Fay Ford Carlson married Vernon Raymond Bell in Boise, Idaho on June 3, 1913. Vernon Raymond Bell was born on February 24 1897 and died January 1973 in Laketown of Rich County Utah. Laketown is on the south end of Bear Lake near the border of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Andrew E. Carlson continued to live in Boise until at least 1914, but further information was not found.
John W. Carlson also transferred his membership from Cordelia to Zion on July 4, 1889 and may have moved to Moscow, Idaho. From 1890 to 1891 he sold his land in Latah county to Oliver Peterson, Jacob Navenfrian, Joseph Niederstat, Gideon Parker, George Brumer, and Jay (Ray?) Woodworth.
On June 28, 1890, Franklin John Edwin was born to Anna and Charles Edwin. Franklin (John) is not listed in the records of Cordelia, but there is a note the family transferred membership to Zion Lutheran in Moscow on April 1, 1891. First Lutheran (new name for Zion) shows Charles and Raymond Edwin were members in 1889. Other records show Charles continued to farm, but the family moved to 204 N. Hayes in Moscow. Many pioneer families also had a “city house” where their family had better access to education, medical care and community support.
In early 1892, Pastor Carlson and his wife became seriously ill. He slightly recovered enough to preach once in April, but remained seated in a chair through the service. Carl Ramstedt accepted the call to be the second pastor of Cordelia and Zion Lutheran in Moscow and started to work in July 1, 1892. Former Pastor Carlson was very happy the churches were going to be in the good hands of Ramstedt. Peter arranged things so Ramstedt’s salary was about $600 per year.
In retirement, Pastor Carlson traveled to preach and visit friends when his health permitted. He was a little concerned about finances since he did not have a salary, but came to the conclusion he had enough and would borrow against his farm if he needed more and that would last long enough. Peter sold part of his farm to his son-in-law, Charles Edwin, in late September 1892. He would later sell more land to his son Andrew in February and December 1896. The remaining piece, which may have contained the house, was sold in December 1897 to Charles Edwin.
In October 1892, the District offered him a call to act as a traveling pastor at no salary but would cover travel expenses. Peter’s response was all telling of his ministry, “Well, now I am in my element again. Is it not a wonderful God.” He helped Tacoma celebrate their tenth anniversary and he helped Seattle install Pastor Larson.
Peter was in Portland when he received word that Christine had died on January 1, 1893. Christine was buried in the Moscow cemetery. On his return to Moscow he lived in a private room with his daughter, Anna, and her husband. He continued as a traveling pastor and served wherever he could and felt there was a need. In 1893, he helped the Portland church and served at the Astoria over Christmas. Cycles of good and poor health continued to hamper his activities.
John W. Carlson died in Portland on December 6, 1896, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. His remains were brought back to Moscow. The funeral was held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church with final viewing at the Elks lodge before burial in the Moscow cemetery. Pastor Carlson and his granddaughter (Nellie Edwin) traveled to Omaha, Nebraska in late April 1897. Peter was to serve at Immanuel Hospital for one year while the Director was traveling in Europe. Peter lived at the hospital while he was working there. Nellie, age 14, worked at the institution for six months, but did not live there, after which she returned to Moscow, Idaho.
After Nellie returned to Moscow, she taught school from 1910 to 1917. In 1917 she married Mr. Arthur J. Sweeney and quit her teaching position. They lived at 126 W. First in Moscow. She resumed teaching from 1924 to 1932. Pastor Carlson remained at Immanuel Hospital as paid staff after the Director returned. His salary was the same as the nurses who received fifteen dollars a month plus room and board. In 1902, Peter made his only visit to Moscow since he left in 1897.
In the final two years of his life, duties at the hospital changed from worker to patient. He thought himself to be fortunate and the staff found him to be an inspiration. On May 14, 1909, Peter suffered a stroke and was moved from his room to the hospital where the nurses could care for him. Anna Edwin, his daughter, came from Moscow to be with him. Her visits uplifted his spirits. After considerable pain and suffering of the final week, Peter Carlson died on August 13, 1909 at age 87.
At his request the body was brought back to Moscow to be buried by the side of his wife and near his son. His obituary listed his wife and John (son) preceded him in death and there were two surviving children, Mrs. Anna Edwin of Moscow, Idaho and Andrew Carlson of Boise. It did not list grandchildren or other relatives.
Peter Carlson, pioneer pastor, organized 19 churches in Minnesota and 13 more in the Pacific Northwest.
References for Rev. Carlson's Newsletter Articles:
Bingae, M. L. 1981. Immigration in the Pacific Northwest. Paper for Scandianian Topics Class given to Victoria Olson. p. 26.
Houser, M. C. 1992. Cordelia Lutheran Church. A Case Study in Historic Preservation. University of Idaho.
Norling, R. E. 1939. Peter Carlson, Pioneer Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod of North America. University of Idaho Masters Thesis p.108.
Special collections of Latah County Historical Society Library, University of Idaho Library, Latah County Court House and BLM.
Tying loose ends in Carlson's History:
Helene Leaf, a descendant of Peter’s sister, filled in some history gaps on Peter’s brother and sisters. Anders Johan belonged to East Union Church and lived in the area all his life. Maria lived in Carver County for a while and the family moved to North Dakota, but then moved back. Most of the family now live in Minneapolis. Katarina married another Peter Carlson and lived right across from East Union Church. Ingrid belonged to nearby West Union Church and lived in Carver County. Helene Leaf lived in Moline, Illinois.
Anna Edwin (daughter) lived until December 23, 1932 (age 79) and the flu was listed as the cause of death. Charles Edwin (son-in-law) died July 28, 1925 (age 74) due to a hip injury. John Franklin Edwin (grandson) died on December 23, 1912 (age 22) in Seattle. Andrew (Raymond) Edwin (grandson) was a member of First Lutheran in Moscow until his death on July 30, 1949. All are buried at the Moscow Cemetery. Nellie Sweeney (granddaughter) lived until June 1, 1977. Nellie wrote a brief history of her family for the Latah County Historical Society.
Fay Ford Carlson, daughter of Andrew E. Carlson, married Vernon Raymond Bell in Boise, Idaho on June 3, 1913. Vernon Raymond Bell was born on February 24, 1897 and died in January 1973 in Laketown of Rich County, Utah. Laketown is on the south end of Bear Lake near the border of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Andrew E. Carlson continued to live in Boise until at least 1914, but further information was not found. Helene Leaf, descendant of Peter’s sister, indicated the Bell family moved first to Colorado, then Michigan, and finally to California where descendants of Fay are still living in California.
Of interesting note, Marilyn Edith Carlson Howell, a member of Friends of Cordelia, indicated she may be related to Pastor Carlson. Her family's history traces her roots to Victor Emmanuel Carlson. Oral family history indicated his father may have been Peter's brother. Peter's brother is reported to have served as treasurer/secretary of East Union Church. Victor Emmanuel Carlson is the son of Pastor Peter Carlson's brother, Anders Johan Carlson. Victor married Della Andrews and had five children, Glen, Paul, Ruth, Lilah, and Merle. Merle is Marilyn Carlson-Howell's father.