A History of Henrietta Isabella Holvorson

by Rebecca Ballard Young


Harris Benjamin Holverson
Anna Elizabeth Pepper
Henrietta Isabella Halvorson

Henrietta Isabella Holvorson who was born on 28 January 1879 in Duluth, Minnesota. She was the first child of Harris Benjamin Holverson and Anna Elizabeth Pepper. Her mother died of typhoid fever when she was eight years old leaving her father with five little girls ranging in age from four months to eight years. Her father after a short time heard of a new Lutheran orphanage in St. Paul Minnesota that was looking for children to place in privileged homes. He placed the four youngest daughters with this institution. The girls were adopted into what were considered suitable homes. All four children knew they were adopted, and their father stopped and inquired how his girls were doing at their individual homes whenever he visited the Minneapolis area.

All went well for three of the adoptions. Harriet, the oldest, was seven when she was adopted. Her first family met with financial reverses shortly after the adoption and she returned to the orphanage. A second adoption also failed as the mother became too ill to care for the child, and she was returned to the orphanage. A third adoption also failed as she went to a spinster schoolteacher who only wanted a child to clean and haul the wood and water. Harriet at the age of ten ran away from the spinster to where her Father and older sister Henrietta lived and her father decided to keep her with him. He thought that she was then too old for adoption. Etta and Hattie became bosom sisters, seldom separated for the next 35 years of their lives.

The Holverson family had homesteaded property outside of Towner, North Dakota. Both of the sisters graduated from the 8th grade which was quite an accomplishment in those days on the frontier. The girls from the time they were 12 or 13 had kept house and worked part time for neighboring families in this small community until the girls had grown up. Their father married a widow with three children. He convinced her to place two of her three children in the same orphanage he originally had placed his own four daughters and they were adopted by new families. She kept with her only a simple minded daughter who lived the rest of her life with them.

Etta's father and both of Oscar's parents were emigrants from Norway. In Minnesota, Wisconsin, and in North Dakota they lived mainly in Scandinavian communities even at times enrolling their children in special schools so they would learn to know their mother tongue. The Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes couldn't mutually understand each other and English was the common language spoken although few of the women spoke it well. The children learned English at school.

Etta met a school teacher by the name of Oscar Jacobson when she was 19 and two years later they were married. He had left school teaching and become an officer in the town bank. Later he helped to start a lumber yard business. A year after Etta and Oscar's marriage, their first child was born and the young couple called her Zella Laurine, both names which were chosen from books Etta had read. The grandparents were terribly upset with this choice of a name as in the Norwegian language there is no such sound as a 'z' and none of them could properly say her name calling her Sella instead. A year later a son was born and he was called Lester, another name that was difficult to say properly in Norwegian.

About this time Hattie married Ernest Shillander whose family came from Sweden. For the next 20 years the fortunes of these two families were bound together most of the time. They moved together many times in their travels through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington. About four years later they moved to a homestead near Cutbank, Montana and built crude two room houses for both families but it became so cold in the winter that they had to move in together. Both men were usually away from home working at paying jobs and it was up to the women to keep the homestead up, milk the cow, and take care of the children. Two years later they found out that their claim was not valid and they moved back to Towner. About two years after that they moved back to Montana to a place near Cutbank which was always referred to as "below the rim." By this time the Jacobsons had six children and the Shillanders five. This was an area that was extremely cold in the winter and had tornadoes and heat in the summer. The ponds were covered with slimy oil and there was always the smell of sulfur in the air. Such water was horrible to drink, poor for crops, and terrible to wash clothes in. But for the children of both families it was a wonderful place. There was not a huge amount of work to do as it was unsuitable for farming and the children had a great deal of freedom. Building rafts and sailing on the ponds was a favorite summer pastime and sliding (they didn't have enough money for skates) on the ponds in winter.

Eastern Montana was never meant to be farmed and neither family were ever able to make a living from it. However two of Grandpa Jacobson's sisters (one was married and had a family and the other was a spinster) lived in the area for many years. When Aunt May died at the age of 85, she was still living on her original homestead without water, sewage, telephone, or electricity. She had taught school for over 45 years and had always lived on her original homestead. She willed each of her living nieces and nephews a 1/8th interest in the oil wells that had been eventually erected on the property.

It was while in Cutbank, Montana that the children were taken to school in a horse-drawn covered wagon which had a potbellied stove in the middle to help keep them warm. Each child had a brick or large rock which had been heated in the oven for several hours to put their feet on. When blizzards came and the weather was too bad to travel the school wagon children were taken care of by the town people overnight.

From Cutbank, the families moved to the Idaho panhandle as both men were engaged in the lumber business, Oscar as a grader and Ernst as a log hauler. They called Roselake, Idaho home but just in the summertime. Both Etta and Hattie wanted their older children to have high school educations and there were no high schools in northern Idaho. When winter came after the second summer in Idaho, both women and the children moved to Spokane, Washington about 65 miles away to enroll the older children in high school. My mother had turned 17 the previous July but her mother insisted that she go to school anyway. None of the older children had gone past the 8th grade and so there were three children in each family who went to high school that first year. All were freshmen. Zella graduated the June before her 21st birthday at the same time as her younger brother, Lester, and two of her cousins. She was short (5'1") and didn't look very old. She participated in both the academic programs as well as girl's athletics. She got a medal in diving and letters in volleyball and basketball.

In 1918 there was a great flu epidemic in all the country. In 1919 after the first world war, the LDS missionaries were tracting in Spokane and they stopped at Etta's home telling her about the restored gospel. She was immediately interested and started to read the Book of Mormon. Since she did laundry and housework for several other families, she only found time to read late at night after her work was done. A few days later when she finished the Book of Mormon, she sent some of the children out looking for the missionaries who had left the book with her to read. When they arrived, she told them that she believed the book and wanted to be baptized. They then came to the house almost daily and taught her the gospel. She still insisted upon baptism but the missionaries felt she ought to wait until her husband could also hear about the church. He was in Roselake at the time.

About a month later Oscar came to Spokane for the winter and also became converted to the Church. In February 1919 Etta and Oscar and the younger children were baptized. Zella, Lester, and Thelma waited almost a year before they were baptized. Harriet, her sister, was of course the next person after her husband Etta wished to convert. Etta also in Spokane became very enthusiastic about this new church. When her husband arrived and heard about the gospel he was not impressed and he didn't want her to be baptized. However, she persevered and a year later she and all of her children as well as Etta's three older children were baptized at the same time. Oh how happy the two sisters were in their new found church. For the rest of their lives both women were extremely stalwart in behalf of the church.

In 1923 for the first time since they were 10 and 11 years old, the two sisters were separated when Aunt Harriet and her family moved to Wenatchee, Wisconsin. Uncle Ernst had been injured in a wagon accident and he moved so he could get less strenuous work. Eventually they rented an apple orchard up on the hills outside of Wenatchee. While they lived there, their youngest daughter, Harriet Jean, was born (her mother was 44 at the time). This child was the only cousin I was close to while I was growing up as we were only one and a half years apart in age. Harriet Jean's father died of cancer when she was ten years old and she and her mother came to live in Seattle where her older brothers lived and worked.

Although they never lived in the same community again after this move, Etta and Harriet corresponded usually at least once a week and visited often. After she moved to Wenatchee, Harriet was one of the founding members of that little mission branch. Eventually her husband Ernest was baptized and I remember as a small child that we drove from Seattle to Wenatchee for the event. After his baptism, the sisters next began to plan on how they could get to the temple and have their families sealed to them. The closest temple for any of us in Washington or northern Oregon was the Cardston Temple in Canada. About 1935-36 our mission district organized a car caravan to Cardston and both Etta and Hattie and their husbands and the children eligible for temple recommends went with them. This included my mother and two of her younger sisters as well as several of Aunt Harriet's children. By this time most of their children had grown up and a few of them married members of the church.

In 1924 Zella married and moved to Seattle, Washington. The family heard about an opportunity in the lumber business in Eugene, Oregon. All the children except Zella and Thelma moved with them and that was to be the family headquarters for the next 30 plus years and referred to as home by Etta. In 1925-26 the Jacobson family moved from Spokane/Roselake, Washington, to Eugene, Oregon because the lumber business was doing very well there. They rented a small farm to live on and as usual Oscar was gone for several weeks at a time. About this time when most of her children were pretty well grown up, Etta became a nurse who specialized in the care of new mothers and their babies. By the time of her death she had taken care of several hundred such cases and was much loved in that capacity.

The one thing she always had with her was tracts about the Mormon Church and she took every opportunity to talk to strangers and tell them about the church. Every bus trip was another opportunity to spread the gospel. She served several times as a stake missionary but they needn't have given her a formal calling as she was the epitome of "every member a missionary." She never passed up an opportunity regardless of how small it might be. For me this was quite embarrassing especially as a teenager when she lived with us part of three years while my mother was attending the University of Washington. Whenever we were on a local bus, she always sat down next to the most likely person she could see and started talking. I would frequently not get off at the same bus stop as she so that people wouldn't think we were together. Sometimes if we had several packages to carry that wouldn't be possible and I would just have to suffer through people knowing that we were together.

Etta lived at either Mildred's or Zella's homes for the rest of her life. At Mildred's they built them a small separate apartment over the garage. By the time Etta was in her late sixties, her mind began to forget recent events. It was with great regret that when I visited with her in 1955 that she couldn't quite remember who I was even though she had lived in our home for many years and she had taught me to cook and sew when I was about twelve. My four oldest children were her only great grandchildren and I was very upset that her mind was gone. She probably suffered from Alzheimer's Disease.

The Eugene area suffered early from the depression in both their farming and timber industries. By 1933 work was so sporadic for Oscar and his sons Lester and Vernon that they filed a claim on some gold mining property in Siskiyu county in northern California and began sluicing for gold. It has only been a marginally producing mine over the years but Lester still lives there. Etta didn't like living at the claim very much as all the facilities were very primitive and there was no way for her to make a living by nursing.

The northern California winters were cold and frequently they were snowed in. The nearest church was a small branch in Yreka and they couldn't attend often enough so she could hold a teaching or other position. For most of the years from the mid-30s until they became quite feeble, they stayed with Mildred in Eugene, Oregon. When they became feeble, they moved back with Zella in Seattle and stayed there until Etta died at age 80. Oscar never became senile and he tenderly cared for Etta and her childish ways for many years. After her death, Oscar lived most of the time with Vernon who lived South of Seattle at Renton. Oscar lived five years after Ettie's death and died at age 90. Both are buried in adjoining plots in Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle.