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Undaunted

A Norwegian Woman in Frontier Texas

By Charles H. Russell

Publication Year: 2006

Elise Waerenskjold is known to fans of Texas women writers as "the lady with the pen," from the title of a book of her writings. writings.  A forward-looking journalist, she sent letters and articles back to Norway that encouraged others to follow her footsteps to Texas, where a small colony of Norwegian settlers were making a new life alongside—but distinct from—other European immigrants. Undaunted is the first full biography of Waerenskjold during her Texas years, a life story that shows much about Texas, especially in the Norwegian colonies, from 1847 until near the end of the century. Moreover, it tells the story of a strong and independent thinker who championed women's rights, was pro-Union and against slavery (though her husband was in the Confederate army and was subsequently murdered in Reconstruction-era violence), and left an intriguing body of writing about life on the edges of Texas settlement. Charles Russell's vivid account of Waerenskjold describes not only her influence among her countrymen but also her own life, which was a saga of considerable drama itself. It offers a clear and entertaining window onto immigrant life in Texas and the issues that shaped women's lives and elicited their talents in an earlier century.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Undaunted

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xvi

"Elise Waerenskjold’s biography could not have been written without the help of my wife, Inger Johanne Russell, a native of Kristiansund, Norway, not to be confused with the Kristiansand that is featured in this story. Because of her knowledge of her..."

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-10

"What makes a modern saga? Consider the life of Elise Waerenskjold (Ayleesa Varenshul in her native Norwegian), who emigrated from Norway to Texas in 1847. Sagas tell stories of real people turned into heroes, and Elise’s story fits with epic hero mythology: she answered a call to adventure, left her..."

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Chapter 2

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pp. 11-27

"Before the time of steam power and steel-hulled ships, winter ice often blocked the seaward passage into Christiania harbor. People reached the city either by land or by horse-drawn sled hauled over the frozen salt water. Twenty-seven miles to the south a..."

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Chapter 3

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pp. 28-42

"I am not well here,” Elise wrote to Norge og Amerika from New Orleans. 'The water, which is really bad, has had its common influence on me—that is, diarrhea.' In a dispatch sent a month later from Nacogdoches she recalled her distress: 'Bored to death with unclean and unkempt New Orleans, we left the city on July 15, the Thursday after..."

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Chapter 4

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pp. 43-62

"On the surface Nacogdoches was a typical southern American town. The white houses in small gardens along the main street were built of sawmill lumber, framed up, neatly boarded, and plumb bob square. Fraternal organizations—Masons, Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance—held parades at Christmas and on other..."

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Chapter 5

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pp. 63-80

"It was one thing to admire the prairie west of Brownsboro but quite another to get land there. Texas was in a period of massive political development that was driving property acquisition into tortuous channels. Elise pinpointed the problem in her last dispatch to..."

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Chapter 6

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pp. 81-87

"Just days after Otto’s birth, Elise was abruptly recast in her role as a writer. Her friend Andreas Gjestvang in Hamar had forwarded scurrilous newspaper articles attacking Texas. Although he expected a reply, Gjestvang hardly guessed that the articles would revive Elise’s..."

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Chapter 7

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pp. 88-106

"As the Tolmer incident and Gjestvang’s visit faded into the background, the issue of religious observance captured the Norwegians’ attention. Reiersen, for all his radical criticism of conditions in Norway, was sufficiently aware of his homeland’s religious traditions that he considered the provision of sacred observances essential to..."

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Chapter 8

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pp. 107-117

"For elise there was only one cause of the Civil War: slavery. 'I am convinced,' she wrote in her Confession of Faith, 'that slavery will be abolished by gentle means or force, because I believe that institutions founded of injustice are doomed to fall.' Her statement about abolition was prophetic. Conflict was boiling..."

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Chapter 9

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pp. 118-127

"Elise’s matter-of-fact letter reporting their wartime experiences was written on November 18, 1865. Two months later she wrote to her sisters-in-law in Norway: 'The news I have for you is very sad. It has pleased the Lord to take from us the dearest thing we possessed on this earth, our most beloved child Thorvald.”

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Chapter 10

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pp. 128-142

"In time the deep shades of mourning would disappear from Elise’s world, but now they surrounded her constantly. It was as if she were back in the Nacogdoches Wold struggling through the dark forest without her companions and capable guide. No new endeavor beckoned, no pioneer country lay ahead waiting to be conquered."

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Chapter 11

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pp. 143-160

"Seven years passed before Dickerson was found and brought to justice for the murder of Elise’s husband. In early 1874 someone in Van Zandt County read a religious newspaper that said Dickerson had attended a conference in northwest Arkansas, where he was preaching the gospel. Johan Reiersen’s son Christian got this news andpassed it on to Elise."

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Chapter 12

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pp. 161-176

"By the mid-1870s drastic changes were coming to the world of Texas ranching. The once fertile land of the eastern counties was overgrazed and almost played out. Settlers in Central Texas were claiming the rich blackland soils that ran in a 350-mile swath from the Oklahoma border through Dallas to San Antonio. Even before the Civil War, cattlemen north of Dallas had been taking their stock over the Shawnee Trail into Oklahoma for sale in markets as far away as Illinois."

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Chapter 13

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pp. 177-188

"Business started into a severe decline in the early 1890s, and by 1893 the entire country had fallen into a profound depression. Elise’s acute financial problems were now past, but she wrote to friends in Norway about the economic havoc. Prices for beef stock had become impossibly weak, and cotton fell from an already low six cents per pound down to four cents."

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Chapter 14

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pp. 189-194

"Elise left a great gap in the life history she told Rasmus Anderson—she never explained under what circumstances she left Norway. To be sure, she wrote about the insufferable snobbery of the Norwegian upper classes and the attractions of Texas, but these observations disclosed little about her immediate motives for..."

Appendix

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pp. 195-196

Notes

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pp. 197-212

Bibliography

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pp. 213-230

Index

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pp. 231-234


E-ISBN-13: 9781603446242
E-ISBN-10: 1603446249
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444533
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444537

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos. 3 maps.
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Tarleton State University Southwestern Studies in the Humanities

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Texas -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Kaufman County (Tex.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Van Zandt County (Tex.) -- Biography.
  • Wærenskjold, Elise Amalie Tvede, 1815-1895.
  • Norwegian Americans -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas.
  • Kaufman County (Tex.) -- Biography.
  • Van Zandt County (Tex.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Women pioneers -- Texas -- Biography.
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