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Douglas County

The county lies east of Grant and north of Pope. In 1900, there were 102 Finns out of a total population of 17,964, but in 1950, when the county total had climbed to 21,304, the number of Finns had dropped to 43.

Holmes City: The first Finns to arrive in Douglas County in the autumn of 1866, coming by way of Red Wing, settled down on homestead lands near Holmes City. This first group consisted of Isak Johanson (Janson, originally Jaakon-Antti), P. E. Julin with his wife and four children, August Peteri and Johan Piippo.

Within a few days their first temporary shelter had been built, using whatever materials were available in the wilderness, but a fireplace was included, and there were real windows, bought en route and hauled with them on their oxcarts. The whole group spent the winter in this one shelter, but when spring came Johan Piippo began to build himself a proper dwelling, erected near the present Finnish Lutheran cemetery.. 26 Piippo later recalled in print his experiences of those first years in Minnesota:

"In the spring I cleared land with a hoe and planted a bushel of wheat, which the bluejays ate, so that nothing was left but two sheaves, which other birds ate before it was reaped. By summer I had cleared an acre of land, where I planted potatoes and tobacco. The third winter I got so many wolf-skins that I was able to buy a pair of oxen and a cow, but misfortune was more clever than I: during the spring which followed I was working for a `Yankee', building his cabin for him, and one evening when I returned home, everything was in ashes. All that I had left was my axe and the ragged clothes on my back." 27

Piippo had to begin again from the very beginning, and this time with no money at all. Even with his 160 acres of homestead land as surety, he had a hard time persuading shopkeepers in Holmes City to give him a scythe on credit.

Other tales about Piippo sound almost legendary. For example, he was an ardent hunter, and once, 45 miles from home, on the shores of Lake Traverse, his gunpowder got soaked. The weather was cold and stormy, and Piippo was near starvation. He managed to catch a raccoon, and promptly ate half of it at his campfire. The rest he salted down with his wet gunpowder and ate on the trek home.

26. WPA MS op. cit.

27. Article by Johan Piippo in Uusi Kotimaa, 17 December 1881.


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