The obscure history of Iowa is one of the major reasons we started this crazy travel blog and we strive to find it as much as possible. The very phrase “obscure history” may apply to some of the discoveries we’ve found in our travels when it comes to the locals. Why do you travel to certain areas? Would you chase a restaurant review? Ghost story, urban legend, scenic backdrop? We all have our triggers when it comes to road tripping and here’s one of many for us at The Iowa Gallivant… Norwegian settlers meet the Civil War.
While visiting the town of Forest City, we stopped by the Winnebago County Courthouse and walked around the historic grounds. The memorials to veterans of the area were something to be admired, but the Civil War fountain is what caught out eye right away. This led to our search for a rural rest place of a Union soldier that made North Iowa his unconditional home.
We circled the town of Rake and asked folks if they heard of the Civil War veteran who never made it home. A few cemeteries were mentioned but none of them turned up the subject we were searching for. It wasn’t until we stopped at a little oasis surrounded by fields that we got the clues we needed. Three people in this classic rural bar knew exactly what we were we were looking for and we overshot it by 8 miles. “A tiny plot with a fence just past the farm with a tiger hawk in the mailbox….” And that was that.
Hans Thompson of Wisconsin found himself fighting for the Union in his 40’s and apparently found his home in Iowa after the war. Locals said he was on his way back home and somehow never made it and lived his life in North Iowa. We wondered what was left to his memory and we found a little of it and it wasn’t all we found. His standard issued headstone was a few yards from what seemed to a family plot of settlers of the area. Norwegians seeking better lives flocked to this area and some flourished and lived out lives contributing to the expansion of North Iowa. On this plot, we found stones of Iowans past that only lived hours or days.
It’s a humbled cemetery but one that the locals still care for. The grass had been trimmed and a fence marked its grounds. I found comfort knowing that after all these years, our pioneer past can still be studied and discovered. And for here, between Rake and Vinje, the littlest of pioneers are forever guarded by Private Thompson of Wisconsin at the entrance.