Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pastor Wretlof, a Religious Pioneer

Years ago when I wrote "A West Ender's Scrapbook", I had researched the history of the area I grew up in in Sioux township, Lyon Co., IA. Our church, Grandview Covenant Church, has a history that goes back further than the church building, which was built in 1914.
In 1873, religious services of Swedish settlers began when Rev. John F. Wretlof, a 29 year old preacher from from Boone, IA, arrived along the Sioux River in Sioux Township. Pastor Wretlof was born Dec. 26, 1843, in Göteborg, Sweden, and had immigrated from Sweden, August 3, 1864. He came to Rock Rapids on the stage in May 1873, and then set out on foot across the open prairie in search of Swedish settlers that lived in this region. He found the Jackson dugout along the Big Sioux River, about one and a half miles southwest of Granite, IA. He stayed with the Jacksons for a few days and met with other Swedish pioneers in the area, sharing God’s Word in preaching, song and prayer, the start of a religious community. Rev. Wretlof soon brought his newlywed bride, of one year, the former Augusta Johnson, to the community, and they homesteaded near Valley Springs, SD.

The following, written in 1913, by Rev. Wretlof was published in FROM THE READING CIRCLE (Från läsekretsen) in Brandon, S.D. (Translated by my great aunt Mable E. Swanson)
RECOLLECTIONS OF REV. J. F. WRETLOF - Early days in the Granite, IA, & Valley Springs, SD, areas
In the year 1873 I lived in Boone, Iowa, where I presided over a congregation. By the Iowa conference was I called to make a journey in the northwest corner of Iowa to there seek to find Swedish people, in case such existed there.
In the last of the month of May I set out to unknown regions. The trip occurred by railroad to Rock Rapids, Iowa, then to Larchwood with the mailman and then by foot over beautiful, grass-rich but people-empty prairie. Here I wandered the whole afternoon without noticing the least trace of any roads. The air was foggy and it mist-rained about the whole time. This resulted in that I did not know exactly where to I went. Tired, wet and hungry, I thought of taking night quarters in the wet grass, when the sun came out, just as it was ready to go down in the west. I became now glad and brave again, because I understood now, that I was on the right direction. What was it that I now heard? A dog barking down there in the valley. That gave me speed, because there must be people. And soon I got to see a man, who in pure Swedish greeted: “Good evening and who are you?” I told him in what errand I was out. He opened then the door to a dugout and bade me step in and be welcome.
Here he and his wife lived soon over a years time. I got food. Then was had a while of prayer. The days troubles were now forgotten. Some more families lived here beside the Big Sioux River. We invited the people to a meeting, and they came nearly all. They were glad to get, for the first time out here, to hear the talk about the crucified but risen Savior. I was then with them a few days and talked with them about God’s kingdom. The neighborhood here is now called Granite.
I got the knowledge about , that further to the north there should be many Swedish people and that it was up towards Dakota Territory. A man who had a pair of horses, offered himself to drive me up there. The offer was received with joy. This was the only place I could find out here, where some countrymen had settled themselves down.
Now was the take-off for Dakota. After a couple hours of riding, my driver stopped his horses by the edge of a little brook. He said, “Here live Swedish people.” I asked him: “Where is the living house?” The answer became: “Doesn’t the pastor see the house!” He pointed to a pipe, which stuck up out of the earth. I went a few steps down the hill, and look, there was a door. I knocked on the door and a young woman came out. I said to her, that I was out with an invitation from our God. Her eyes filled with tears and she burst out: “Thanks, dear Lord Jesus, that you have not forgotten us!” Her husband came now. I became of them both so heartily received. Here was a “Mary” home, which Jesus loved. Such was my entry here in Dakota.
Soon was here a crowd gathered who wanted to hear about Jesus, The Crucified. The people out here had been here nearly two years, I was not the first preacher, who got to tell, to inform of the Word of Life here in Dakota. I stayed here some days. It felt quite good to be among them. Some of them were believers. The time had now come, that I must say to them farewell. But before that occurred, I must promise them two things. First, to organize a congregation here. After some consideration I met their desires. The 8th of June organized we a congregation, which received the name of “Beaver Valley.” The second was, that I should come out here and live among them. My answer became, that if it was God’s will. I would come, but when, I could not now say.
The Lord arranged it so, that I with family could leave Boone already the 1st of September. We traveled now by train to LeMars, Iowa, where we were met by an ox drive, sent by the friends in Beaver Valley Dakota Territory. From LeMars to our destination it took us nearly three days. At 5 o’clock in the morning of the 6th of September we were at our journeys goal. We now got to move in with a family who lived in a dugout, which lacked both windows, doors and floor. There we lived for 3 weeks. Later we got our own dugout, which also got to serve, during 3 years, as gathering place for our preaching and prayer meetings.
Soon I got three other preaching places, namely: Granite, Iowa, Sioux Falls, and Little Beaver, now Swedona. The people had need to both hear and read God’s word, not only on Sunday but all the days. Meetings during the week were held here and there in our low and small dugouts. To walk afoot, five or seven miles to hear the sermon, or to ride after oxen and tie the cow behind the wagon, that was not at all any trouble. The cow got to follow with, so that one knew where one had her when one came home. Poverty and sacrifice were our daily guests; but happy and contented the people in general seemed to be. Real want was there however not, even if one and another had to grind wheat for flour on the coffee grinder.
Now has 40 years gone and ended since we began the mission work out here. Of those which were with the 8th of June 1873, at the organization of the Beaver Valley Congregation - belonging to the Augustana Synod - most of them are dead. Only a few are yet left. New relations have come. This congregation now wanted to celebrate a 40-year-fest. The 12th of October was decided therefore. I was invited to give the fest speech. The day came when the fest should be celebrated; it was a beautiful, sun warm day. A large crowd of people were therefore gathered in the church. The fest took its beginning soon after the high mass was ended, which was held by the congregation’s pastor. Thereafter joint psalm-singing. Then the pastor read one of David’s psalms and lead in prayer. Thereafter I plucked forth as good as I could one and the other, small and good, from the humble beginning days. The speech was heard with great interest. A music band played some pieces. With song and the down-calling of God’s blessings the simple fest ended.
Sunday, the 19th of October was a very cold and stormy day. I was today at home. Between 1 and 2 o’clock, p.m. I heard a weak rap on the door. I went then to see who it was. It was not one or two persons, but a great crowd of folks, men and woman, young and old, which stood out there in the cold. I became so astonished that I did not come me about to great them welcome. They did not wait either until the invitation came, but as a stream they rushed in. For safety’s sake I took my refuge behind the door. But what people are they and what do they want? Oh yes! See! They are, why, of course, old dear friends, friends from Granite, Iowa and from Beaver Valley. All their faces shone of contentment over that they could so suddenly surprise me and so without resistance take in the mount. When they now had come to quiet, I should surely greet them welcome. When I was to begin, I became so overwhelmed by Jesus’ Word in Luke 21:36, so that a welcome talk became nothing of, but a counseling word to all: “Wake and pray.” The Lord’s mealtime should now be celebrated. Soon we were all in full speed to eat of all the good things which the friends had with them. With song, prayer and conversation the time flew fast away. At the last stepped one of my former confirmation children forth and asked for quietness. Some verses were then read. At the last was reached out a large bill packet to me and my wife. It was a money gift, named-will do. How should I bring forth to the friends my and my wife’s hearty thanks. That was easier thought then done when one becomes so lovingly met in word and action by loving friends. Thanks friends, dear in the Lord! May we all understand God’s Gift in Christ Jesus.
J.F. Wretlof - 1913

Rev. Wretlof resigned, March 24, 1919, and only months later, on December 1, 1919, our faithful shepherd and minister of 46 years passed away in his home in Brandon, SD. May there always be a Peace of Christian Love over his memory.

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