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Eastern Bothnians in East Tawas, Michigan

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East Tawas, MI

East Tawas, Michigan can hardly be considered as one of the best known places in the US where our countrymen have settled. For many years this place has not offered any real temptation to our emigrants. But in 1880-90 it was different. At that time men from Finland brought the skills of our countrymen to East Tawas, as there was plenty of work. It would be of interest to hear a little of this place and of the Swede-Finlanders who still live there. The undersigned, who has an uncle in this place, went for a month's visit to East Tawas last summer and became quite familiar with conditions there.

East Tawas is located in the southern half of Michigan (most of the Swede-Finlanders in Michigan live in the northern half) about 250 kilometers north of the auto city of Detroit. The city is small and unimportant. It has only about 1,500 inhabitants, about as many as Nykarleby. One kilometer south of East Tawas is a city that has the name Tawas City, but this is even smaller and less important than East Tawas. A small city in the US does not, as a rule, have much reason to be called a city. Usually such a city has only one large street - Main Street - close by where the city's trade and merchandise are concentrated. We find many shops even in a small city. Thus we find a few small ale shops, one or a couple of drug stores, also the usual 5- and 10-cent stores. Among these are Woolworth, for this shop is found in practically all American cities.

It was around 1880 and 1890 that East Tawas was the hope for many Swede-Finlander emigrants. At that time there were great splendid forests around the city. Once the trees began to be cut, a number of sawmills opened in the surrounding areas and many wood cutters and sawmill workers were needed. With American quickness the woodlands were cut and after a short time there was no more wood to cut. Sawmills closed and it was a definite end to the good times in East Tawas.

Many of the Swede-Finlanders moved away from the area, a large number went to Duluth where there were still woodlands for the time being. Others settled down on farms in the area where there was plenty of land to cultivate, but a few stayed in this area and worked at various jobs they could find.

A few Swede-Finlanders still live in Oscoda and Alabaster, the areas located a few English miles from East Tawas. Most of them are farmers. During the time when Swede-Finlanders were numerous in East Tawas they built their own Lutheran church in which Swedish services were held every Sunday. Now they have Swedish service only a couple times a year, which the younger generation has not attended. Most of the older people can usually understand English. But I did hear the older people regret that so few Swedish services are held. To their ears their childhood language still sounds better than the language of the new land and they have seldom learned to speak it without an accent. Even now they have few native Swedish associations.The Finnish people have their own church.

During the time I visited in East Tawas one Swedish service was held which I heard. The pastor, who was born in America, spoke the Swedish language very well. Some 30 Swede-Finlanders were gathered in the little church. Most of them were 70-80 years old; hardly anyone was under age 60. There were men and women whose outside appearance spoke of a life of long, hard and rough work in that big land where one certainly can earn more than in the old country. But for the most a lot of hard work was required to get ahead. When one heard the older people talk about their work-filled life here, we understood without further thought that it required strong arms and stubborn will to hold themselves up and collect a small savings of money for old age.

But to go back to the previously mentioned church services. The church is small and unassuming. It is provided with a basement like most of the churches in America. In the basement we always find a hall that is used for smaller meetings and gatherings. The song book used at the service was the same Swedish song book used in 1819, printed some time in the 1880's. Otherwise, the church service was in usual order. After the service the pastor went to the church door to personally greet all before they left the church. This nice custom was practiced in all churches that I visited in America.

The farm country around East Tawas looked rather poor and needy in compari-son to the other well-kept Swede-Finlander’s farm land in Upper Michigan and Palisade, Minnesota. Their houses were mostly unpainted and utility buildings were in poorer condition. District-wise every farmer, however, had his own automobile even though they were not always the latest model. Although their houses were in deplorable condition, the Indians had their own cars (old Ford cars), referring to an Indian settlement near East Tawas. We seldom saw bicycles here.

In addition to our usual grain fields, they cultivate corn in quite large quantities here. Among grass fields we saw alfalfa, a grass which is very common in America and considered better than clover. The farmers did not have a dairy here, but they sold their cream to the city.

Among Swede-Finlanders in East Tawas, Karleby parish is most numerously represented:

  • Oldest among the male emigrants is Alfred Qvick (Porko Alfred), born in Såka village, Karleby in 1855. In spite of his 83 years the old man is still smart and quick and he lives alone on a small neat farm in East Tawas since he became a widower a year ago. Karleby humor is not lacking at the Qvick house and he can still talk of things that happened in the old country 60-70 years ago.
  • Anders Högqvist, born in 1860 at Högnabba in Terjärv, has been a faithful worker in the church and he continues to be a church bellringer. Every Sunday morning he sets the church bells in motion and calls his countrymen to service. Högqvist is still in good condition and probably planned well so that he could enjoy a well-earned rest in his old age. His first wife, who was from Terjärv, is now dead and he is remarried to a native Swede.
  • John Andersson (Broända), uncle of the undersigned, was born in 1851 in Storby, Karleby and emigrated 56 years ago. He was equipped with unusual body strength in his youth and he had need for this strength when he had to support his family which grew to 11 people. In the older days he bought the Johan Andersson farm. Now his health is failing and he is almost blind, but his love for the native land he will never see again grows stronger year after year. John Anderson is married to Maria Nilsson, born in Aspnäs in Pensala in 1868.
  • The two Spring (Källström) brothers still live in East Tawas, sons of sexton Källström in Karleby. They emigrated with their mother when quite young but still speak their mother tongue fluently. (Referring to Edward and Arthur Spring.)
  • Mrs. Bygdén (Maria Erikson), born in 1862 in Kallis village, Karleby is one of the oldest women emigrants in East Tawas. She moved when quite young to Raumo (Finland), where she married a native Swedish glassblower. He later had a position with Sandnäs glassworks in Munsala which is how Marie Bygdén came to live in Munsala for a few years. Later their course turned to the great land in the west. Maria Bygdén is now a widow. (She and Alexander Wargstrom were first cousins - her father and his mother were brother and sister.)
  • Lena Sofia Källström from Kyrkbacken (church village) in Karleby, born in 1849, is probably one of the oldest presently living Swede-Finlanders in America. She was very weak when I met her and it is possible that she is not alive now.

A few Swede-Finlanders also lived in Alabaster.

  • Among them is Edla Henrikson (Nabbala) from Storby in Karleby where her father was a church warden. She was born in 1863 but continues to enjoy good health. She is now a widow.
  • Edla Jansson (Öster) was born in Kronoby in 1868. She has a sister in Alabaster whom I did not meet. Edla Öster is married to Alfred Jansson, born in 1872 at Pelo in Nedervetil.

In addition to the above, a few Swede-Finlanders live in East Tawas and surroundings, but the undersigned lacked information about them.

In another ten years the Swedish language will truly be heard no more in this area, but the fruits of the work our countrymen performed here near Lake Huron's shores shall stand for years to come.


Written by G. B. in Österbottningen, Gamlakarleby, Finland

3 Feb 1939 Translated by June Pelo


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