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Olof Bergstrom

Olof Bergstrom was a pioneer leader of Swedish settlers in the Gothenburg area. Nebraska folklorist Louise Pound briefly summarized his life for Nebraska History (March 1950), declaring in her initial paragraph: "Not only was he [Bergstrom] an influential colonizer; he was a colorful personality."

According to Pound, Bergstrom worked for a time on the Union Pacific Railroad after coming to America from Sweden in 1881 and then homesteaded in Dawson County near Gothenburg. He eventually became a land agent for the UP and made several return trips to Sweden to lead groups of settlers to Dawson County.

A contemporary, Mrs. Frederick Karlson Sr., recalled:
"He told them that land was so cheap that they would soon be very independent. They would not have to learn to speak the English language because there would be just Swedes from Sweden. They could possess their own beautiful valley, he said, 'the wonderful Platte Valley, the greatest agricultural valley in the world excepting the Nile in Egypt.' To homeseekers he made the statement 'The Early Bird Catches the Worm.'

"He was married twice, he said, would have been married the third time but he left the bride 'waiting at the church.' His first wife was a very cultured woman. He had a beautiful daughter by this marriage. The daughter had a winning personality like her father. She studied music in Boston and Chicago. . . . His second wife was very homely but a fine dresser. She was an opera singer from Stockholm, Sweden."

On March 14, 1890, a shooting occurred in Bergstrom's home during a social gathering. The victim, Ernest G. Edholm, died. Bergstrom was charged with murder; the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Bergstrom was so popular locally that after the acquittal, the Gothenburg Silver Cornet Band escorted him home.

In later life Bergstrom lost almost all his wealth accumulated in his years of business in Dawson County and died in Tennessee. According to Louise Pound, elements of his life have crept into Nebraska folklore. Tales of the Nebraska strong man, Febold Feboldson, are said to be based on Bergstrom's life.

(January 2001)

 

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