Lee County Illinois

Willow Creek Twp.


Ommon Hilleson, the first Norwegian immigrant to Lee county, is regarded with so much pride by his countrymen as to suggest the attributes of a Scandinavian deity, and a little notice of him at the head of this article will not be out of place. He reached our shores in 1837, and walked all the way from New York to Chicago. From the latter place he started for the Norwegian settlement on Fox river on foot, but being overtaken by a covered wagon filled with men, women and children, and being invited to ride with them, got in. He was by this time able to understand a little English, and when two of the men got out and walked behind and talked together about his money, their real character and intentions were revealed to him. He had some money, and no doubt his situation was uncomfortable, until a man and a woman driving a team providentially overtook them, when he leaped out as the charmed bird flies when the spell is broken, and sprang into the other wagon without a word of parting to the one or of introduction to the other. His leap in the dark had brought him to good footing, for this time he had not fallen among thieves, but among some of his own people going home to Fox river, and his journey thither was happily relieved of further unpleasant incident. It has a singular seeming, but is never- theless a verity, that with scarcely any knowledge of the English vernacular he left all his countrymen behind and pushed forward to Lee Center among strangers, not in habit, sentiment and nationality only, but in language also. This shows him to have had the truly pioneering spirit; he could not have been less than a pioneer. Having obtained work there, it was not long till he was able to start independently, and he settled in Bradford township, where he became wealthy, and his widow, Elizabeth Hilleson, yet resides. In course of time, as a certain consequence, other Norwegians came and settled around him, and as their numbers increased they scattered out, many going early to Sublette township. The first to go was Lars Larson Risetter, in 1847, who was also the second to come to Willow Creek.

The earliest Norwegian settler here was Amund Hilleson, a single man, who emigrated to Sublette in 1851, and having saved enough from his first year's wages, in 1852 bought tho N. E. 1/4 Sec. 15, his present home, at the government price of $1.25 per acre, and in the spring of 1855 came on it to make his permanent residence. Toiling here year after year with the patient, unrelaxing industry of his class, he has increased in worldly goods and grown in the regards of the whole community until there is no man who stands fairer, and none could more justly so than Amund Hilleson. He was followed early in 1856 by Lars L. Risetter, from Sublette, who had at this time been in the country long enough to secure a considerable start, and who located his family on the S.W. 1/4 Sec. 15, which is now occupied by his son Lewis. The story of how Mr. and Mrs. Risetter labored with unflagging perseverance in and out of doors, and bought and sold crops and land, combining calculation with severe labor, and making for themselves in a few years a handsome fortune, as well as adding greatly to the cousequence and prosperity of the township, is one that cannot bo told in our narrow space. But his neighbors say, "No man made money so fast and so fairly by hard work and economy, and from large crops and the rise in values, as Mr. Risetter.

The third Norwegian settler was Edwin 0. Winterton, who improved the N.W. 1/4 Sec. 15; the fourth was Amund Cragowick; the fifth was Thomas Hilloson ; the sixth was Lars Salmonson, who began his home in tho center of Sec. 16 in the winter of 1860-1; the seventh was Ole Olson; then came Edwin Edwards in the spring of 1862, and bought the N. 1/2 of N.E. 1/4 Sec. 11; Lars Oleson in the spring of 1863, and settled with his family on Sec. 10, where he at present resides. Christopher Oleson came about the same time, and in 1864 Jacob Oleson began to improve the N.E. 1/4 Sec. 1. Heldor Nelson came to the N. E. Sec. 2, and William Oleson to Sec. 16. Later arrivals, without regard to date or order, were Edwin Edwards, N.E. Sec. 11; Heldor Eden in the same location; Lars Hilleson, S.E. Sec. 14; and Nels Oleson, Peter Johnson, Allen Johnson, Andrew Eskland, Lewis P. Boyd, Lars Knutson, Tick Winterton, Thomas Oleson, Christ. C. Alsager, Hans Johnson, Jacob Edwards, Hawkin Risetter, Newt Boyd, and Thomas Nelson.

There are now 400 of this nationality in Willow Creek township; and concerning the cultivation of the humbler arts of peace and the practice of the soldierly virtues in war, this writer can say from personal knowledge that few equal, while none excel, them.

Transcribed by Christine Walters
History of Lee County Together with Biographical Matter, Statistics, Etc. Chicago by H.H. Hill and Company Publishers 1881