Prairie Queen

Sod House Prairie Queen

The great Dakota land boom of the 1877-1878's brought thousands of land-seeking Norwegians to the Dakota prairies. Many came from the frontiers of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and some came directly from Norway. They came in covered wagons, driving their stock before them to what is now Lake County, Summit Township, South Dakota. Pictured on the left was a sod house located near Prairie Queen.

Ole and Julia Overskei filed a homestead and timber entry on May 17, 1878, at the land office at Sioux Falls, Dakota Territory. The Timber Culture Act was passed to encourage the growth of timber on the western prairies. Homesteaders planted cottonwoods, box elders, willows and polars. If the homesteader planted ten acres of trees, built and established a home, and lived in that home for five years, never relinquishing it, they then proved up their claim and the land was theirs "free and clear." Some homesteaders built sod houses and cut walls back in a hill, building a frame roof and front. But the Overskei's built a wood frame house. Ole hauled lumber from Canby, Minnesota, to build his house and barn, each trip taking four days round trip.

The early settlers depended on homemade remedies. Julia Overskei made a salve which she had available to anyone who wanted or needed it. People came from far and near to obtain it. She got the formula for the salve from the friendly Indians in Wisconsin. No one was ever taught how to make it, and when Julia died, so did the recipe. Julia delivered many babies born in the settlement. She also washed, dressed, and prepared many who died for burial. Many were buried in homemade caskets right on their homesteads.

Most of the settlers were Norwegians of Lutheran faith. These pioneers were deeply religious; it was their faith that sustained them through their hardships. At first they met in the homes for church services. In September, 1878, Ole and Julia Overskei helped organize the Lake Madison Lutheran Church.

By 1879 a little town had sprung up in section 16 of Summit Township. The town, located 13 miles northeast of Madison, was the first of all Norwegian settlements in the Dakota Territory. The first post office of the area was located in the southeast quarter, Section 19, Summit Township in the home of Ole Olson Overskei, the first postmaster. A group of men met to decide on a name for the new post office and town. Many names were mentioned. One of the men spoke up and said, "We should name it in honor of Mrs. Overskei. Let's call it `Queen of the Prairie` since she was the first white woman in this area, and also for her dedication in helping people." They decided this name was too long, however, so they settled on "Prairie Queen."

Ole Overskei remained postmaster from March 28, 1879, until 1886. A mail carrier brought mail to Prairie Queen twice a week, from Volga on Tuesdays and from Wentworth on Fridays. A Norwegian paper, Decorah Posten, was delivered weekly on Fridays. Ole I. Moger was postmaster beginning March 31, 1898, and Andrew Kettleson began postmaster duties on August 19, 1901.

In July, 1884, another Lutheran congregation was started. Ole Overskei donated three acres of land for the church and cemetery. This church was built in 1888 and completed and dedicated in 1889. It was called Prairie Queen Lutheran Church. All services were held in the Norwegian language up to 1933.

The Prairie Queen library, consisting of 80 volumes, was housed at the Porter Peterson store. The library had 18 members. Cost to join was 50 cents. There were no other charges unless a book was kept for more than a month.

A grocery store, creamery and restaurant combination was operated by Ole Moger up to 1906. He later moved to Battle Creek. Other store operators were Andrew Flom and Udmon Legaard.

In 1907 the railroad was built and the Prairie Queen post office moved 1/2 mile north to what is now called Nunda. Consequently, the general store, creamery, dance hall, and blacksmith shop moved, too and so ended the existence of the town. The little town of Prairie Queen survived 28 years, but not much remains now. The Prairie Queen church was dismantled in 1953 when the congregation merged with the Grace Lutheran of Nunda. All that remains of this town is the arched gate reading "Prairie Queen 1884," which was donated by the undertaker, Vernon Albertson. A path from the gate leads to a stately monument with the picture of Prairie Queen Lutheran emblem and these words, "In memory of the Prairie Queen Lutheran Church founded in 1884. This congregation merged in 1953 with Grace Lutheran of Nunda."

The name Prairie Queen will always be remembered as a town named after a kind and gracious lady of the prairie who was willing to help others. She was truly a "Queen of the Prairie."