Sweden’s population was exploding in the 1800s, making tillable land scarce. Soils were unproductive and farms had become too small for families with more than one son to further sub-divide. Failed crops and poor harvests in the 1880s led to increased food prices and widespread famine throughout the country.
Many of the Swedish immigrants in the Buffalo area came from the Östmarks and Fryksände parishes of Värmland, a historical province in the middle-western part of Sweden, where they had been farmers. The boundaries of Värmland province are similar to the modern-day Värmland County, bordered Norway in the west.
Approximately 1.3 million Swedes migrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the majority settling in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
A typical immigrant journey would follow a route beginning in Gothenberg, on the west coast of Sweden. There were no direct routes to the United States until 1915, so the first leg of their journey was to Hull, on the east coast of England. They would cross England by train, and board a ship in Liverpool for a 4-6 week trip to New York. Prior to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, the immigrant station was Castle Garden.
River transport was available via the Hudson River to Albany, NY, the Erie Canal to Buffalo, NY, and the Great Lakes to Chicago.
Many Swedes did not speak English, or not enough to communicate, but some did know enough German to get assistance from German immigrants as they crossed the country.
The Homestead Act of 1862 drew poor Swedish farmers to the Midwest, where homesteaders were able to receive a free grant of land. Wright County was in the Big Woods area, a thick forest that was difficult to travel through and clear, but had productive soil and provided ample lumber for homes and fuel.
Many of the new settlers came west by boxcar to the end of the railway line, which was in Big Lake, 16 miles north of Buffalo. Then they traveled to Buffalo by ox team or on foot.
If they were able to secure land, their first priorities would be to start clearing land, erect a crude log cabin, and plant potatoes with a hoe between the tree stumps. In the early days, food might be limited to fish caught from the creek or the fish-rich Tamarak Lake. Families would walk to St Paul, Minneapolis, or Watertown for supplies. They would eventually purchase calves to raise for oxen, cultivate their land, and build a house and barn.
Farm wives shared in the workload on the farm, and in some cases the farmers would leave for work in a logging camp during the winter, leaving the farm in the care of the women and children.