The Story of Two Brothers

SD STAVIG PB Cover - FINAL REVISEDEarlier this week, the latest title from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press arrived on the loading dock here at the Cultural Heritage Center. Packed inside the heavy boxes that we transferred to the warehouse shelves were copies of “Dear Unforgettable Brother”: The Stavig Letters from Norway and America, 1881–1937. Having gone over the manuscript several times in the course of editing the book, I continue to be struck by how poignantly the collected letters of Lars and Knut Stavig convey the course of life as it passes from the possibilities of youth to the infirmities of old age. 

Lars Stavig emigrated from western Norway in 1876 and eventually settled with his wife and children on a farm in Day County, Dakota Territory. Back in Norway, Lars had left behind many family members, including a half-brother, Knut Stavig. Over the next fifty years, the two corresponded—sometimes frequently, sometimes waiting months between letters—sharing news of life on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Their descendants collected and translated their correspondence, which is published for the first time in “Dear Unforgettable Brother,” compiled and annotated by Lars’s great-granddaughter Jane Torness Rasmussen and her husband John S. Rasmussen.

Readers of the brothers’ letters learn of the births of children and then grandchildren, of weddings and funerals, of business successes and failures, of the loneliness of living without a spouse, and, finally, of life dependent on others in a world that seems foreign once again. They also learn of family ties that have endured over time and distance and how the brothers’ letters have brought together new generations of Stavig descendants.

To hear the Rasmussens discuss their new book and have your copy signed, make plans to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood September 20–22.


Write It Down

Stavig EnvelopeOne of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press’s upcoming books is “Dear Unforgettable Brother”: The Stavig Letters from Norway and America, 1881–1937, compiled and edited by Jane and John Rasmussen. The book spans fifty years of letters exchanged between two brothers and other family members. One brother, Lars Stavig, emigrated to the United States with his family in 1876, and the other, Knut Stavig, stayed in Norway. The book is a touching, moving account of their lives. More than just reporting how their crops did that year or how the fishing was, the brothers put their heartfelt emotions down on paper—what a treasure the Rasmussen family has, and how fortunate we are that they shared it with us!

Today, my own family keeps in touch with e-mail and text messages—in other words, short communications. My mother never joined the “computer age” and still sends the occasional handwritten letter (which I keep). She is the youngest sibling of a family of six and kept in contact with her brothers and sister through a “round robin” letter. One sibling wrote a letter, put it in an envelope, and mailed it to the next, who added a letter, and so on. My mother’s siblings and their spouses have now passed on, and she is the only one left with the memories of their youth, my grandparents, my father, stepfather, and others. She tends to forget things that happened yesterday, but she is starting to open up more about her childhood and her life as a young wife and mother, telling stories we have never heard before—some that she found difficult to share. I have asked her many times to “write it down,” and she does keep a “journal,” she says, with notes about the weather, books she has read, and so forth. None of her children (there are seven of us) have ever seen it. It will be something we will read after she is gone, much like the families of Lars and Knut Stavig did with the brothers’ correspondence. Perhaps, the Stavig letters can inspire us to fill in the blanks, to “write it down” for our children, before it is forgotten.


New Books to Look Forward To

As I turn the calendar page to August, autumn has appeared on the horizon. At the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, we are overseeing the birth of new books for the fall.

SD LIPP ACORD COVER First off the press will be Darcy Lipp-Acord’s Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey, in which the author shares heart-warming and, at times, heart-rending stories of her pioneer heritage in Dakota and her working life in Wyoming.  The everyday struggles of motherhood and itinerant ranch life are leavened by the joys of nature and children in this lyrical portrait of one family’s experiences. Linda Hasselstrom provides a foreword, placing the book within the growing field of reflective memoirs.



Next out will be “Dear Unforgettable Brother”: The Stavig Letters from Norway and America, 1881–1937, compiled and annotated by Jane and John Rassmussen. The book contains the letters shared between family members on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean—one in South Dakota and one in Romsdal, Norway.  The letters provide vivid pictures of the lives of emigrants and the lives of those who stayed behind.  Edvard Hoem and Betty Bergland provide essays about conditions in the two countries.

Darcy Lipp-Acord and Jane and John Rassmussen will be talking about their books at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood on 20–22 September 2013.  Please come and meet them.