Charles Ludwig Fredrickson was born near Rossjoholm, Sweden on October 24, 1861, and died in Concordia on November 7, 1937. He was named Carl by his parents but changed it to Charles when the immigration officials advised him upon arriving in New York in 1883 that no one in America was named Carl. He addressed that injustice by naming his fourth son Carl some 24 years later.
We now know from data received from Sweden in 2002 that he
was born at Harbeckshult, in Orkelljunga L-lan (place and parsish).
According to this same data, he emigrated to this country from Qvisthus
in Tassjo L-lan, leaving March 17, 1883. His
family had moved from his birthplace to Rossjoholm, an estate in Tassjo L-lan.
According to the oral history in the family, his mother
died and his father remarried. We
know that the surviving funeral notice received by Charles Fredrickson in 1888
was for his mother’s funeral. We
also now know that his father, Wilhelm Augustus Fredriksson, did remarry at age
62 in 1896 and that a son was born to this marriage three years later.
This Gustaf Alexander Fredriksson was a half-brother of Charles Ludwig
and died in Sweden in 1979. Their
father lived into the early years of the 20th century, but the date
of his death is not known.
Our current information is documented and more complete
than the oral history on which we were completely dependent earlier.
It is, however, generally consistent with that oral history.
The one element of oral history that Dad passed on to us that is neither
confirmed nor contradicted by the data we now have is that of the reported
alcoholism of Wilhelm Agustus Fredriksson.
Dad rebuked the interest we expressed in knowing more about the family
“in the old country”, telling us on more than one occasion that, “You
might not like what you’d find out. Your
great-grandfather died a drunk.” It
may have been true, but there is no information one way or the other. In addition, his letters to our grandfather do not
support that impression.
Dad was also firmly convinced that there had never been any
communication between his parents and family left behind in Sweden. We now know
from letters to Charles from his father that there was, at least fitful
correspondence over a long period time. There
are translated copies of letters from W. A. Fredrickson to his son dated from
December 26, 1987 to October 8, 1901 included in the Archives section of the web
site. Also included is a copy of the funeral notice for his mother and a
translated copy of a letter dated November 8, 1904, to Charles from his sister,
Mathilda Beata. She was some six
years younger than he.
There is a fuller treatment of the family information we do
now have in the genealogy section of this web site.
The correspondence does establish beyond doubt that there was some relationship remaining between Charles and his father and that some communication continued over many years. Beyond that the letters cast little light on the validity of the oral history. There is no mention of any siblings in any of W. A. Fredrickson’s writing.
According to his obituary, Charles proceeded directly after his arrival to Clay Center, Kansas, to work for an uncle. According to our cousin, Millard Ross, the uncle to whom Charles came was a member of the Landin family of the Clay Center area. The precise nature of this relationship is not known. It may be fairly safely assumed that this uncle had paid his passage to this country and he spent the two years in Clay Center discharging that obligation.
Again according to his obituary, he came to Concordia in 1885 to work as a carpenter, which was his trade in Sweden. The oral history held that he had also worked as a mailman before emigrating. This employment was said to explain his rapid and long stride for a man of 5’ 4" in height.
Charles apparently did well as a carpenter in Concordia. It was a time of significant building and expansion of the town, and he helped in the construction of a number of the major buildings. Dad delighted in telling of his mother remarking that Charles had cut quite a figure in those days complete with a fine team of horses and buggy. Dad then asked his mother how she was able to ‘catch’ this gay blade if he were so fast. Her response, according to him, was direct and to the point. "They didn’t come too fast for me", she said.
They met, in all probability, at the Swedish Baptist Church because both were Baptists before coming to this country. This was somewhat unusual because membership in the state Lutheran church was tantamount to full citizenship in Sweden at the time. There was some level of ferment and rejection of the state church, however. Most of the Swedish immigrants in the immediate Concordia area were non-Lutherans, and the Concordia Lutheran Church was not organized until 1939. The Gotland community located some four miles north and east of Concordia, was settled largely by Baptist Swedes from the Isle of Gotland, the birthplace of Christina Fredrickson.
Charles and Christina were married on October 22, 1887, and, in the words of his obituary, "they went to housekeeping on a farm four miles east of Concordia, where they lived for 38 years". Here is a plainly stated and documented fact, but it is not true. They went to housekeeping on a farm located immediately to the east of Concordia and later to a farm in the above-mentioned Gotland community. Charles bought the farm east of Concordia on a sheriff’s sale in 1908 for $8000.00 and moved there at that time.
According to Dad, when his eldest brother, Wilhelm, started to school he was unable to speak anything but Swedish. Bilingual education was obviously not a priority of the public school system of the time because the teacher brought him home and informed his parents that he must learn to speak English. If there had been any hesitation about assimilation into a larger American society before this time, this probably put an end to it. From this time, English was the spoken language in the home, and Wilhelm became William for the remainder of his life. Charles was heard to complain of some of his contemporaries in his later years because "all they can do is talk Swede". He had lost the ability to communicate easily in his native tongue.
Our cousin Millard Ross does recall, however, that Swedish was used when the subject being discussed was determined to be inappropriate for the ears of the grandchildren. He also remembers that Charles prayed in English during evening devotions for the children when he was small, but that his Grandmother prayed in Swedish.
Charles was always a man in a very big hurry and the years between his marriage in 1887 and the end of the First World War in 1919 was an ideal period for an aggressive entrepreneur. There had been a business panic and stock market crash in 1986-87 in the general economy and severe drought and grasshopper plagues in the Plains States at about the same time. He was going into the farming business at exactly the time many had concluded that success was not a possibility.
There is, of course, no way now of knowing whether he was cognizant of the larger economic or agricultural environments, but it is very doubtful that any such concerns would have slowed him much, if at all. He was a fierce competitor and ready risk taker, and the prime years of his life were generally quite favorable for both agriculture and the larger economy. There were some dry years but no extended droughts, and agricultural prices were generally favorable. In fact, the years 1910 through 1914 were long known later as ‘the golden age of Agriculture’.
There were five sons with Lane’s birth in 1913, and one of Charles’ prime ambitions was to ensure that each of them were established in farming with a farm of their own. This objective required aggressive expansion of his operations, but it would be a reasonable inference that "farms for the boys" was but another reason to follow his natural instincts and ambitions.
The onset of World War I created the first genuine sustained inflationary boom in American agriculture. The demand for agricultural commodities to feed European people while they were too busy making war to raise food was unprecedented. The impact on commodity prices and agricultural asset values generally in this country was equally profound.
Farm profitability was as never before, and Charles was positioned as few others. Not only had he expanded his farming operations dramatically following the purchase of the "home place" east of Concordia with the purchase and rental of additional land, he had become a major shareholder in the Farmers and Merchants State Bank in Concordia. He was also one of the organizers and the first chairman of the board of directors of the Concordia National Farm Loan Association, the initial element of what was to become the Farm Credit System. He had ready access to debt capital in an environment that made such access particularly desirable and especially dangerous.
Charles was always referred to a ‘farmer and stockman’, terminology little used today. It connoted an agricultural operator of that time who was heavily involved in livestock operations as well as crop agriculture. The reference was certainly valid. The crop operations encompassed several hundred acres, all farmed with horses and mules. In addition, he fed large numbers of cattle and hogs. The labor requirements exceeded the capacity of the family by a wide margin, and there were always a significant number of hired men.
This was the period of Dad’s boyhood, and he was like a sponge with his eye for detail and ear for language and nuance of every kind. His recollection of stories of the family and the rich array of characters that came and went during this time was inexhaustible. One of the aspects of Dad’s very informal oral history that seems most striking to me now in retrospect is the fact that whatever he related came as he saw and heard it at the time, unalloyed with later experience or impression. His stories of his father from that time reflected the man he knew then and not the more measured and complicated assessment that came later with his own maturity.
The Charles Fredrickson of Dad’s boyhood recollection was an archetype of his time, place, and background. He was the epitome of the immigrant success story. He was energetic, ambitious, and driven, all to an extreme degree. He was blessed with apparently boundless self-confidence and an innate capacity to deal effectively with other people and inspire their confidence.
The stories of his father Dad most relished telling had to do either with his impatience or his competitiveness. In the former category was his recounting of Charles and himself working on some project in the corral. They were being assisted or accompanied George Jr., their grandson and nephew, respectively. At some point in the proceeding, a saw needed was not at hand, and Charles ordered the boy to "run down to the shop and get the saw". George did not sense the same need for haste as did his grandfather and made his way in a deliberate fashion. Charles watched the slowly receding figure with impatience and some disgust and declared, "Huh, he’ll make a fine old man someday."
There was any number of stories having to do with his father’s competitiveness, but none Dad enjoyed more than those about racing the train. The road from Concordia to the ‘home place’ east of town (now Kansas Highway #9) runs along side the Missouri Pacific line the entire distance. As Charles was driving his family to and from church on Sundays, trains would frequently be on their way as well. The pace of the train would typically be faster than that of a faithful Baptist deacon on his way to worship with his wife and a half dozen or so of his children. In the normal course, the train would steam on by, but it was not in Charles’ nature to allow such a thing to happen.
In the early days of Dad’s recollection, the mode of transportation was horse and buggy, of course. Charles took great pride in the fact that his road team was rarely beaten by a mere locomotive. Later, he was an early and enthusiastic convert to the automobile, and the competition with the trains moved into a new phase. At one point, he was sold on a new vehicle to replace one which had fallen into disfavor because of its inclination to throw the chains off the sprockets, a problem of significant dimension for a chain drive automobile.
Dad’s older brothers were not impressed with the new acquisition and were at pains to let their father know. It is not clear whether this had to do with their judgment of the car or if they simply wanted to stir up the old man. Whichever it was, they told him the new one would almost certainly not run as well as the old one. Charles response, according to Dad’s recounting, was a terse "Ve’ll see. Ve’ll see."
When the new car had its first opportunity against the train, it did, as predicted, fail miserably. Its fate was sealed, and it was replaced not long thereafter with a more powerful and faster model. Charles never stepped foot again in the establishment from which the offending machine came.
The end of hostilities in Europe in 1919 brought sons William and George and son-in-law Frank Carlson home from the service. The war’s end would also swiftly change the economic circumstances for American agriculture. Export demand for agricultural commodities collapsed, and prices received by farmers followed it down. Land and other agricultural asset values crashed. Suddenly those such as Charles who had taken advantage of debt were confronted with a dramatically changed and adverse environment.
The debt that had been incurred for expansion now had to be repaid from sharply reduced income flows, and Charles would never really recover financially. He was able to continue on in the farming business on into the early 1930s, but it was ongoing struggle. The dream of a farm for each of his sons was gone. The older three each had farms, but each of them was burdened with a very heavy load of debt. Uncle Paul told me once that if 1936 had not been a good year he would have had to liquidate. He also said that he was not able to eliminate the debt with which he started until the favorable years of World War II.
There is no doubt Charles was an authoritative father and grandfather from all accounts from Dad and our cousins who knew him. One example is the recollection shared by several that "when his newspaper went up, nobody talked". He also addressed the issue of children who giggled during family devotions with a stern reprimand while maintaining a firm grasp of the offender's ear. This was a risk exposure for the grandchildren because Uncle Lane, only slightly older than they, was notorious for behavior calculated stimulate hilarity in others. At the same time, his granddaughters recall that "he always had a love (hug) for us".
(I am especially indebted to our cousin Millard Ross for his contributions to this profile of our grandfather and that of our grandmother as well. The next several paragraphs of this profile are taken verbatim from his letter of March 19, 2001.)
"On March 6, 1933, newly inaugurated President Franklin Roosevelt called for a banking holiday and closed all the banks in the U.S. to halt a panic that was causing depositors to withdraw their funds. (I was a junior in high school then, and believe me, that is all the teachers talked about that day).
"When it was over the Farmers and Merchants State Bank failed to re-open, due to being insolvent. Our Grandfather was a $10,000 stockholder in the bank, and as I was told about it later, stockholders were held for double liability, so he owed $20,000, which had to be paid as promptly as possible. Sometime in 1933 it was decided to give up the farm. Uncle George and his family moved back to the "home place" in an effort to save it from foreclosure. Our grandparents continued to live there.
"On November 6, 1934, Uncle Frank Carlson was elected to Congress from the old 6th Kansas district. That date marked the beginning of the end for my life on the farm, and at the same \time it was to provide a new home for our grandparents.
"Frank, Alice and Eunice left for Washington, D.C. right after Christmas, leaving everything on the farm intact -- cows, chickens, "horse" machinery, etc. Our grandparents moved into the farmhouse early in 1935, took care of the livestock, and by that spring our Grandfather was doing some farming with the horse-drawn equipment. It was good therapy for him after all his financial losses. Uncle Paul was actually in charge of the overall farming operations. (I took off for Topeka and enrolled for the second semester at Washburn College).
"So for the next three summers, 1935, '36 and '37, I lived with my grandparents and helped Paul with the farm work, particularly combining the wheat crop and doing the summer plowing. By the spring of 1937 our Grandfather was quite ill and unable to continue farm work. Early in the summer he got the idea that a stay in the Colorado mountains would improve his health. He was determined that he and grandma could drive to Colorado by themselves in his trusty old 1927 Hudson sedan. Uncle George talked to me about this and said it wouldn't be safe to allow them to undertake the trip alone. His suggestion was that I take them to Colorado, since I had access to a much newer car.
"However, to get our Grandfather to agree to this arrangement was next to impossible. He was planning to leave the next Sunday morning early, At the last minute the hired man and I disabled his car by disconnecting and crossing certain wires, After Grandpa struggled for considerable time trying to start the car, he came into the house and said "Millard, take us to Colorado,"
"We were off in less than an hour, and I had them in Colorado Springs early that evening. Now Grandma knew ahead of time what was going to happen, and she had the suitcases and food already packed, ready to go when she got the high sign. I came home the next day, and about a week later George drove out to Colorado Springs and brought them back.
"Shortly after I left for college in September of 1937, Grandpa and Grandma moved back to live with Uncle George and his family. In October they quietly observed their 50th wedding anniversary. As you know, Grandpa died in November of that year."
His death came as a result of stomach cancer. As he neared the end, he was frequently nauseous and unable to keep anything down -- except beer. Charles had always been a staunch tee-totaller, and this was an especially bitter and embarrassing pill for him. Shortly before his death, he summoned the minister who would conduct his funeral service and instructed that the message was to be of an evangelical character entitled: "A Sinner Saved By Grace". He also requested that there should be an altar call following the message so that those of his hired men who came to his funeral would have at least one last opportunity for salvation because they might never attend church again.
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