There are some very independent, strong, strong willed, and adventurous women in my family. (I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me or any of the other women in my family.) But my great grandmother Mary Jernberg was one of the most fascinating, independent, strongest, and bravest women I have ever known.
Mary Jernberg was born on June 21, 1865 in Sweden as Maja Lisa Eriksdotter. She was born about the time it became mandatory in Sweden to use hereditary surnames instead of patronyms. Therefore, at times you will see records of her with the last name Eriksson or Erickson as it appears the family chose Eriksson as the hereditary surname.
At the age of 18 Maja Lisa Eriksdotter got on a ship to travel across the ocean and join her brother who had previously moved to America. It was highly unusual for women to travel by themselves during this day and age, but it was especially unusual for one to make a voyage across the ocean to move to another country. Many of my friends over the years have told me they don’t know how I have moved several times by myself to a new city where I knew no one else. Can you imagine getting on a ship by yourself in the late 1800’s and moving to a new country where you didn’t speak the language?
After what I can assume was a very long voyage, Maja Lisa Eriksdotter arrived in Pennsylvania and joined her brother. And, as was the custom during that day and age for everyone arriving in America from Sweden, she changed her name. Maja Lisa Eriksdotter became Mary Elizabeth Erickson. We think she first lived in Pennsylvania upon arrival.
Mary didn’t know English and the only person she knew in America was her brother Per Eriksson who was working for the railroad (we think). To support herself, Mary worked for either in a boarding house or for a family taking care of their children and being a maid. As a child I remember Great Grandma Mary tell us she leaned English very quickly taking care of the children. (Different family members remember different stories as to where she originally worked when she arrived in America.)
Sadly, about 3 months after arriving in America, Mary’s brother was killed in an accident at work. Now she was alone in America at a young age and was still learning to speak English. After her brother died, she moved to Chicago and worked as a nanny and a maid. It was in Chicago where Mary met a man named Charles Jernberg.
Charles was also a native of Sweden who came to America to work as a finishing carpenter for the railroad. His name was originally Carl Otto Ericsson. However, upon arrival in America he said they were asked to change their last names because there were too many Eriksons, Petersons, Johnsons, etc. so he changed his name to Charles Otto Jernberg.
Charles Jernberg and Mary Erickson met, fell in love, and in 1888 they were married in Chicago. They had 5 children in Chicago - Edward, Arthur, Elmer, George, and David Jernberg. (Dave was my grandfather). In 1990 Charles was transferred by his employer from Chicago to Pocatello, Idaho. Roy Jernberg was born in Pocatello.
The story I knew growing up of how Charles and Mary ended up in Mud Lake was a little different from the official story. I remember being told that one of their sons got into a bit of trouble while out drinking one evening and ended up in jail for the night. Tragically he had been hit over the head at some point during that evening. But, after being thrown in jail no one bothered to check on him until morning where he was found dead on his jail bed. Evidently the blow to the head was more severe than anyone knew, and he died while sleeping.
After that son died, whom I assume was Edward, Charles told Mary he wasn’t going to lose another son, and he wanted to move to a homestead where the boys would have to work hard and would have to travel a long way to get into trouble. So, they ended up moving to Mud Lake with Charlie Nordstrom and Eric Palmgreen and filed on homesteads. However, even though the story of Edward was true, he didn’t die until 1919, about 7 years after they homesteaded in Mud Lake, so I’m not sure that’s the main reason they homesteaded in Mud Lake.
The official story of how the Jernbergs ended up homesteading in Mud Lake is that Charles Jernberg had met Charlie Nordstrom and Eric Palmgreen, also Swedish immigrants working for the railroad. (I don’t know if they met in Chicago or Pocatello.) They too were looking for a place where their children could grow up on a farm, and they all liked the idea of the new land being developed in Mud Lake. So, in 1912 they all moved to Mud Lake and filed on homesteads. Regardless of the timing of the stories, they were all true and they all ended up in Mud Lake, Idaho.
I’m sure moving to a homestead with a husband and children was easier than getting on a boat by yourself at the age of 18 and moving to another country where you didn’t know the language. Still, homesteading in Idaho in the early 1900’s was a challenging and hard life for anyone. But evidently my great grandmother was willing to do anything for her family, and she obviously didn’t shy away from challenges.
The Jernbergs initially lived in a tent on the homestead until a two-room house was built. Also, even though Charles moved his family to the homestead in Mud Lake, he continued working in Pocatello for the railroad to support the family. So, Mary was the person primarily responsible for tending to the homestead and raising the children in a place that had no roads, no stores, no post office, few neighbors, and poor communication.
Mary got a little relief from homesteading after Roy was in eighth grade because she and Roy moved back to Pocatello each winter until he graduated from high school. Pocatello is 90 miles from Mud Lake, which today takes about 1.5 hours to drive primarily on a freeway. In 1912 traveling was frequently by horse and buggy, or occasionally by vehicles, and there were no roads. So I’m guessing it took at least a day, maybe 2, to travel from Mud Lake to Pocatello if they went by horse and buggy or several hours if they traveled in one of those new fangled automobiles. Also, U-hauls did not exist back then to help transport clothes and other items they would have needed, so moving back and forth itself would have been a major effort.
In 1938 Charles and Mary celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Charlie died the following spring on February 21, 1939. At some point Mary ended up moving to Idaho Falls and living with Roy and Freddie Jernberg. This is where she was living when I was born.
I remember growing up thinking Great Grandma Jernberg was an absolutely fascinating person. She was a lot of fun and she seemed to really like all of us children. What I remember most is she had a cute accent, she shook a LOT when eating or drinking, she drank a lot of coffee, she used a magnifying glass to read the newspaper, and she was a wonderful storyteller. I remember all of us great grandchildren sitting on the floor around her chair at Roy and Freddie’s house while she entertained us with stories of moving to American and the olden days on the homestead. I don’t remember most of the content of those stories, but I do remember being completely fascinated by her and enthralled by her stories.
Great Grandma Jernberg died in 1964, when I was only 6 years old. Since then, as I have become an adult and learned more of her story, I have become even more impressed and amazed at the life she led. Whenever I was changing jobs, moving to a new city by myself, and wondering what in the world I was thinking when I made the decision to pick up and move all over again, I would just think of Great Grandma Jernberg. I would remember how she moved to America by herself in the 1800’s and then homesteaded in the middle of nowhere in the early 1900’s. That made my move to a new city for a new job with 4 animals to keep me company not seem so daunting.
I only knew Great Grandma for a few short years, but she left a lasting impression on me and I was very sad when she died. I wish I could go back and talk to her as an adult and remember more of her stories. Even by today’s standards she was a brave, independent, strong willed, entertaining, and fascinating woman. Right next to my Grandma Cleo Jernberg, Mary Erickson Jernberg is one of the women I have admired most in my life. And, I am proud to be her great grand daughter.