2022 Century Farm: Rushmore family celebrates 151 years in Little Rock Township
This year, the Petersen family farm is being recognized as the newest sesquicentennial farm in Nobles County — just two in the county have been recognized by the state since it began.
RUSHMORE — Brent and Char Petersen, along with their sons, 17-year-old Grant and 13-year-old Wyatt, represent the fifth and sixth generations of the Thomas-Petersen clan to call a quarter-section of land in Little Rock Township, Nobles County, home in 151 years.
This year, the family farm is being recognized as the newest sesquicentennial farm in Nobles County — just two in the county have been recognized by the state since it began honoring families for 150 years of consecutive farm ownership.
Brent’s parents, Floyd and Linda, are technically the farm’s owners, but Brent and his wife moved to the homestead in October 2016 after Brent spent six years renovating the home. The large, two-story, once-five bedroom farmhouse had been added onto four different times to create the house that stands on the farm today. The original portion of the home was once the granary and living quarters for Knute Thomas, who homesteaded the land in 1871.
After Brent gutted the house — removing the plaster and lath walls — he found rough-cut 4-by-4 beams, and a lot of reused lumber in the home’s construction.
While the family has no idea when the initial portion of the home was constructed, they do know it wasn’t the first house on the homestead.
From Norway to Minnesota
Knudt Thompson (his name was later changed to Knute Thomas) was born April 5, 1850, in Nomadahl, Norway. His father died when he was just three years old, and his mother, Julia, decided to move the family to America six years later. Three older siblings of Knute also made the journey, and the family settled at Dodgeville, Wisconsin.
“He lived with his mother and siblings, and at age 21, he must have heard there was opportunity in Nobles County,” said Linda Petersen.
Knute was one of six to journey to Little Rock Township in Nobles County in July 1871, with four of them settling within Section 10 to have 160 acres each.
“They carved a cave — they dug a hole along the creek, and there were four of them that lived in there that first winter,” added Floyd, great-grandson of Knute. “All you had to do was be here for so long and (the land) was yours. I don’t think this was a tree claim. I know of other land around here that was that way.
“I think you just had to live on it so long before it became yours,” he added.
For the first 15 years after settling the land, Knute returned to Dodgeville, Wisconsin to work at the sawmill and earn extra money. Grasshopper plagues for several years had destroyed the crops he’d attempted to plant.
It was during one of his trips back to Wisconsin that Knute met Melina “Lena” Munson who, at 10 years his junior, agreed to be his bride.
Lena was widowed with a son, George, and the two accompanied Knute to Nobles County after their marriage on Dec. 8, 1886. Knute and Lena would add three more children to their family — Thom “Albert”, Laura and Oscar.
During those earliest years after Knute homesteaded, Worthington was the closest trading post. Floyd recalled stories from his grandfather, Knute’s son, of walking approximately 14 miles to Worthington to get supplies. There were just three houses in the town when he first visited.
“The guy in the general store told Knute he needed a pair of boots, but Knute said he didn’t have any money,” shared Floyd. “The guy said they were doing no good sitting on the shelf, and told Knute to take them if they fit, and pay for them when he could.
At some point, Knute worked on the railroad in Nobles County, and said there was a woman in Sibley, Iowa, who made overalls for the railroad crew for just 30 cents a pair.
The next generation
It was Oscar who stayed and helped his parents farm the land, but when he contracted pneumonia and died — leaving behind a wife and young children — Knute asked daughter Laura and her husband, Hans Petersen, to return to the family farm. The Petersens, who had two sons, Eldon (born in 1912) and Harley, were farming near Milbank, South Dakota, when they agreed to buy out her brothers’ shares and farm the entire quarter section.
The Petersens operated a typical farm from 1933 (the year Knute died and the farm fully transferred to them) to 1957. They raised cattle, hogs and chickens, along with field crops.
The couple lost their son Harley, who had been paralyzed from the age of 2 after falling from a high chair, when he was 19, leaving Eldon as the only heir to the Thomas-Petersen farm.
“When Eldon was younger, he had a truck and he would haul grain and livestock for people around here to subsidize the farm,” said Floyd of his father. “They had 42 acres of pasture and the (west branch of the Little Rock) creek runs through here.
“He told me sometimes he would make two trips to Sioux City (Iowa) in a day — afternoon and night with an old truck that did about 40 mph,” Floyd added.
Hans and Laura welcomed the arrival of electricity to the farm in the 1940s, and Floyd said he was about 10 years old when they purchased their first television — a Sylvania console that showed everything in black and white. It was purchased from Don’s Appliance in Adrian.
Laura purchased an FM radio when Floyd was old enough to go to school because the AM radio wasn’t on that early in the morning.
“She paid $75 for it and it still works,” Floyd said.
During Hans and Laura’s ownership of the farm, Hans constructed a double-length garage, one end to store the tractor and the other to store the car. The building is still used for storage today, as is a wash house, which doubled as a summer kitchen back in the day when threshing crews would gather to put up the oats.
“They had a wringer washer out there, and she would cook out there for the threshing crews — that way it didn’t get hot in the house,” said Floyd.
Eldon and Gertrude
As the sole heir of Hans and Laura, Eldon Petersen and his wife, Gertrude, became the owners of the Little Rock Township farm in 1957. Eldon continued his trucking business into the 1950s, and did a little custom combining for neighbors. Life on the farm included milking cows and raising stock cows and chickens.
For the first years after Eldon and Gertrude were married, they shared the farmhouse with Hans and Laura. Then, when Floyd was born in 1951 — the second of two sons, with Stanley being the oldest — Hans and Laura moved to Adrian.
The boys learned to work hard at a young age, helping with chores after school. Then, in an unfortunate accident, Stanley was killed in a tractor rollover at the age of 9.
Floyd often accompanied his dad while the elder hauled livestock as a truck driver to the stockyards in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“The only two things I recollect were the stockyards and the stockyards cafe — that’s all I saw when I was a kid,” Floyd shared.
The first tractor he ever drove on the farm was a G John Deere, which Floyd was allowed to drive while his dad picked rock in the field.“I tried to get as close to the rock as I could — and sometimes I drove over the rock and would get yelled at,” he recalled with a grin.
Floyd graduated high school in 1969 and attended vo-tech in Sheldon, Iowa, for two years in the diesel program. While there, he met Linda, and the two were married a couple of years after he finished vo-tech.
The couple settled in Rushmore, where Floyd bought a gas station and repair shop, and transformed it solely into a repair shop, working on everything from vehicles to tractors to lawnmowers. They raised two children, Dawn and Brent. Dawn died in 2016 at age 42, while Brent followed in his father’s footsteps and now owns Petersen Service in Rushmore.
When Eldon retired from farming in 1976, Floyd took over the farming on nights and weekends, and when Eldon became sick in 1978, the stock cows and feeder cattle were sold. Eldon died in September of that year.
Gertrude “Gertie” remained on the farm after her husband’s death, and bucked the trends of modern living. She still used an oil burner in the dining room and kitchen until Floyd finally talked her into getting a furnace.
And she refused to convert the house to indoor plumbing until 1986. The outhouse stood about 40 feet from the back door, and water was brought in from the hog house, which had been plumbed for water years prior.
“Most people, the first plumbing wore out before she put it in the first time,” Floyd said. “After she had it, she said it was OK.”
A main floor bedroom was converted into a bathroom in the late 1980s, leaving four bedrooms upstairs. During Brent’s remodel of the home, he converted one of the upstairs bedrooms into a walk-in closet and bathroom.
Gertrude remained on the farm until she was 89, and then moved into Rushmore. She died in November 2009, at the age of 93.
“Gertie used to say, ‘I got roots so deep you can’t pull me out,’” Linda recalled.
The house stood empty until the renovations were completed and Brent and Char moved their family in.
Today, Brent and Floyd farm the ground together, and Grant and Wyatt help as well. With Brent’s full-time job with the repair shop, there’s no time for livestock.
Char works for Newport Labs in Worthington, where Wyatt attends school. Grant graduated from Worthington High School in May.
“I would say, as a family, we’re well invested in this place,” said Char. “Everybody knows one of the boys have to stay here.”
Of course, Char took a bit of teasing after saying that, because Brent reminded her that she did not want to move out to the farm.
“I was a town girl my whole life,” she said with a broad smile. “Moving out here was a very rough decision for me. I knew I had to do it because that was always his (plan). I really love it — it’s peaceful.”