Smoky Valley Historical Association Lindsborg, KS 67456


(Originally published in the 1995 Svensk Hyllningsfest program booklet.)
compiled by Chester Peterson and Lori Shultz

Lindsborg's history is full of facts typical of a small town. Widely known are the facts about the Swedish immigrants' arrival, the dates of the founding of the churches, and when Bethany College was founded. These dates, as important as they are, only tell part of the story. To complete the picture we need to hear the humorous anecdotes, nicknames, and about the personalities of those who built our community. First a few facts.

Kansas introduced to statehood.

Pastor Olof Olsson arrives with a group of Swedish settlers. Organization of Bethany Lutheran Church, Freemount Lutheran Church, and Salemsborg Lutheran Church.

Bethany College Academy founded.

After the immigrants began arriving, they found that the Homestead Act required that they live on a section of land for about five years before they could claim the land for their own. In the early years three brothers and their brother-in-law built their shared home right in the middle of four sections of land. Their home actually touched all four sections, which meant that each man could claim his own section yet they only had to have one house. These settlers had good heads on their shoulders.

In 1909 Dr. Alfred Bergin of Bethany Lutheran Church wrote about the wonderful water of Lindsborg. He wrote that "drinking water around here is very good," and that the "water from these wells is crystal clear, fresh, good, and soft." He did acknowledge that the water did "contain, at times, forty grains per gallon of hard elements..." which "give the body some necessary minerals to keep it in a healthy condition." Now, those persons that have followed Dr. Bergin in living and working in Lindsborg all must figure that either the water has changed drastically since 1909 or Dr. Bergin was a true optimist. Perhaps he was one of those persons who saw a half full rather than a half empty glass of water.

Bethany Lutheran Church figured out a unique way of encouraging families to pay their tithes. It was decided in 1889 that "the names of those who have not paid their church dues and the balance of money due be read aloud once a year in the church." It's certain that this procedure helped bring in the money as well as assure a good crowd in church at least once a year.

By the early 1900's it became necessary as well as fun to use nicknames because of the many persons with the same name. Bethany Lutheran Church had 29 members with the name of John Johnson. Many interesting nicknames began to appear.

Al Capone: owned a beer joint, Boots: owned the shoe store, Charlie Duck: short man who walked with a waddle, Grub: operated the college food services, Jockey: horse trader, Pat Murphy: fictional name used during raid on the beer joint, Popcorn: sold popcorn next to the movie theater, Professor Wind: operated the bellows for the pipe organ, Scoop: town marshall, Green House Anderson: operated the local nursery, Curly Head: had kinky hair, Bird Legs: had long skinny legs, and Big Swenson: large farmer near Fremont.

One of the best nickname stories concerns a young man named Johnny. Johnny made an unfortunate mistake with his girlfriend which caused the young lady's father to believe the young couple should get married right away. Johnny was perhaps a bit unsure of the idea and even more unsure of how his future father-in-law would react to the news. Johnny hid when he heard he was being hunted by his girlfriend's father and become forever known as "Johnny in the Well."

Much has been written over the years about the hard life of the pioneers. Many of these stories and nicknames illustrate that these pioneers had a sense of humor that helped them in their daily struggles and they also give us a glimpse of our ancestor's warm personalities.

Illustration by Norman Malm.