WPA biography given by Ben Hawkinson, recorded by Clarence Tuller, March 1937, Little Falls, Minnesota

Ben Hawkinson was born in Bleking Province, Sweden, near the village of Carlson in the year 1865. He is the son of Hokan Olson and Hanna Swanson.

Hokan Olson was born in 1817 in Bleking Province. He owned a large tract of land, equal to 500 American acres. This was not all farm land for cultivation. Much of it was covered with timber and wasn’t even good for pasture. However, a large share of the land was used for pasture. Hokan and his family, Ben remembered, had about thirty head of cattle, six horses and 75 head of sheep. Hokan was badly injured once when the team he was driving ran away. His hip was broken and his body bruised. In 1893, two years after this accident, he passed away.

Hanna Swanson was born in Bleking, Province of Sweden, about 1833. Her parents were farmers. About 1860 she became the second wife of Hokan Olson. Hokan had two children by his first wife and eight by Hanna Swanson. They are:

(a-1)John, St. Paul, Minnesota, is now dead.
(a-2)Edna, who lives in Sweden.
(a-3)Swan, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He visited Sweden, three years ago.
(a-4)Ben, subject of this sketch.
(a-5)Carl, who lives in Sweden.
(a-6)Hanna, Sweden, is now dead.
(a-7)Ida, Sweden, is now dead.
(a-8)Anna, Sweden.

The two children Hokan had by his first wife are a daughter who died when she was about three years old and a son. The son made four or five trips between Sweden and America, remaining in each country three or four years at a time. Ben believes he is now dead. The last he heard of his half brother was that he was between eighty and ninety years old and living in Sweden.

Ben Hawkinson attended the Lutheran school and was confirmed when fifteen years old. He then worked on his father’s farm until he was twenty, and learned much about farming. He farmed for himself from 1885 until 1894, when he decided to come to the United States.

“I don’t know why I came here. I had it better at home than I ever did in America. Yes, I had it as good in the old country as anybody could have it. I only intended to stay in America four or five years and then go back to Sweden, but I never did and never will, I guess. I’d like to go back all right, to visit. I don’t think I’d ever see America again if I would go back to the old country. My brother was in America for five years. He went home, to Sweden, for Christmas and stayed until the next spring. He then came back to the United States. The next year my sister and I came over to find him and to get work. I didn’t find him until forty years later. He had gone to Minneapolis and we had gone to Chicago. We didn’t recognize each other when we did meet, so I guess I wouldn’t know anybody in Sweden either. Forty years is a long time and makes quite a difference, even in people’s appearances” Ben related.

Ben and his sister, Ida, went to Chicago in 1896 from Sweden, in search of his brother, Swan. In Chicago Ben got a job in the Pullman car shops. Most of the ten years he spent there, he was assembling trucks for the cars. Of course, he has helped to make many cars ‘from bottom to top’. Workers were paid by the piece and made as high as six to seven dollars a day, during rush seasons. Ordinarily, a ten hour day’s work brought about two-fifty to three dollars. Just before the year 1906 the scale was reduced, so Ben decided to leave the city for Western Kansas. There he took a homestead of 160 acres, which he and his children farmed for twelve years. In 1918, he rented the farm and moved to Little Falls township, Morrison County, Minnesota. Four miles south of the city he bought a farm and took up farming again. It was then that he found his brother, Swan.

In the fall of 1925, Mr. Hawkinson sold his farm and retired, moving to his present home on 11th street, which he bought. To keep in good health, he saws and splits his own wood and then piles it in the shed. He also tends a large garden.

In Chicago, 1898, Ben married Clara Gustafson.

Clara Gustafson was born in Ostergotland, Sweden, in 1874 and was reared on a farm. An only brother and two sisters, of Clara’s, remained in Sweden. The sisters died in 1910. An older sister came to America some years before 1888 and settled in Boone, Iowa. She married Oscar Olsen. She died recently. Clara attended Lutheran school in Sweden and was confirmed when fourteen years old. That year, 1888, she came to America with some friends. She joined her sister in Boone, Iowa, and soon found work in private homes, there. She worked in Des Moines, Iowa, for a number of years and then went to Chicago. There she worked until her marriage. She bore four children in Chicago and two in Kansas. She was a very thoughtful mother and influenced her children greatly. She is now, unfortunately, in a state sanatorium in Larned, Kansas.

Their children are:

(b-1)Clarence, born August 4, 1898, is employed by the Minnesota Power and Light Company. He is living with his wife and two children in Milaca, Minnesota.
(b-2)Edith, born September 6, 1901, is keeping house at home.
(b-3)Signe, born December 8, 1903, is living at home.
(b-4)Elmer, born August 9, 1905, is working in Minneapolis.
(b-5)Roy, born December 5, 1907, is a furrier at Brainerd, Minn.
(b-6)Albert, born October 28, 1901, died in 1912.

This WPA biography was published in the Morrison County Historical Society’s newsletter in 2006.

Leave a Reply