"And so they literally had the clothes on their backs, a couple of belongings that they could hold. Thirteen weeks it took to get across the ocean, to get to Quebec. But once they got to Quebec, they took almost half as long again to make it overland to finally get to Iowa, where they encountered the worst winter in fifty years. Then the next year -- you had a winter like that -- the worst flooding in forty-two years. The next winter after that, they had the worst drought that anyone had ever recorded. Now, this is Iowa? They thought this was the land of milk and honey. Then, the year after that, locusts came and ate everything that was their crop. But they kept going, and they persevered, and they were people of faith, and they lived and cried and laughed, and started the first Lutheran church in their area, and they were wonderful, godly men and women of faith, and I am so proud of these people of whom I am descended from. And I'm so thankful for the faith that they faithfully brought down through the family, and now to the seventh generation here in the United States."
Since Bachmann said her great-great-great grandparents, whose names she provided, emigrated from Norway to Iowa in the 1850s, I searched the 1860 federal census for them. I started by searching for a Melchior Munson in Iowa, but came up empty. But, since unfamiliar foreign first names like Melchior were often misspelled or Americanized when written down by census workers, I didn't think it was unusual not to find him on the first shot. So I tried Martha Munson, Melchior's wife, since Martha was a common name that wouldn't be misspelled. Still nothing. So I broadened my search to include sound-alike last names for Munson, in case it was their last name that was misspelled. Still nothing. Giving my search one last shot, I removed all search parameters except the first name Martha and the last name Munson, including any sound-alike last names. It was only then that I found Melchior and Martha -- but not in Iowa. They were in Wisconsin.(1) So, there went that part of Bachmann's 'Iowanizing' of her family history. Her great-great-great grandparents hadn't gone from Quebec to Iowa. They had settled in Wisconsin.
And what about all those hardships that Bachmann says her ancestors persevered through during their first few years in Iowa -- the worst winter in fifty years, the worst flooding in forty-two years, the worst drought that anyone had ever recorded, and a plague of locusts to boot? Well, obviously, none of this happened in Iowa, because her ancestors weren't in Iowa. And it didn't happen in Wisconsin either. This all happened in the Dakota Territory. That's where Melchoir and Martha Munson and their children were from 1861 to 1864.(2) Like many Norwegian immigrants who had settled in Wisconsin, the Munsons set out for the Dakota Territory once Congress made it a territory in 1861.
A number of early histories of the Dakota Territory document that the winter of 1861-1862 was a bad one, which led to flooding when the ice in the Missouri River broke up and blocked the river in the spring of 1862; that the summer of 1863 was very dry, but the settlers still had a good harvest; and that 1864 was the year of the severe drought and the year that grasshoppers came.
According to the 1870 book Outlines of History of the Territory of Dakota, the flood in the spring of 1862 caused the settlers to have to temporarily evacuate, and specifically mentions Elk Point, which is where the Munsons had settled, as being among the places that had an especially good harvest that year, with "all kinds of crops yielding bountifully,"(3) and "The year 1863 was very dry in Dakota, but notwithstanding the drouth, wherever crops were planted and well tended, they yielded well."(4)
An 1881 book, History of Southeastern Dakota, provides a more detailed account of the weather and natural disasters that occurred in 1862 and 1864.
"In March, 1862, during the breaking up of the Missouri River, that great stream became gorged with ice below the mouth of the Dakota River, and the waters were thrown over the banks, covering nearly the whole valley for sixty miles to Sioux City. The settlers were driven from their homes by the floods, and were obliged to flee to the high lands, with their families and their herds, for safety. The preceding winter had been one of terrible storms and drifting snows, causing much suffering in the poorly constructed houses of the pioneers, and in some cases death from freezing; while the great prairie fires of the previous autumn had brought much disaster to property and danger to life. The season of 1862 following, however, proved to be one of comparative prosperity to the husbandman; the harvests were bountiful, immigration increased, and towns and villages sprang to view along the wooded streams."(5)- Advertisement -
"The season of 1864 was a sad one for the settlements. Not only did lurking Indians hang upon the border for robbery and rapine, but unremmitting drouth and clouds of grasshoppers swept the bloom from the fields and verdure from the plains, and with the approach of autumn, the despondent farmers repaired with their teams to the neighboring States, to bring in supplies upon which to subsist until another hervest-time. The prospects for the future were indeed gloomy, and many of the earliest settlers abandoned the Territory for the purpose of making homes elsewhere."(6)