Nels O. Cassem

Kendall County Record, May 16, 1906

Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson

Nels O. Cassem was a remarkable man. He came here from Norway in 1849 at the age of twenty years. He spent his first winter at Pernett Warner's in Newark, doing chores for his board. He was at Warner's again the second winter doing chores and getting his board and six dollars a month. Like all newcomers except the English, Scotch and Irish, he had to begin the bewildering task of learning a strange language. Seth C. Sleezer, Sr., once hired him to cut down a cluster of trees, telling him in English and by signs and gestures to leave the big walnut tree standing and cut down all the others. A little later Sleezer found the walnut tree down and all the other trees standing. Just the opposite of what he wanted. In spite of such early mistakes Cassem soon gained the reputation of being a good hand at almost any kind of common work. For a time during the fall of 1851 he assisted Thomas Howes in digging wells. The last job they did together was at Pernett Warner's. Before the work was finished a big fat hog of Warner's accidentally fell into the well and the men had a time getting him our again from a depth of 25 or 30 feet. Their next job of well digging was to be at Hornblower's south of town. For some reason Cassem could not be with Howes on that job and he was afterwards glad he could not, for Howes was killed in the Hornblower well. The windlass rope broke and let the loaded bucket fall upon him. Josiah Fosgate used to hire Cassem to cut hay with a scythe in company with other men. Nearly 50 years later Fosgate told the writer that Cassem could mow twice as much in a day as any of the other men. When Fosgate went to California in 1850 to be gone about a year he entrusted his breaking plow and sixteen yoke of oxen to Cassem to care for and use during his absence. Cassem's first job of breaking was a Milton Fowler's. Having no experience in that kind of work it looked as if he would make a failure of it. In the midst of his perplexity he made a hasty trip up east of Newark to consult John McCartney, an expert. McCartney told him what to do and what not to do. He hurried back to Fowler's and did the work all right. When the Rock Island Railroad was under construction he took a contract for grading a mile of the road near Morris. He erected a temporary building to live in, near the work. Being by this time a married man he boarded his gang of men. Along in the fifties he began to be a purchaser of land. Early on he adopted the rule of never parting with any land he once got, no matter how tempting the price offered might be. He was a genuine expansionist from the first and this sketch is intended merely as a rehearsal of some half-forgotten incidents in the formative part of his career between the aged of 20 and 25 years.

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