A little over 100 years ago, a group of Danish Americans, encouraged by success on the prairies of Minnesota, lured by the promise of cheap, effective railroad transportation, and wanting to establish a new community of Evangelical Lutheran believers, came to the northeastern corner of Montana and established a colony, named Dagmar, in honor of the Queen Dagmar of Denmark.
One of the colony’s leaders, Emil F. Madsen, proclaimed of the new land: we encountered “the most glorious sight. Below us lay a large lake [Medicine Lake] whose mirror-clear arms reached in over the prairie. North of the lake spread a level plain, gold painted by the sun.” While the colonists never established large towns, they did successfully farm the land and established a community that survives into the 21st century.
One of the best ways to explore the settlement landscape created by the colonists is to visit their churches. Volmer Lutheran Church stands on a rise that overlooks the county, pointing toward Medicine Lake.
Another significant colony site is Nathanael Lutheran Church and Cemetery, where there is an early memorial marker.
The church is an impressive Gothic design, with its tall tower and steeple serving as landmark visible for miles across the prairie.
The vastness of the Montana’s northeastern prairies served as a refuge for different sacred and secular groups in the early 20th century. What may seem as isolated and foreboding today was a land of promise one hundred years ago, and the churches and scattered farms and ranches still mark the commitment of the Dagmar colonists to the land they made home.
According to posts in the Danish language newspaper Dannevirke from October 2006, my grandmother’s father, Johannes Christensen, participated in the very first group led by E. F. Madsen who this founded the new colony Dagmar. Unfortunately, according to another source, my forefather was also the very first one to die there – allegedly due to cholera in connection with digging of wells. Some time later, his wife and three children (including my grandmother) was “rescued” back to Denmark by a younger relative to the wife of Johannes Christensen. Would anyone know more about this story?