Anoka County History: The story of Ham Lake’s Ole Foss

In the early 1900’s the city of Anoka was no longer a frontier town, but had the comforts and refinement of city life.

Life in the countryside, however, remained much as it had always been.

Roads were crude, communication was difficult, farms were isolated, and work was done by horses and strong men.

One such rugged individual was Ole Foss of Ham Lake.

Ole was born on New Year’s Day in 1839. He and his wife Celia came to America from Trondheim, Norway.

By 1876 they were members of the Glen Cary Lutheran Church in Ham Lake, where Ole served as treasurer and trustee. (Probably not at the same time.)

They had a farm in the Lake Netta area, where they lived and worked alone because no children were born to them.

Time went by and they grew old. Celia passed away in 1906. Ole was alone.

In February of 1910 Ole hitched up the team and drove off on a routine trip to Anoka.

After concluding his business there, he started for home in late afternoon.

Somewhere along the way the bit broke on one of his horses.

Apparently a broken bit was enough to cause the spirited horses to become uncontrollable and they took off at a run.

He finally was able to regain control on Coon Creek, but one of the horses had stepped in an “air hole” and was stuck.

I believe an air hole is a weak spot in the ice, although I’m guessing.

At any rate, old Ole worked very hard to free the horse and got himself very wet in the process.

This would be a very dangerous situation for anyone, especially an old man alone.

But Ole doggedly drove on home, arriving very late.

Both his hands and feet were frozen to the point where they would have to be amputated.

Both feet were taken off at the ankle. His left hand was entirely removed and only the thumb and fourth finger of his right hand remained.

So Ole carved his own wooden pegs to use for feet. They helped him to get around with the aid of crutches.

Ole was 71 when the accident happened and he did not live long after that.

The story implies that he survived his amputations, and was surviving on his own despite his handicap.

No one knows the cause of his death or even the exact date.

A small handwritten note in an early Ham Lake record book states, “Mr. Foss died around 1909.

“The funeral was conducted outside the church. The only mourner was a bewildered dog who couldn’t understand what had happened.”

*This information was taken from program 142 of the KANO Radio shows.  It was dated Jan. 18, 1989.

The programs were called “History Minute” and they were limited to exactly one minute in length, which probably accounts for the lack of details about poor Ole.

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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