Two friends in Thief River Falls, Minnesota

This postcard has a message on the back in Norwegian.  At the top of the message is the name of a town, “Thief River Falls Minn,” followed by numbers which may be “17/12.”  They could mean 17 December or December 1917.  This type of photo paper was manufactured between 1904 and 1918.

A very kind visitor to this page, “Jag,” provided a translation of the message into English and Swedish in the comments under the post.  (Skip to her comments here.)  This is her English translation, lightly edited:

My dear Johanna
I wish you a Happy New Year and if it is your wish a nice man. We are all well and I hope you all are too, over there. You must write to me and tell me a lot of news because it is always nice to hear from you. I don’t know if you recognize me on the card. I hope you have one of you to send me, too. Best regards Your Martta
Please write back soon.

Thief River Falls 2


The town of Thief River Falls was established in 1887 and incorporated in 1896, initially as a lumber-milling town.  The name Thief River is a translation of the original Ojibwe name, which referred to a marauding band of Dakota Indians.  The town’s Wikipedia page mentions the following statistic:

According to the ethnic heritage section of the 2000 Federal Census, 50% of Thief River Falls residents identify themselves as Norwegian-American, making Thief River Falls one of the most ethnically concentrated towns in the nation.

That information is from a 2002 article in the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, which also mentioned two Minnesota towns with German-American and Swedish-American populations.

In the photo, I love the simple studio setting.  However, something is missing: coffee and cookies!


Page updated May 7, 2019.


55 thoughts on “Two friends in Thief River Falls, Minnesota

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  1. I hope you get your translation; it would be interesting. 🙂
    And I like how these two friends are looking at each other. – It seems to me they have a depth of understanding, compassion and love.
    Yes, coffee and cookies – or wine and cheese – would be good! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Tracey! They put on their finery for the portrait, but they look relaxed, rather than stiff and formal, and their expressions are very natural. Also, the bare studio gives the photo an impromptu feel. It may have been set up by a traveling photographer who was just in town for a short time. That would make sense in a remote community like this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a lovely photo of the two Ladies!! They look at each other with a very special smile on their faces which shows a very friendly intimate relationship.
    I’m from Sweden and I really tried to translate what was written but can only understand a few words. I’ll save it and take a closer look at it when I have some more time. Right now my dog is asking for mine attention..🐾🐾 🐕

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I tried hard but the handwriting wasn’t easy to read. I did recognise a few words, though. To me it seems to be either Danish or Norwegian. The two languages are quite similar in writing. “Jeg” means “I”, “ikke” means “not” and “du” means “you”. Both the script and the photo are immensely interesting!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Well…although I don’t read a single word of Norwegian I’m captivated by the mystery and absolutely charmed by this beautiful friendship. Makes me want to bake cookies and settle in for a good chat 😊🌷

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve been to Thief River Falls, and my grandparents were Swedish, so this one really resonates. For some inexplicable reason, I saw the women as teacher and student. There’s no evidence of that, of course, but I’ll bet you can guess which I thought was which. Looking at the card, it seems as though it’s addressed to “Johanna,” but the handwriting’s hard to decipher. Even if it were written in English, it wouldn’t be easy. It’s a lovely portrait, and believe me — it would be coffee and cookies or pastry on that table if they’re Scandinavian — I’d bet on it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t think of teacher and student, but I can understand why you did! I bet the lady on the right WAS a teacher, or maybe they both were. Thief River Falls looks quite remote on the map. The nearest major city looks like Winnipeg, Manitoba (140 miles or 224 km north). Grand Forks, North Dakota, is 52 miles southwest (pop. 57,000). I’m impressed that you’ve been there!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I grew up in Iowa, and we vacationed as a family at the Minnesota Lakes. I’ve spent some time in Manitoba, too — including Winnipeg. It’s beautiful and interesting country.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Lovely photo. I wish you well with getting the back translated. 🙂 The last word looks like ‘ Martha’ or ‘Martta’ to me – maybe the writer’s name? Or may be some other sort of sign-off. Mind you, isn’t it continued round the side? Maybe that’s the equivalent of a ps.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a lovely photo, it is so warm and the way they look att each other tells us that they are very good friends. I think the note is written in Norwegian (even though a bit influenced by English) and I’ll try to translate it into Swedish and English:

    Kära Johanna min
    Jag önskar dig ett gott nytt år och om det är din önskan en trevlig man. Vi lever alla väl och det hoppas jag att ni alla gör hos er också. Du måste skriva och berätta mycket för mig då det alltid är trevligt att få höra ifrån er. Jag vet inte om du känner igen mig på kortet. Jag hoppas att du har ett att sända mig av dig med. Vänlig hälsning din Martta.
    Skriv snart tillbaka är du snäll.

    I’ll try to put it in English:
    My dear Johanna
    I wish you a Happy New Year and if that is your wish a nice man. We are all well and I hope you all are too, over there. You must write to me and tell me a lot because it is always nice to hear from you. I don’t know if you recognize me at the card. I hope you have one of you to send me too. Best regards Your Martta
    Please write back soon.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much!!! You’re a translation angel! 🙂🙏 I think we can assume that Johanna was in Norway. The postcard must have been in a larger parcel, probably including several cards or letters sent together. One thing I forgot to mention in the post is that there’s a pinhole at the top of the card (it looks like a dark spot in the letter R of River). So we know that Johanna liked the photo and pinned it to a wall. The pinhole is a sign of affection which Martta probably never saw.

      I would also add that the photo was for sale in Oregon. If Johanna was in Norway, then apparently she came to the USA, or her children did, or someone else from her family.

      Thank you again!! Brad

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I now see that I forgot one word in the middle of the card: …meget “nyt”… and I translated only “meget” as “a lot”. Meget = much/a lot and nyt = new.

        Interesting thoughts about the pinhole, of course the photo must have been pinned to a wall and often looked at. Where Johanna was when she got the letter with the card is hard to guess, but she could have been in the USA also.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. You’re right, she may have been in the USA already. Travel by land was still slow in the 1910s where there was no railroad, so it might have been hard for Johanna and Martta to visit each other, even if they lived in the same state or in neighboring states.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. The text is as charming as the photo. These look like sisters or very good friends or perhaps a mother/daughter pair. I love the last line–“send me one of you!” So sweet! Parting with such a distance between you must have been so hard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to leave home and travel thousands of miles to such a remote place, with little chance of ever seeing relatives and friends again, let alone their homeland. They had to start their lives over in almost every respect.

      Liked by 2 people

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