When Olof Ohman dug up what has come to be known as the Kensington Rune Stone on his farm in 1898, he uncovered what would become one of the greatest controversies in history. Runes carved in the stone told of eight Swedes and 22 Norwegians who, in 1362, were on a journey, and experienced a massacre in which ten of their party were killed by Natives. Ohman’s stone has been studied, revered and ridiculed, ever since. Some say Ohman carved the stone himself, some say Scandinavians could never have travelled that far inland, and others say there is ample proof that the stone is genuine, caved in 1362, and depicts a real event.
Count Kensington’s Ralph Gunderson among this last group. Gunderson, grew up in Kensington, graduated from Kensington High School, and enlisted in the Army before spending 40 years in the Twin Cities. When he returned to Kensington, in 1996, he became fascinated with the town’s claim to fame, the Rune Stone.
“My mother read everything she could on the subject and that got me interested,” Gunderson recalled.
He also began studying the research done by local Rune Stone sleuths Gil Moe and Leland Pederson, who, in the fall of 2000, spent several weeks walking the hills where the stone was uncovered with dowsing rods. The area is part of the Douglas County Park System now, with trails and a beautiful new visitors center.
Moe, originally from Kensington, and later Elbow Lake, was one of the founders of COSMOS Enterprises. Pederson was a retired school teacher from Glenwood. Both became experts in the use of dowsing rods, or witching sticks, as Gunderson calls them. While dowsing is often called a pseudoscience, watching Gunderson exploring the Rune Stone site with one, could change your mind.
Dowsing rods are thin L shaped metal rods held loosely in the hand. When encountering an anomaly in the ground, disturbed soil such as a grave, buried foundation of the building, iron or even water, they react by turning sideways in the hand. Moe and Pederson, after spending weeks exploring the grounds, discovered a camp, or habitation, with many buildings. They claim to have found, and mapped, the locations of: four sleeping quarters; a well; dining hall and cooking shed; a garden; a chicken coop, pig sty and rabbit pens; as well as an outhouse and even a sauna. What’s more, the dowsing rods pointed to a landing site where a Viking ship was moored. And they found the graves of the ten Scandinavians who were killed, indicating that the massacre occurred at the same site as the Rune Stone was carved.
But Moe and Pederson found more. They claim their dowsing rods pointed out other graves, much older, from a party of Norwegians and German woman, buried in 1110. And even older, the grave of a “Shem” or Scandinavian priest, from 865.
How could this be? According to Moe and Pederson’s research, the hill the Rune Stone was found on, was a camp used by Scandinavian explorers for generations. These explorers reached Minnesota, on what Moe and Peterson believe was an extension of Hudson Bay, that extended almost to the Iowa border. This way, the Vikings were able to sail their ships all the way from Scandinavia to central Minnesota totally by a saltwater sea.
“This is the part that Rune Stone skeptics have the most trouble with,” said Gunderson. “They just don’t think there was sea water this far south.”
It’s a given that prehistoric Lake Agassiz covered North Dakota and western Minnesota 10,000 years ago. Who is to say it couldn’t have extended from Hudson Bay, even furhter south. That would make west central Minnesota a salt water sea with the many hills, such as Inspiration Peak, Andes Tower Hills, and the hills north of Kensington… islands.
Gunderson, using his dowsing rod, found the highwater mark on what has come to be known as Runestone Hill, and the boat landing for their ships.
There are at least four mooring stones on the hill. These stones have a triangular hole drilled in them, in which the Vikings stuck an iron rod, attached to a rope and their ship.
Gunderson said, experienced users of the dowsing rod, those most sensitive to it, can actually ask the rod questions, while standing over a site, and its movements, or lack of movement will indicate a “yes,” or “no.”
Using this technique, Leland Peterson, in a paper he wrote, claimed to have discovered the actual names of the original Rune Stone party, and much more about them.
“At that time, there were only around 30 common names, so, using deduction, his dowsing rod, and spending many hours on it, he found out their names,” said Gunderson.
Including the name of the Rune Stone carver: Ole Bjornson.
Pederson also found out the men were all in their early 20s and there were three sets of brothers, including a set of twin brothers: Jacob and Snorri Ivarson. There was also a Norwegian priest, Bjarne Henrikson. The leader of the group, who actually composed the message on the Rune Stone, was Pal Knutson.
Moe and Pederson’s research shows the Rune Stone expedition left Norway in June of 1361, with the massacre happening in October of 1362, the Vikings stayed in Minnesota for at least another year before, presumably, heading home, and into history.
Ralph Gunderson likes nothing more than sharing his considerable knowledge of the Rune Stone and the people who carved it. He would be happy to give a fascinating tour of the site just for the asking. Call him at 320-815-3343.