top of page

Young Icelandic Woman Killed Instantly in 1889

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

This story begins with an 1889 newspaper article. My friend, Jim Benjaminson sent the article, which is certainly not the entire story of this young woman.

"A Runaways Fatal Result

Jona Goodmanson, aged 26 years, was instantly killed here Saturday. She, in company with friends, had started for Cashel, where she intended to spend the Sabbath and attend divine services, as there was to be preaching in her language, Iceland(ic) on Sunday. While seated in a lumber wagon, and on a loose seat, a runaway team from behind plunged into the rear end of the vehicle and the concussion threw her out and she was instantly killed, her neck being broken.

She has no relatives in this neighborhood. The team that ran away was a pair of bronchos driven by Mike McGrath, who, with George Finkle, were thrown out. The bronchos afterwards became detached from the buggy.

~ Grand Forks Plaindealer newspaper article from 17 May 1889."

Here is a photo of a Lumber Wagon used during this time. This is just an illustration. We do not know the look of this lumber wagon used by the friends of Jona Goodmanson.

Now for a little part of Jona Goodmanson's REAL STORY. Her name is Jónína Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir and she was born in northeast Iceland. Even though her story is too short and her demise very sad, I have to believe that she had many good days and her outlook on life was one of optimism and hope. In her case, there was no family to bury her so the neighbors must have taken care of her services. Are other family members out there that wonder about Jónína Guðrún? This was a good mystery to solve – just for Jónína Guðrún. At the very least, here is her story. Maybe a family member will learn about her last day in America or you, the reader, can just learn one more story about a young Icelander in Vesturheim. The family lived in northeast Iceland where many left for North America.

Iceland area marked

Jónína Guðrún was born as the 5th and youngest child of the family 15 Mar 1860 on the now abandoned farm, Svalbarðsseli í Þistilfirði, N-Þingeyjarsýsla in Iceland (white circle below). At the age of 13, her father died. Jónína Guðrún moved from the family farm to find work at Skinnastaður (teal circle below) in a nearby parish in the Öxarfjörður.

Her only surviving sibling, Gísli Guðmundsson, lived at Ytra-Lón (red circle to left). Her mother died in October of 1885 at 57 years of age in their home area of Svalbarðssókn. Two years after the death of her mother, in 1887, Jónína Guðrún was in Vopnafjörður (yellow circle to left) to leave for America. She left on the ship Camoens. I wonder how she traveled and what adventures she had along the way. Who was there to see her off? Did she bring any precious items from her family in a special trunk?

Jóna´s parents are the farmer, Guðmundur Gíslason (1802-1873), and his wife, Sigurlaug Jónsdóttir (1827 - 1885). Guðmundur became a father to a baby girl and a baby boy born within 5 days of each other with two different women. Baby Matthildur was born 21 Jul 1850 to his wife, Sigurlaug Jónsdóttir. Baby Gísli was born 26 Jul 1850 to Guðbjörg Jónsdóttir but this baby died just 2 years later. His mother, Guðbjörg, died 8.5 years later at the young age of 38. They were not married.

Three of Jona's siblings and her one half-sibling died before 1873 - the year that her father also died. Her sister, Matthildur died 5 May 1873 and the father died only 18 days later on 23 Jun 1873. Jona's brother, Gísli, was the only other child to survive to adulthood. He worked at Ytra-Lón in the far northeast corner of Iceland. Interestingly, this is the exact same farm where my ancestors lived until they emigrated in 1887. I called on the assistance of fellow genealogists, Cathy Josephson from Vopnafjörður and the East Iceland Emigration Center and she sent the following info:

"In paging through N-Þingeyjarsýsla for those who left in 1887, I find that there was quite a number of her neighbors who left the same year, and some on the same ship. As for Gísli, his obituary states that he lived for a time with Helgi Ásbjörnsson and his wife Margrét, and then later with one of their daughters. Margrét was Stefánsdóttir. She and Helgi left in 1887 from Brekknakot in Svalbarðshreppur, both 26 yrs., with their son, Ólafur 2 yrs. Margrét was a first cousin of Jónína Guðrún and Gísli. So although there are no descendants from these two siblings, there was - and is - family."

Gísli emigrated in 1904 as a 42-year-old single man along with the Arnljótur Gíslason family. He lived with them in Selkirk for some time as we find him there in the 1906 Canada Census. Gísli Guðmundsson lived until his 75th year (23 Apr 1858 - 13 May 1933). He never married and had no descendants. His death notice is here in the Lögberg.

Jónína Guðrún (15 Mar 1860 - 11 May 1889) died at the age of 29 near Cashel, North Dakota from the horse accident chronicled above. Her exact burial location has not been located. I contacted the churches in the Grafton area. They do not have any record of Jona Goodmanson or Jónína Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir in their parish records. The death notice for Jónína Guðrún (in Icelandic) is in the newspaper: Heimskringla is online here. They do not mention a burial location in the Icelandic paper.

Fellow genealogist, George Freeman, sent the following information:

"The Icelandic Lutheran Church was built at 317 Prospect Avenue on the east side of Grafton. It was served by the pastor from Mountain, Gardar, Akra, and Svold (in Pembina County). The church became inactive when members moved, older members died and the church was sold. There was a small cemetery in the back of the church. Four graves were left when the church was sold, but we have no names for these burials. The Grafton Lutheran Cemetery is located in the northwest area of Grafton, near the State Developmental Center, formerly Grafton State School. The Grafton City Cemetery is located on the east side of Grafton, along highway #17. This cemetery is possibly the oldest. It is also probably the site for those churches other than Lutheran or Catholic. From the Walsh County Cemetery books it is shown that there are no cemeteries in Martin Township of which Cashel, ND is in the center of the township. Therefore I would conclude that Jónina Guðmundsdóttir was probably one of the four graves at the Icelandic Lutheran Church in Grafton."

Thanks to Jim Benjaminson for sending this news article. He has submitted several stories now that have been shared on this blog including the story about the old Case Car that he recently purchased and is bringing back to Pembina County and the Icelandic State Park. Thanks again to George and Cathy for their input. If you know more about this family, please contact Sunna.

More information on Cashel, North Dakota (Unincorporated Community) Peak Population: 80 in 1920 Post Office Established: December 17, 1877 Post Office Closed: March 15, 1943 Location: NE 1/4 Sec. 26-158-52 Latitude 48.485 and longitude -97.299 Martin Township, Walsh County, North Dakota, USA

CASHEL is the first Northern Pacific Railroad Station NE of Grafton, located in the NE 1/4 Sec. 26-158-52, Martin Twp. The name honors John Lyons Cashel Sr. (1848-1926), a Grafton Banker, realtor and politician who owned the town site. The family name comes from the ancient city of Cashel, county Tiperary, in southern Ireland. The post office was established December 17, 1877, with Charles Moore as postmaster, and it was closed March 15, 1943, with mail to Drayton. A population of 80 was listed in 1920.

So for now, Jónína Guðrún, here are some peonies for you. I saved these from my Amma's Garden. I wish that we knew your burial location and we could put up a burial marker.

Amma's Peonies

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

bottom of page