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Secrets Beneath the Earth in an Icelandic Cemetery

By Sunna Olafson Furstenau


We’ve been working on a mystery, and for now...it remains unsolved. Where is the exact burial location of a well-respected man of considerable prominence? Daníel Grímsson Laxdal (1866-1914, IR# I203405), was a respected lawyer, state land commissioner, North Dakota State's attorney, and mayor of Cavalier. He was also an active member of the Order of Odd Fellows, the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and the Lutheran Church. Beyond his professional accomplishments, he was a devoted husband, father, community leader, and friend.


Given Daníel's stature in the community, his final resting place should be well-documented. However, instead, we have discovered an abundance of conflicting evidence! After many weeks of research, scouring dozens of official sources, and discussing the evidence with living family members, the mystery remains. Is he buried in Cavalier, where he has a headstone, or is he buried in Mountain as local obituaries state?



I even called on my friend, Tom Askew, to learn more about the Cavalier Cemetery burials. He is a well-known local funeral director with decades of experience, plus a descendant of Icelandic pioneers. He went to the Laxdal plot in the Cavalier Cemetery, where Daniel and his wife have headstones and a large monument. Daníel’s wife, Bessie, died in 1920 and is buried in the Cavalier Cemetery plot. Tom says Bessie is buried in her plot, but Daniel's grave is empty after he performed grave dowsing. The National Forensic Academy teaches officers to use science to solve crimes, and they also teach how to dowse for the dead. This ancient technique has some great success stories, but skepticism remains.


News articles published at the time of Daníel's death and the following week have conflicting evidence. His body was laid in state in the new courthouse he championed. Before the funeral, some news articles stated the burial would be in Cavalier. However, several others, including the local newspaper, published articles saying he was buried with his mother in Mountain, his boyhood home.


The Pioneer Express published this article three days after his funeral:

The Pioneer Express. 27 Mar 1914. Page 1. Death of J. D. Laxdal. Daniel J. Laxdal died at Grand Forks at St. Michael's hospital last Saturday. He was 47 years of age and born in Iceland. He came with his parents to this county in 1870. Poor but ambitious he worked his way through college and studied law with Hon. W. J. Kneeshaw. From early manhood he took a great interest in politics and in later years has been a leading man in the republican party of the county and of prominence in the state. He has occupied many local offices and was for one term state land commissioner, and at the time of his death was mayor of the city of Cavalier. He leaves a widow, a son and daughter. This brief sketch is but an outline of a life that is already well known to almost all our readers for Mr. Laxdal was perhaps the best known person in this and adjoining counties. While his life was brief it has been one of great influence. Personally he was of a genial disposition and all his acquaintances were his friends. He will be particularly missed in his home city where for many years he has been one of the leading citizens. He will also be missed in the councils of the county committee of the republican party of which organization he has been chairman for several years. Born in comparative poverty, coming as a boy a stranger in a strange land by industry and ability he raised himself to a high position among men who had far greater advantages. When he died a very large circle of friends, some of whom had opposed him in political battles felt that they had lost a friend. The funeral was held at Cavalier on Tuesday and was attended by a large number of friends, many persons from Grand Forks and other towns being present. He was buried in the cemetery at Mountain, his boyhood home. 

The death certificate from Grand Forks states he will be buried in Cavalier. News articles state that the Rev. D. Finlayson of Park River was in charge of preaching the funeral services at the Laxdal home in Cavalier. They held an Elks ritual, and they marched in the funeral procession. Other obituaries state that after the service in Cavalier, another service was held in Mountain by Rev. Friðrik Bergmann, with the burial in the city of Mountain. Burials in Vikur ceased in 1910 and went to the new Mountain Cemetery southwest of town. There is no evidence he was buried at the new cemetery. Tom Askew states a person is buried in an unmarked grave next to his mother, Aldís, in the Vikur Cemetery. Is Daniel buried next to his mother, Aldís? She was an honored nurse and midwife of the pioneer days. She delivered over 500 Babies and assisted many more. A statue was erected in her honor at Mountain, North Dakota.



Daníel was born on a beautiful farm south of Akureyri in 1866. Two and a half months later, his father died on that same farm, Syðra-Laugaland.



Daníel emigrated from Akureyri with his mother, Aldís Jónasdóttir Bergmann, and his older sister, Hlaðgerður, on board the ship Verona in 1876. The descendants of Hlaðgerður and Daníel are many and are spread across Canada and the USA.


There are 71 marked graves at Vikur. However, research by myself, George Freeman, Doreen Marston, and Kathy Thorlakson, along with the rest of our phenomenal Icelandic Roots Genealogy Team, has discovered 158 individuals laid to rest here. Some are newborns. Some are on the list because they died in the area when no other cemetery existed or lived near the city of Mountain, known as Vík, in the early years. Their stories whisper of a legacy that transcends time and space. Remarkably, 107 were born in Iceland, and 47 died in Dakota Territory before North Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. All but 5 are of Icelandic descent.


On Sunday, August 4, 2024, the Vikur Lutheran Church Cemetery in Mountain, North Dakota, will witness a significant moment in preserving its rich history. Six new storyboards will be dedicated. Sandy Mathiasson Wright, Loretta Thorfinnson Bernhoft, Dori Kate Steinolfson Heck, and I created them. Each storyboard offers a glimpse into the past, honors Vikur, and provides history and education about our Icelandic community. The storyboards will remind us of the enduring legacy of our ancestors and the importance of preserving our shared history.


I had the privilege of creating two of the storyboards. One is a self-drive map of the Icelandic monuments and special locations. You can see it HERE.


The other lists the names, birth, and death years of those interred in this historic cemetery. You can view it online HERE.


Since 2003, I have worked full-time on Icelandic heritage and genealogy, educating others and making connections in our shared story. Icelandic Roots was founded in 2013, and since then, many talented and dedicated volunteers have joined this amazing nonprofit organization. The photo below shows 22 IR volunteers in Banff at the INLNA convention in 2023.



The Vikur Cemetery is the resting place for my great-great grandparents from Eyjafjörður and two of their infant grandchildren, my grandfather's siblings. These four family members were laid to rest before the Eyford Thingvalla Cemetery was established. Their graves, though unmarked, are located southeast of the original log cabin church location, sheltered by a majestic oak tree. I vividly recall my Amma always showing me this spot, ensuring that the memory of our ancestors would live on.



Nine of my direct ancestors braved the journey from Iceland to start a new life in Dakota. Other than the four at Vikur, the other five emigrating ancestors, my grandparents, my father, plus many other Icelandic family members, are buried in the Eyford Cemetery. However, the connection to Vikur remains strong. I was married at the Vikur church 43.5 years ago.


Burials occurred at Vikur from 1879 - 1910. Daníel Laxdal died in 1914, which created a strange exception since burials ceased at Vikur in 1910. I put him on our Vikur burial list because of the news articles of the time. Unless we dig up the two locations, perform DNA tests, and continue further research, the secrets are beneath the earth. Here is the beautiful marker in the Cavalier Cemetery between the stones of Bessie and Daniel.


Daníel's story reminds us that some pieces of our story are obscured, but their significance is no less profound. When we encounter conflicting evidence, we add it to the Icelandic Roots Database to document each person’s story and our collective shared story to keep our Icelandic heritage alive.


As we remember the Icelandic pioneers and document the lives of those with or without grave markers, we are reminded of the profound connection that binds us to our Icelandic roots. This sacred place is a testament to our rich heritage.


We are the guardians of the cemeteries, of our Icelandic genealogy, and of our shared heritage and culture, ensuring that our family stories are never forgotten. In preserving the memories of those who came before us, we honor our own place in this unbroken chain of Icelandic heritage. Together, we ensure that the whispers of our ancestors continue to echo through time, inspiring and guiding us toward a future deeply rooted in our past. The legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.



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