Børse-Gunner A Legendary Blacksmith
No one who has lived near Sperillen is as legendary as “Børse-Gunner” (pronounced “Bursh-eh” Goon-er; translated Gun-Gunner). He had a reputation as a blacksmith without equal and bear hunter with supernatural abilities. As time went by, Børse-Gunner transformed from man to myth. Today he is remembered mostly for something he never did – killing two sea serpents.
It was the summer of 1851 that he emigrated to America. Shortly after that, all traces of Børse-Gunner ended – for now. He earned his living as a blacksmith and his specialty was long guns – rifles and shotguns – hence the nickname. His long guns were remarkable because they were unusually accurate – no one could make an equal. Børse-Gunner forged three types of long guns: shotguns, small bore bird guns, and large-caliber big game rifles. Legend also has it that forged an unusually large rifle when he shot that first monster which was heading towards Sperillen.
Besides firearms he would accept all types of blacksmith work and forged anything required, from hammers to locks. As the village blacksmith, he travelled to farms surrounding the northern part of Sperillen and could stay from months to years at each place. With him, Børse-Gunner brought the necessary tools – the customers provided the metal that was needed for the forge and the supplies he needed for living as well as hunting and shooting. Hunting brought him both food and shooting prizes.
Børse-Gunner was not like most hunters. Not only did he track and find prey himself, but he also had a gun that shook when it was close to big game. When the shaking happened he would put his work down and run into the forest, only to return shortly after with his prey.
The Official Sources
There is little information from official, written sources about him, but those that exist are important to setting the timeline of his life and setting the scene.
Børse-Gunner was born 31 May 1817 at Langbraatan, which was then a part of the farm “Nes in Aadal.” He was baptized in Viker church on 5 August the same year and named Gunder Ellensen. His parents were Elen Gundersen Neseie (Langbraatan) and Gunhild Gulbrandsdatter Blakstvedt.
On 16 September 1838 Gunner was confirmed in Viker Church – when he was 21 years old – which was quite unusual since it was almost six years later than what was common.
In 1844 he was using the name Gunder Ellensen Rustand of Viker and was married on 20 July that year to his second cousin, Gunhild Olsdatter Blakstvedt, from Gunvaldsstua, born on 8 November 1820. On 19 October 1844 Gunhild gave birth to a daughter at Rustand. They knew something was not right and had her baptized immediately. The baby girl was named Gunhild and died seven hours after birth.
The next two children born to Børse-Gunner and Gunhild were Ole, born 14 February 1846, and Elling, born 17 June 1848. Both sons entered life at Rustan. Their next daughter, Kjersti is reported to have been born at Rustaneie on 14 March 1851.
Contracts and receipts from his workshow that Børse-Gunner lived on these farms:
Braaten (Langbraatan) in 1817,
Nesmoen in 1838 and 1839
Ramberget in 1842
Rustand 1844, 1846 and 1848
Rustaneie in 1851,
The family lived on Neseie, probably Langbraaten, when the family registered the start of their emigration on 12 May 1851.
It’s believed he also lived at Blakstvedt, but there are no officially recorded details of that stay.
Both tales and legends that were passed down in writing or through word of mouth give the details that the church records can’t provide – the information of how he lived his life.
What he left behind shows three sides of Børse-Gunner – blacksmith, marksman, and hunter. Of the blacksmith and the marksman the story is told: “Gunner also stayed here at Nesmoen for a while. My father told a story: “We had a blacksmith’s hammer that wasn’t very good. I was with Gunner in the smithy and we didn’t have a good supply of iron, but there was a box that the nails were thrown in when shoeing horses. Gunner forged a blacksmith’s hammer out of these nails, and it was a really good hammer.””
A blacksmith forging a hammer is normally not memorable, but the way he did out of scrap nails is. In addition to something as basic as a hammer, it’s said that he forged padlocks. The farms’ smithies were available to him where he lived and worked. In the bookkeeping ledgers of Vassenden in the period 1839-1842 and 1843-1868, Gunner is recorded taking on jobs for farms. He forged when he received orders – everything from scythes, rifle barrels and even a pistol. To make the rifling in the barrels, he used a special grinding stone to which he attached specially made equipment. The farmer then pulled the stone through the barrel while Børse-Gunner made sure everything went correctly. And finally the gun would be shot to sight it in. The following incident tells of the sighting in and accuracy, as well as his marksmanship skills: “Børse-Gunner lived at Rustan for a long period because he had to forge multiple barrels. Here on the farm it’s told that when he was finished with a rifle he would shoot it to set the sights. He put a matchbox on the roof of the smithy – he always put something there when he should set the sights – then walked 100 meters away and fired – and the matches lit and left only ashes on the smithy roof.”
From Bergsund there are also rumors about Børse-Gunner’s shooting skills. Once when Børse-Gunner was at Rustan a sparrow flew down and sat the smithy roof. He sat and chatted with a man who was there and both saw the bird. The doubtful man wanted Børse-Gunner to prove that he was as good a marksman as people wanted to believe and challenged him to shoot the sparrow. Børse-Gunner fired and the bird fell. “Lucky shot,” said man. Shortly after another sparrow landed on the smithy roof. Børse-Gunner reloaded and fired, hitting that sparrow as well. “That was two damn lucky shots,” said the man.
The Bear Hunter
Besides being a marksman, Børse-Gunner was also a skilled bear hunter. As with stories of several other bear hunters, he also killed seven bears.
This number reflects a more magical number than simply the number of bears he killed. How many animals he really killed is not really known, but there are three different stories about his hunts. He also received the prize from the sheriff in Aadal – possibly for shooting a bear. It is also said that he shot bears in Vassfaret with Per Goplerud, Elling Goplerud’s father. With these cases, the stories may overlap.
In southern Ramberget where he lived, multiple bear skulls were hung. One or more of them were supposedly shot by him. “Gunner stayed in Ramberget for some time. While he was there he shot a bear on Blakstvedtaasen. He took the bear with him and rowed it over the fjord, and when he came back to Ramberget, we went up and asked one of the young boys to go down to the boat and get the “grouse” that was in it.”
This is one story Mikkjel Fønhus writes more fully about. “Father thought Gunner had a type of sixth sense, that he knew where there were bears. One Pentecost day, Gunner became uneasy and went in and out repeatedly, until he finally took his rifle down from the wall. Father said: “Let the animal go in peace, Gunner, it’s Pentecost. ” But Gunner was upset and left, and before dinner he came again and he had shot a bear.”
Life as a bear hunter was not without danger, and once it was almost deadly. Børse-Gunner Rock is a boulder, just over one and a half meters high, which stands on three other smaller stones. The rock is shaped like an egg and sits at the edge of a cliff with the tip pointing towards the valley – it is impossible to go around. Once when Børse-Gunner was hunting, he managed to shoot and injure, but not kill the bear. When the bullet hit, the bear became furious and chased Børse-Gunner who saved himself by climbing up on this stone. The bear tried to reach him, but the rage that consumed the beast caused the bear to not notice the cliff, which caused him to fall off the cliff and die from the fall. After this event the boulder was given the name “Børse-Gunner Rock.”
The author on the Børse-Gunner stone on Veslefjell, east of Treknatten. (Photo: Torbjørn Røberg)
The last story brings us closer to Børse-Gunner than the first in that it more honestly talks about a failed hunt and a dangerous ending. The incident shows that his renowned perfection as a marksman did not always hold true.
The legends about the sea serpents have, unlike the other stories, allowed fantasy to run free about Børse-Gunner’s abilities. These stories are what he is most remembered for in modern times. For each storyteller who can tell about him as a bear hunter there must be ten who can tell a sea serpent tale. There are many variations of these tales and everyone and their brother has additional details about what happened. To tell two of the most complete and illustrate the variations of the same tale, three versions of the same tales follow:
Sea Serpent in Abbortjern I (Perch Pond)
During the 1840s, two sea serpents were shot in Aadalen, one in Sperillen and one in Abbortjern, about one kilometer west of Wasenden. The sea serpent in Abbortjern came from Randsfjord – from Bjoneroa it had followed Bjonelva to the eastern Bjone Lake. From there it continued upstream a bit before it left the water and went on land. As it travelled over land it made huge ruts in the ground, and trees snapped like matchsticks where it came through. It’s said that clear traces of the ruts could be seen for many years afterwards. The sea serpent settled in Abbortjern, and there fed on both sheep and goats until it became a serious nuisance to people in and around Wasenden and Aadalen. Because of this, Aadalens strong-man, Gun-Gunder, was sent to kill the beast. Gunder forged a powerful gun of 10-12 pieces of metal. With his gun, a goat as bait, and a rope, he went up to the pond. Here he tied the goat to a tree, climbed up the same tree and sat down to wait. When the serpent came to eat the goat, he shot it in the center of its chest.
It’s said that he aimed at a kind of shining star on its chest and when it was hit by the bullet there was a commotion without equal. The pond was stained as red as the evening sun from blood and overflowed its banks.”
Sea Serpent in Abbortjert II
This legend is similar to the first, but here it is at a different Abbortjern – one a bit further south towards Rustan. In this version other details were given more focus. The legend says that on one occasion, a sea serpent crept up on land and wriggled himself to Abbortjern, where Børse-Gunner tracked and shot it. After the serpent received it’s killing shot there was so much blood in the pond the water was completely colored red, and this is the reason why char in this pond have such red meat – the reddest that can be found.
Trond Berg Sund
The Sperillen Sea Serpent
“Legend has it two huge sea serpents came into Vangsmjøsen in the upper part of Aadalen. They had probably come over Filefjell from the Sognefjord. They wanted to continue and came into the Benga river through the fjords. One of them met it’s death in the waterfalls in South Aurdal, and the water was stained with blood for several days afterwards. The second serpent saw what happened to his companion and it went on land to bypass the falls. In its journey it scraped the bark off of trees and bushes along the river. It then went back to the river and followed the Begna River to Fjøsvika by Sperillen. By now it was tired and went ashore and went into the summer barn at Fjøsvika. In this barn there were 10 sections – 9 stalls on each of the sides, but the sea serpent was so long that it had to place one loop of his huge body into every stall, and even then laid its head and tail on doorstep.
Rifle-smith Gunder was the name of a good marksman. He got a twitch in his arm and his rifle vibrated when it was near big game to hunt. When this happened he had to kill his prey or else he could not settle down.
The day the sea serpent came, his arm jerked so hard he thought it would be torn out of its socket. He took his rifle that he had used to shoot the sea serpent at Bjoneskogen and went out because he knew there was a beast in the area. The strong jerking of his arm pulled him towards the summer barn at Fjøsvika. As he got close that he saw barn and immediately stopped. In the open barn door he saw the enormous sea serpent head. The serpent rolled its large eyes and looked at him. Gunder aimed and fired. As the bullet hit the serpent in the head, its body jerked so hard that the entire barn was demolished and collapsed into a heap. After that event, the smith never had twitching in his arm again.”
Kirsten Bergsrud, Aftenposten no. 7, 1960
A story is told that when Børse-Gunner lived at Baathusmyra (Myra) by Begna he aimed at a duck swimming on the stream, but the sights had not be set properly yet. He missed and the bullet ricocheted on the surface of the water and hit his daughter who died. After this happened he was beside himself for several years.
There is no evidence that he lost a daughter under such circumstances. His daughter Gunhild died at childbirth, and presumably this incident is the basis of the story.
Either way, life was not easy. To be a rifle-smith in Aadal must have had its limits for earning a wage, even for a highly skilled smith and a good hunter as well. Since he had a family with three children, he had increased responsibilities. Børse-Gunner and his family did like many Norwegians; they sought happiness in a country where the fields lay unploughed as far as the eye could see and anyone that wanted it could get land. America offered greater opportunities for an enterprising man like him. So in 1851, Børse-Gunner emigrated to the west along with several other people from Aadalen, many of them settling into the same town in Iowa.
The last that is known of the family from public records is that Børse-Gunner reported emigration to America for himself, Gunhild, and the three children on 20 May 1851. The emigrant ship “Sjafna” set sail from Bragernes (Drammen) and arrived in New York 21 July 1851. In the passenger list on arrival we find Børse-Gunner, Gunhild and two children, but not Elling. It is not known if he died on crossing, or if it is it a mistake in the logging of passengers.
At the immigration office in America all tracks initally disappeared, but new information has come to light. Børse-Gunner and Gunhild Olsdatter were found in Rock County, Wisconsin, where their son Gulbrand was born 24 September 1853, and daughter Gunhild Marie 22 May 1855. But in 1860, they were no longer found in Wisconsin. It has not been possible to find them in other places either.
It’s here the saga of Børse-Gunner could have ended, if it were not for a letter to Ole Haraldsen Wasenden from Anders Nilsen Wasenden, postmarked Johnsrud (Mitchell County, Iowa, USA) on 12 July 1872, found in the attic at Vassenden. The letter reads: “About the biggest building I have heard of was the smithy of Gunder Borse Smith. It was so big that if you had the best binoculars that were ever made you wouldn’t be able to see the walls or roof – you know the ground it was built on was very flat. “
Anders Nilsen Wasenden, 1872
This is the last that is known of Børse-Gunner. Where they eventually settled and what happened to him, Gunhild and children remains unknown.
In folklore a blacksmith was given supernatural capabilities. And in addition, the bear hunter had a high standing in the community. To become a bear hunter required both strength and courage, not to mention being cunning enough to outwit it. The fabled bear hunter Børse-Gunner additionally had a gun that shook and he even became excited when there was big game nearby. This made him no less mystical.
That Børse-Gunner was commemorated 150 years after he emigrated to America and is linked to the mighty sea serpent tales, gives witness of a great personality. The story of when he killed a bear and asked the boys to retrieve “the grouse” he had shot, also speaks to a flippant personality. This was also reflected in the letter from Anders Nilsen Wasenden where he speaks of Børse-Gunner.
Exaggerations seems to have followed his footsteps. Børse-Gunner was apparently a very likeable guy, and when he left Aadalen, was he missed. People remembered him, talking about him and his accomplishments. His own flippant understatements became their exaggerations.
Børse-Gunner has left a lasting mark around Sperillen and he has also found his way to bookshelves. Shaking guns, ricochets with fatal outcomes, and bear hunts by cliffs are familiar designs by Mikkjel Fønhus. The books are read, the tales are told, and the rifles hang on the walls. Even places in the mountains carry the memory of his life and work.
Source titles have been translated for English readers. Original Norwegian source text follows.
Oral Sources: Trond Bergsund, Anders Hurum, Ole Rustan, Erik Brekke, Gudbrand Brekke, Wilhelm Elsrud og Tom Brenne, Double or Nothing winner on Mikkjel Fønhus in NRK
Written sources: Konrad Pettersen, 2000: Transcribed bookkeeping ledger from 1839 – 1843, belonged to Ole Haraldsen Wasenden, and a letter to him from his brother
Anders Nilsen Wasenden, postmarked Johnsrud (Mitchell County, Iowa, USA)
12 July 1872, private books.
Written tale from Anders Hurum. Gudbrand Nesmoen, hand written book, 25 April 1933, private ownership.
Eigil Elsrud, 2000: Information gathered in genealogy research about Børse-Gunner in church books in Norway and USA, private papers.
Edvard Elsrud, 1975: The Vassfar bear. Grønddal.
Eiliv Odde Hauge, 1960. Aftenposten, nr. 7: About a remarkable rifle and new information about the sea serpent.
The rifle that killed the sea serpent at Bjoneskogen: Undated and unnamed article.
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1917: Norwegian hunting and fishing association magazine, (issue 2: 91-95).
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1978: New novels and stories, Seventh Forest Farm by Espa River, H. Aschehoug & Co. (W. Nygaard).
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1988: Reindeep at Jotun Mountain and other stories. Aschehoug.
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1998: The Troll Moose and other stories. Aschehoug.
About the Author: Torbjørn Røberg (born 1967) is an archeologist and works as an advisor in the Norwegian Nature Protection Association (Norges Naturvernforbund). He has earlier gathered folk tales from Borgund and Laerdal that are published in the book Bergteken – new paths to old legends published by the Norsk Folkeminnelag.
In last year’s publication of the Ringerike booklet he wrote the article “The German March through Aadal.”
Trond Bergsund, Anders Hurum, Ole Rustan, Erik Brekke, Gudbrand Brekke, Wilhelm Elsrud og Tom Brenne, forhenværende Kvitt eller Dobbelt vinner på Mikkjel Fønhus i NRK
Konrad Pettersen, 2000: Transkribert regnskapsbok fra 1839 – 1843, tilhørte
Ole Haraldsen Wasenden, og et brev til ham fra broren
Anders Nilsen Wasenden, datert Johnsrud (Mitchell County, Iowa, USA) 12. juli 1872, private bøker.
Nedskrevet sagn fra Anders Hurum.
Gudbrand Nesmoen, håndskrevet bok, 25. april 1933, privat eie.
Eigil Elsrud, 2000: Innhentede opplysninger og slektsgranskning om Børse-Gunner i kirkebøker i Norge og USA, private papirer.
Edvard Elsrud, 1975: Vassfarbjørnen. Grøndal.
Eiliv Odde Hauge, 1960. Aftenposten, nr. 7: Om en forunderlig børse og nye opplysninger om sjøormen.
Børsa som felte sjøormen på Bjoneskogen: Udatert og ikke navngitt avisartikkel.
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1917: Norsk jeger og Fiskeforeningstidsskrift, (hefte 2: 91-95).
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1978: Nye romaner og fortellinger, 7. Skogsgarden opp med Espa elv, H. Aschehoug & Co. (W. Nygård).
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1988: Reinbukken på Jotunfjell og andre fortellinger. Aschehoug.
Mikkjel Fønhus, 1998: Trollelgen og andre fortellinger. Aschehoug.
Torbjørn Røberg (34) er arkeolog og arbeider som rådgiver i Norges Naturvernforbund. Har tidligere samlet inn sagn fra Borgund og Lærdal som er samlet i boka Bergteken – nye vegar til gamle segner utgitt på Norsk Folkeminnelag. I fjorårets utgave av heftet Ringerike skrev han artikkelen Det tyske felttoget
Translation has been done by Mike Henkenis. This is an unofficial translation of the original articles as published in the booklet Ringerike – 2001, an annual publication of the Ringerike Museum, Ringerike Youth Association and Ringerike History Association. (www.heftet-ringerike.org)