Did you know that a woman named Helga Estby walked from Washington DC to New York 3,500 miles on foot to pay for her mortgage so she could save the family farm. She completed the trek, but the sponsor didn’t pay up. Her two children died back home while she walked.
Helga was born in Christiana (aka Oslo), Norway. Helga traveled from Norway with her mother, arriving in Manistee, Michigan during 1871. In 1876, she married Ole Estby, an immigrant from Grue, Hedmark, Norway. They started their new life together initially homesteading a land patent in Yellow Medicine County near Canby, Minnesota. The family subsequently relocated and settled on a farm in Mica Creek, Spokane County, Washington.
Due to the financial Panic of 1893 and her husband’s accidents, the family could not pay the mortgage or taxes on their home and farmland. Together with Clara, her 17-year-old daughter, Helga tried to save her family farm by walking 3,500 miles across country to New York City in an effort to win a $10,000 prize. On Christmas Eve, 1896, the New York World reported their arrival in New York City. On arrival in New York, the sponsor of the contest refused to pay, saying the women had missed their deadline. Helga managed to return to her farm only to find that two of her children had died of diphtheria in her absence.
After the Estby family lost their home in Mica Creek, Ole Estby began a construction business in Spokane, Washington. Helga was considered a deserter of her family and was shunned by much of the local Norwegian-American community. Helga went on to become a suffragist and wrote down her story later in her life. Her notes were destroyed, but her story was carried on through oral tradition through her family and through newspaper clippings saved by her daughter-in-law.