Olaf, Olof, and Oluf
Not long ago, I heard from Zach Sizer, who is not a biological relative, but was interested in the Larsons. Zach has his grandmother’s memoirs, which make frequent mention of Isaac, Axel, and Oscar Larson as neighbors and friends in the North Dakota homestead country. After a couple of email exchanges, Zach sent me this photo, with no date or identification. Zach is sure that one of the little girls is his grandmother, born Esther Erickson in 1914. Click on the image to enlarge.
Holy DNA! Isn’t that Grandpa Isaac Larson in the back? And Lovell and Walt front & center? I know I jump to wrong ID’s at times, but Uncle Ivan agrees on this one, and suggests some others, which I’ll get into later. As corroboration, I offer this photo from my parents’ collection, also without date or ID.
The same seven kids, in the same clothes, by all appearances on the same occasion. Can anyone doubt that the little boys are Lovell and Walt? Lovell is even wearing his trademark scowl.
We’ll come back to these photos in a future post. For now, let’s trace the connection back two generations, to the earliest settlement of “Norwegian Valley,” Vernon County, Wisconsin.
Esther’s father, Oluf Erickson (about whom more later), wrote a long essay, published in three installments in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 1947-48. Tusen takk to Zach for sending me the links.
Complete archives of the magazine can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society website. They have graciously given me permission to re-post the entire essay in a single PDF file. To read it, click on the cover image above, or click here. Here is the opening paragraph.
So, who was this Olaf Erickson, Swedish-born, but married to a Norwegian, and living with her in Gudbrandsdalen before immigrating to Wisconsin? And what does he have to do with us Larsons? Well, in 1868 Olaf bought 80 acres of virgin forest in the aforementioned “Norwegian Valley,” also known as Brush Creek. There he cleared the land, built his family’s first house and a successful farm. In one corner of the property, Olaf (spelled “Olof” on his gravestone) donated the land for the Brush Creek church and cemetery.
Note the description of the house, and also that this is roughly the same time when Ole Larson moved to the same valley, after immigrating to Coon Prairie a few years earlier.
Anyway, from the legal description of the land, and the descriptions in this article, that 16 X 24 foot cabin was identical to the one in this photo (undated). It was shown to me on my 2009 visit to the location reported here.
Just guessing that the photo was taken between 1910-1920, so the cabin was probably about 40 years old by this time. And here is how it looked after another 100 years. Upon further study, I now think this cabin (both pictures) was a duplicate of the one described, built almost as early, and a few hundred feet from the original.
Connection number one. Not biological, but long-term residential. The land was still owned by the Erickson family while another Olaf, my grand-uncle Olaf Larson (1896-1972), raised his family here.
But let’s slip back to the 1880s, and a storm described by Oluf Erickson, who was about eleven at the time.
Connection number two.
Has anyone ever heard a Larson version of that storm? Both Alma and Isaac would have been one year old; Ole’s first wife Anne died four months earlier, so Ole and Helene were managing two one-year-olds, and three other children aged 4-12. Must have been quite a night for them, too.
This encounter was an early episode in a very long and close relationship between the Larsons and Ericksons. Stay tuned.