The North Dakota years
Oluf Erickson‘s father died in 1918, as Oluf was in the process of moving his family from the Brush Creek area of Wisconsin to the badlands of western North Dakota. It can be no coincidence that his newly purchased farm was near Squaw Gap, within easy walking distance from the homes of three good friends: Axel, Isaac, and Oscar Larson. You may recall that it was Oluf’s brother John who married into the Larsons (and remained in Wisconsin). Oluf himself was not biologically or maritally related, but it was his family who carried on the friendship for another generation and longer.
From an economic standpoint, the timing of the Ericksons’ move could not have been worse. First of all, Oluf had to pay for his land, in contrast to the Larsons, who got theirs free in one of the last homestead rushes (1909-10). Second, the price of wheat crashed following the end of World War 1. Then, by the early twenties, crop failures began to set in, followed by the Great Depression/Dust Bowl years.
This period in the Ericksons’ life was chronicled by Oluf and Dora’s children, including Esther Erickson Sizer, grandmother of my informant Zach Sizer. Another tusen takk to Zach for sending me the booklet,
Click on the image to view the entire booklet in PDF form (warning: large file, but well worth reading). The opening paragraph describes the genesis of the book.
Although Oluf bought the farm and began building in 1917, the entire family was finally moved in 1919, the approximate year of the photo shown earlier, the discovery of which launched me on the exploration of this long relationship. Click on the image to enlarge.
Along with the added numbers, here is my attempt at identifying the individuals (with help from Uncle Ivan and from Zach Sizer): 1) Mina Franson Larson, 2) Lila Larson, 3) Axel Larson, 4) Harvey Larson, 5) Oluf Erickson, 6) Donald Erickson, 7) Anna Moen Larson, 8) Isaac Larson, 9) Vernon Larson, 10) Dora Erickson, 11) Leif Erickson, 12) Esther Erickson*, 13) Lovell Larson*, 14) Walt Larson*, 15) Evelyn Erickson*, 16) Lenora Larson, 17) Morris Erickson.
*12/15 and 13/14 may be reversed.
The book is filled with engaging anecdotes about the family’s life in this new, sometimes forbidding environment. An early story concerns their father’s arrival on one of his trips prior to the final move:
The story goes on to describe their “shack,” 16 X 24 feet(!), the same dimensions as the cabin in Wisconsin that their immigrant grandfather built in 1867, but lacking the loft, and built of a flimsy wooden frame covered with tar-paper, instead of the sturdy hand-hewn, mud-chinked logs of the earlier dwelling. Beneath the diagrams of the shack is this picture:
Despite the poor reproduction, I included this photo to tie it in with two images already discussed. Note here the position of the automobile and the shack, and the group of children, almost indistinguishable, on the car’s running board. Compare this picture to the uncropped version of the photo shown above, showing the shack and one front wheel of the automobile.
and to the photo from my parents’ collection:
Hopefully, you can see the likelihood that all three photos were taken at the same place, on the same day.
Getting back to the “shack,” it was intended as a temporary dwelling, for use only until a more substantial structure could be built. But due to the hard times alluded to earlier, it was the only home built on the Erickson farm. The entire family lived in this rude shelter for over a decade, until they eventually moved to “town” (Watford City, the county seat). Besides a family home, this building, with a tiny addition, altogether about the size of a two-car garage, also served as the post office of Earl, ND(!) and consequently a gathering place for locals and travelers alike. Moreover, after they had moved away, this same shack was lived in for a time by the widower Isaac Larson and his five sons. Stay tuned.
But I can’t leave these photos without a comment on the automobile. The book makes no mention of the Erickson family owning one, and from its appearance I would guess it was the Chevrolet 490 mentioned in the excerpt above, belonging to neighbor Earl Empie. According to Wikipedia, the 490 was made from 1915-1922. I would further guess that there were not many cars like that around Squaw Gap in those days.