THERE IS A building in downtown Port Angeles that bears the name K.O. Erickson Building. SAVINGS BANK is written on the cornice. When you see something like that, do you ever wonder who that person was?
K.O. Erickson was a prominent Clallam County resident who lived in the county for 66 years, and his life journey is very intriguing.
Krång Olof Erickson was born Nov. 1, 1862, in Mora, Sweden. Life was difficult during those early years in Sweden for him, his parents and his five siblings. A series of catastrophic famines during the 1860s, caused first by too much rain, then drought and finally epidemics, led to crop failures and even more misery among the poor farming population. For two years, Olof had been sustained on bread made of a mixture of bark, moss and straw. Some 60,000 Swedes fled the country during these three years of starvation alone.
In school, Olof was intelligent but a prankster. His mother told him he would surely end up in jail, and his father disciplined him severely. However, he finished school with high grades, making his mother very happy.
Olof was an ambitious young boy. He knew his family was poor, but getting more money was a problem. At the age of 10, he set his sights on to Australia to prospect gold. He read every book he could find about gold discoveries in California, New Zealand and Australia.
When Olof was 12, his 18-year-old sister left home to find employment, and he joined her, hoping to find a ship heading to Australia. His sister took him to a captain of a sailing ship to see if he would take Olof along with him. At first, the captain thought he was too small, but his sister convinced the captain that Olof was strong, willing and intelligent enough. And so, Olof began his world journey as a cabin boy earning about $1 a month.
However, the ship wasn’t headed to Australia but to Shields, England. There, Olof decided to leave the ship; he still had Australia on his mind. To earn money for clothes and other necessities, he then worked on a ship that hauled freight to and from North Africa.Once back in England, Olof headed south to London, where he found his ship to Australia. However, his dreams were dashed when he realized all that he had read about gold in Australia was from a bygone era. Instead, he hiked into Australia’s interior believing he could find gold but found work with a Scottish sheep herder. Olof was 15 and still dreamed of gold.
He soon made it to New Zealand, where gold was still being mined, but it was being mined by large corporations with no hope for an itinerant prospector.
California became Olof’s next target. Once there, he realized he was about 30 years too late to find gold, and Alaska became the new focus of his gold dreams. After landing work on a steamer, he arrived in Seattle in 1881, when he learned that many already had made the trip to Alaska in vain.
Olof remained aboard the steamer for several years, and his dreams changed to real estate and building a community of his own. His research showed plenty of vacant government land in the Quillayute area.
In 1888, Olof purchased necessary equipment and boarded the steamer Discovery and sailed to Neah Bay. From there, he hiked to Quillayute, where he homesteaded on the Quillayute River at its junction with the Dickey River. He established a trading post there and gradually grew his business by operating additional trading posts in La Push, Forks and Lake Ozette. He also built a hotel in Mora.
The area post office was located at a spot called Boston. Olof later became the local postmaster and changed the name of the post office to Mora, after his hometown in Sweden.
In 1895, Olof married Susan Johnston. She experienced two difficult pregnancies, and they lost two boys born in Mora because they couldn’t get a doctor from Port Angeles in time to save them.
In 1907, Susan became ill during the birth of their daughter, and she required hospitalization. She died March 16, 1907, leaving Olof as a single parent of a 3-year-old boy and a 2-week-old girl. A letter from his wife received just a few hours before he learned of her death compounded his grief. In it, Susan wrote she had completely recovered and would leave the hospital in a few days.It was difficult being left alone in the wilderness with young children.
The little family struggled for three years by hiring local and Native housekeepers. But Olof finally decided his children needed to be closer to better medical care and schooling.
Olof sold his businesses, and in 1912, he and his children moved to Port Angeles, where he was known as Kron or Karl. He also married Anne DeLong. Olof was 50 years old.
Olof’s ambition remained strong in Port Angeles. With the proceeds from the sale of his businesses, he began to engage in real estate, insurance and banking. In 1918, he helped start Washington State Bank. The founding of Port Angeles Savings and Loan Association followed in 1923.
Olof was very civic-minded and never forgot how tough life could be. He helped many working people through low-interest home loans and provided the loans to build the Elks Temple, Masonic Lodge, Moose Temple and the Leader Department Store. He also donated money necessary to construct what we know as Erickson Playfield. He also established a trust fund to provide scholarships to Port Angeles High School graduates.
Krång Olof Erickson died of a stroke Jan. 4, 1954, at age 91. His ashes are interred at Mora, Sweden. His second wife, Annie, had died years earlier on March 1, 1937.
Now you know who K.O. Erickson was.
John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].