My father's name was Erik Nilson, born
August 2d, 1804. My mother was Catherine Clemetson
Nilson, born October 9th, 1903. There were three boys
born to them, namely: Nils P. Peterson (surname adopted,
he, having learned the paper manufacturer's trade, was
by custom entitled to take his patron's name) who was
born in 1825; Gustaf Adolf Ericson, born in 1829, and
the writer, Charles John Alfred Ericson, born March 8th,
We take our surname from our father's
Chrisitian name, as is the custom in Sweden. My father
was a farmer and freeholder in the Province of Calmar
and Sodra vi Parish in southern Sweden.
In 1845 the first immigrants left that
part of the country for America. An uncle of mine, S. P.
Svenson, came from Horn Parish to New Sweden, Jefferson
county, Iowa, in the
*It is seldom, indeed, that an
immigrant from a foreign land unable to speak a word of
our language -- rises from the laboring class to such an
enviable position in his new home as that so fittingly
occupied by Senator Ericson. His life has been one
of business success and filed with useful public labors.
He has given timely aid to poor and struggling young
people, especially in their efforts to secure thorough
education. He has for many years been a strong supporter
of the Augustana Lutheran College at Rock Island, Ill.
He is a member of the committee which has labored with
much success in securing a permanent endowment for the
institution. It has been largely due to his efforts that
valuable real estate has been acquired for the benefit
of the College. In this work he has been a liberal
giver. He erected entirely at his own cost the beautiful
and commodious public library building in the city of
Boone. He served one term (1872, including the extra
session in 1873), in the Iowa House of Representatives,
and is now serving his ninth year in the State Senate.
Schools, public libraries and the Historical Department
have always found an intelligent, progressive and
influential friend in Senator Erickson. His life is a
record of sterling honesty which is absolutely
unimpeachable. --Editor of the Annals.
year 1849; and the following year another uncle, O. Clemetson, came to Andover, Henry
county, Ill. They wrote letters home in the most glowing
terms describing the country and the opportunities for
poor men in this New World, as it was called
The letters contained such sentences
as the following: "The farmers here do not know how many
chickens or how many hogs they own, as these run at
large. We are allowed to go and gather the eggs we
want; likewise they let us milk their cows and keep all
the milk we want. As soon as we can buy a cow it can run
at large in grass two feet high! We can mow all the hay
we want -- all free! All our bread is white, being
made from bolted wheat flour. We get two kroner
(fifty-four cents) for a day's work, and in harvest time
four kroner and all you want to eat! This is surely the
In 1849 my brother G A., and in 1850
brother N. P., emigrated to America and settled near
Moline, Ill. The letters we received from them were full
of hope and great expectations for the future, and
people came from far and near to read these letters.
Copies were made and read to crowds of people upon
public occasions in the surrounding country. All the
information about America, then, was gained from letters
received from those who had emigrated.
In the spring of 1852 father made up
his mind to migrate to America. He sold his farm and
began preparations for the long journey. Large
iron-bound chests were made, clothing and shoes had to
be made. Mother baked a quantity of bread from rye
flour, unbolted. The loaves as big as a dinner
plate with a hole in the so they could be strung on a
pole and hung up to dry. Being only a quarter of an inch
thick, they became very hard and would keep for months.
On the 4th day of April, 1852, we bid
farewell to our relatives and friends and loaded our
belongings in two wagons drawn by single horses. On the
second day we arrived at a small steamer and in a few
days arrived at the seaport of Gothenburg.
Here we found out there was no vessel
in port bound for America, and no one could tell when
there would be one. In about six weeks the three-masted
sailing ship "Virginia," Captain Janson commanding,
arrived and shortly sail for New York.
A bargain was made for the passage at
$20.00 per head, we to board ourselves. We were required
to take on board the ship a prescribed amount of
provisions for each person, which was inspected.
If, therefore, the passage should be prolonged until our
provisions were consumed , it devolved upon the captain
to supply the deficiency. We sailed June 6th, there
being one hundred and fifty immigrants.
The fresh water was carried in huge
wooden casks and every morning the drinking water (one
quart to each person) was measured out. The process of
distilling salt water was not then known. The potatoes
had to be boiled in salt water. As there was only one
ordinary-sized range to cook on, you can better imagine
than I describe the when forty women all want to cook at
the same time.
Temporary two-sided bunks were
constructed along the sides of the ship. There were
curtained off as best they could be, as otherwise it
would have been but a single room for all the
immigrants. The health on board was fairly good,
although one adult and one infant died during the
passage. They were buried at sea and received Christian
rites, the captain officiating.
We did not encounter any severe
storms, but these small wooden vessels rocked a great
deal more than the modern steel greyhounds. Bear in mind
that at the time no regular lines of ocean steamships
were in existence. We saw but few ships during the
passage; nor did we see land until we were in sight of
New York harbor on July 19th, having made the trip in
forty-five days, which was considered fast time. A two-masted
schooner, the "Minona," was out eighty-four days the
same year, with immigrants on board from that port. In
our case you may be sure the sight of land was hailed
Landing at a pier on East river at
noon, two hours later a dozen men and women, including
father and myself, started
for the city to "see the
sights!" The first thing which attracted our attention
was a fruit stand on which was a pile of big red
tomatoes. They looked tempting and some were
purchased, but proved a disappointment to our taste.
We proceeded up the city wondering at
the big building, until all at once we were attracted by
music from a brass band heading a regiment of cavalry.
The bright uniforms of the officers and men proved too
attractive and we followed through the streets. We kept
in mind that we must find our way back to our ship and
we noted a bronze lion in front of a corner store;
perhaps at the next corner was a gilded clock hung out
for a sign; next we turn to the right and then to the
left, all to be remembered on our return. But upon
endeavoring to retrace our steps, we found too many
"lions and gilded clocks," and soon became bewildered
and lost in a great city.
No one of the party could speak a word
of English. We knew but one name or place and that was
the "Bethel Ship." an old dismantled vessel fitted up as
a Mission chapel for seamen and immigrants by a
Swedish Methodist minister named Olof G. Hedstrom, but
we could not make ourselves understood. When we found we
were lost we became excited and left the sidewalk,
taking the middle of the street. We had crossed the city
to North or Hudson river, where there were also ships
and piers. We traveled up and down this street many
times looking for our ship, not knowing it was on the
other side of the city. A kindly looking gentleman who
had noticed us all in a flock racing up and down the
same street, came and motioned for us to follow him.
We did so, he bringing us upon the sidewalk first thing.
He then took us into a grocery store where they gave us
crackers and cheese and water to drink. The women were
crying, saying, "We will no doubt be taken and made
slaves of and will never see our people again!"
This kind gentleman took us to half a dozen places
before he found a man who could speak our language and
as soon as he had done so took us to our ship in fifteen
It was now ten o'clock at night, we
having walked constantly for eight hours dressed in
heavy linsey-woolsey on a
hot July day. Imagine our
welcome on board ship again! But we had certainly had an
experience which we never could forget.
On the following morning we boarded a
Hudson river steamer for Albany, where we landed at
midnight. Our train was waiting to take us via the Erie
railway to Buffalo; but, for fear some of us would get
lost in the dark, two ropes were stretched from the
steamer to the cars and we marched to the train thus
guided. The cars were ordinary freight cars, having
temporary benches made of lumber with no back-rest. Our
conductor knew but a single word in Swedish which was "bilget"
On arrival at Buffalo, all tired out,
we were herded on board a lake steamer and taken to
Dunkirk. Here we were again put into freight cars, with
benches as before, and started by rail for Chicago. We
suffered greatly on this journey for want of rest and
sleep, which could not be had in these cars. Besides
they were poorly ventilated and we were only supplied
with drinking water at long intervals.
On reaching Chicago we found that
cholera had broken out there and many people were dying;
hence we must move on. There being no railroads west of
Chicago, we boarded a canal-boat drawn by horses which
conveyed us to Peru, La Salle county, Illinois. Here we
hired teams to take us to Andover, Henry county,
Illinois, twenty miles from Rock Island. There we found
the first Swedish settlement. The pioneer Lutheran
minister, Rev. L. P. Espbjorn, had come over in 1849 and
located there. Workmen were erecting a brick church and
we were allowed to sleep on the floor of the basement
one night, spreading quilts over the shavings for a
Here I met my uncle, O. Clemetson,
heretofore mentioned, who emigrated in 1849. We
also met an old acquaintance, Mr. Stenholm, who came
over in 1850. He had taken the precaution to bring a
light wagon with him from Sweden and now offered to
convey us in this same wagon to Moline. We accepted his
kind offer and loaded our belongings on it, but had
great difficulty in keeping it right side up, because it
was not nearly as wide tracked as the American wagons;
where the road was sideling it
required one man on each side to keep it from tipping
We arrived at our destination near
Moline, Illinois on August 1st, 1852, at the home of my
two older brothers, where we received a hearty welcome.
We had been on the journey nearly four months. Twelve
days of the time from New York to the Mississippi river,
which is now accomplished in twenty-four hours.
I remained with my brothers the next
few years, working on their farm for my board and
clothes. I remember the first thing my brother told me
to do. It was to go to our neighbor, Mr. Smith, and
request the loan of a spade. I protested that I could
not make him understand, not knowing a word of English.
Brother said, "You repeat after me, 'Mr. Ericson sent me
here to get your spade.'" I kept repeating this all the
time while walking a mile and did not stub my toe on the
way. I got the spade and returned highly elated
over my success.
I was next taught how to drive three
yoke of oxen to a breaking-plow, hauling logs to the
sawmill and cord-wood to town. I ran a ferry-boat
two seasons across Rock river, worked for an American on
his farm, as soon as I could do a man's full day's work,
for six dollars per month. Later learned to run a
stationary engine in a sawmill and a flouring mill. Then
I clerked in a store in Altona, Ill., where I first got
my business experience.
In 1858 my brother, G. A. Ericson,
moved to the south part of Webster county, Iowa and
advise me to come the following year. I left Altona,
Ill., in the spring of 1859 and came by way of
Burlington to Agency City, the terminus of the B. & M.
Ry. There I boarded a small steamboat, the "John
Rogers," to Des Moines. My wife accompanied me and we
had a few articles of furniture, a barrel of flour and a
Prince & Co. melodeon (organ), the first so far as I
know that was brought to Boone county. I also had
some remnants of dry-goods and notions to the value of
$400.00 and less than $100.00 in money.
On arrival in Des Moines I called on
the wholesale firm of Keyes & Crawford and purchased a
few staple articles
needed, as far as my money would go.
Mr. C. W. Keyes waited on me personally. I always
liked him; he is pleasant and honorable and a gentleman
wherever you meet him, as well as a shrewd Yankee, be it
said to his credit. After paying for my purchases
he said, "Is there not something more you would like to
buy?" I said, "I can see a number of articles I
think I could make use of, but as my ready cash is
exhausted I have reached my limit."
He kept looking at me very critically,
evidently studying my character , and as I was only in
my 20th year it was not easy for him to make up his
mind. Finally he said, "If I should sell you a small
bill how soon can you pay for it?" I answered, " My dear
sir, I am going into Boone county to a cross-road place
called Ridgeport, fifty miles north of Des Moines. It is
a new country, with but few settlers, and I do not know
what I can do. Should your trust me for anything I can
make but one promise and that is that you shall never
lose anything by me." The result was I selected
another bill of goods amounting to $120.00 on credit.
He did not ask for any references, nor where I came
from, and for all he knew he might never have seen me
I then hired a team to take me to
Ridgeport. On arriving at this place I met my brother
and we traded a yoke of oxen, ten acres of timber land
which he owned and a due-bill payable in merchandise for
a remnant stock of goods amounting to $250.00 from W. L.
DeFore and Richard Green. So on opening for business my
stock amounted to about eight hundred and fifty dollars,
on which I was in debt three hundred and seventy
dollars. I rented the store building, sixteen by
twenty-two feet, from Allen T. Silver, a former merchant
of the place, for three dollars per month. I also hired
a two room log house for my residence, at one dollar and
fifty cents per month. I had some wood in the log hauled
from the timber which I chopped myself. I was now ready
for business and opened the store.
People came into see the new
storekeeper and see what he had to sell. They priced his
wares hesitatingly, but only made small purchases, It
soon developed that the people had but little money to
purchase goods with, and the question was
asked, "Could we swap you some
maple-sugar or some beeswax for some blue denim and
hickory shirting?" In this way the business
developed into what was known as "barter" more than
In this was the following native
products became current in the trade at the store: Furs
of all descriptions, dry hides, maple-sugar, honey,
beeswax, eggs, ginseng and feathers. A month after
opening the store I hired a team with which I hauled an
assortment of the above described products of the
country to Des Moines, and with what money I had was
enabled to liquidate my indebtedness to Messrs. Keys &
Crawford, who then trusted me for a larger bill of
goods. Thus my credit was fully established with that
My business increased, but the country
was new and the settlers had but little that I could
make use of to exchange for goods.
Hence it became, of necessity, s study
with me what I could do to encourage the production of
something which would sell for cash. I began to
urge the farmers to raise corn and hogs for market
saying I would be in a position to pay cash for live
hogs the following years. In the fall of 1860 I
got a contract to buy fat hogs for a party at $1.75 per
hundred pounds, for which I received a commission of ten
cents per head. I succeeded in buying six hundred
The same fall I bought two car-loads
of dry, fat cows off grass paying ten dollars
per head regardless of weight or condition. With a young
man to help, we drove these cows to Iowa City, the
nearest railway, 150 miles away and shipped them to
Chicago. I made no money in this new venture, but I
learned one thing to my advantage in future cattle
deals: that a 700 pound cow would not bring as much in
the market as a 1,200 pound cow would.
Early in 1860 a vacancy occurred in
the village postoffice and though not yet of age I was
appointed by President Buchanan's administration to be
the "Nasby" to preside at this cross-road. It was
said at the time the reason for my appointment was that
no Democrat could be found in the village who could read
Postage-stamps then as now were cash
on delivery. But perplexing as this was to my customers
who brought in some barter but had no cash, their
letters must have stamps, and the first question to
settle in the trade was, "I must have stamps for these
letters out of it." This was a hardship on the
postmaster, but they had to come. Domestic postage was
then three cents and foreign forty-two cents. As
frequently happened double-weight unpaid letters came to
the office from Europe, which would be eighty-four cents
to collect in gold. Then during the civil war when
gold was at two hundred per cent premium the amount
would be two dollars and fifty-two cents.
In the fall of 1860 I took a contract
from Messrs. Hand & Casey of Humboldt county, Iowa, to
buy hogs at from $1.50 to $2.00 per hundred pounds
according to weight. My commission was ten cents
per head. In those days hogs were only fatted for winter
market. During September I went out among the farmers
and made written contracts for the number of hogs they
had to sell, to be delivered December 1st. On that day
Jesse Funk, of Bloomington, Ill., came out to receive
them, bringing the money in his satchel to pay for them.
I weighed in 1500 head in two days. These had to be
driven on foot to Otter Creek (now Chelsea) in Tama
county, a distance of ninety miles, that being the
terminus of the Chicago & Northwestern rail was at that
By this time business had increased
beyond my expectations, so that I had to build a store
twenty-five by sixty feet and later added to its length.
I also built a new residence the following year. I had
now taken up the question of butter-making and the
marketing of the same. Prior to this time there was no
sale for butter. It required firkins to pack the butter
in, which held one hundred and ten pounds. We had no
coopers in the country and all these things had to be
provided for. I sent men into the timber to fell trees,
cut them into proper lengths, split into staves and made
a drying kiln to season them. I also sent other
men to cut hoop poles. I sent east for a cooper and soon
had a supply of firkins on hand and sent out word about
a week before the day I was ready to take in butter.
I placed four firkins and a barrel in
a row and as the came in it was sorted according to
color, freshness and quality to make each firkin as near
uniform in quality and color as possible.
Few people had any conveniences for,
or any experience in farm dairying, and at first some of
the butter went into the barrel which was labeled "soap
grease." You can easily imagine the
difficulty that would arise in the grading of the butter
among a dozen women, all present at the same time! But
there was no one else in the county buying butter, so I
could be independent.
This branch of the business soon
developed into large proportions and also practically
doubled my merchandise sales. On account of the civil
war, prices of every commodity began to advance rapidly.
I began to buy certain lines of staple goods far in
advance of my needs, which proved to be very profitable.
In 1864 I formed a partnership with
Joseph F. Alexander in buying and shipping live stock.
We were quite successful and for several years it was
said we were the largest shippers on the C. & N. W.
railway in Iowa. In the spring of 1867 I made the
mistake of my life, and I mention it here only to show
that "honesty is the best policy." Two stock buyers from
a northern county came down and proposed a partnership
with Alexander & Ericson in order to handle and ship
live stock on a large scale. We had known them for some
years. They owned farms and were apparently well-to-do,
so we entered into partnership with them.
Each of the four partners put in what
money he could and the firm borrowed the rest as needed,
until we had purchased twelve hundred head of steers (an
investment of about sixty thousand dollars.) We
herded these on the prairies between Des Moines river
and Sioux City through the summer, intending to sell in
the fall to the feeders. Unfortunately for us an early
frost and the grasshopper plague came and ruined the
corn crop to such an extent that no one in northwestern
Iowa could feed cattle that year. Prices on ctatle
dropped on-half in a short time. We had sold some on
contract, but the ones who contracted for them failed to
take them. So we had to ship them to
Chicago as rapidly as possible, at a great sacrifice.
When all were sold we still found ourselves in debt in
the sum of twenty thousand dollars.
In trying to arrange for the payment
of this large indebtedness I soon discovered that
instead of four of us as paymasters, it devolved on two
only. I pleaded and reasoned with out new partners
to stand with us and do what they could and act honestly
and we could all save our credit and pay our debts.
But I could make no impression on them. Their wives
owned the farms and the sons owned the personal property
and they owned nothing! Soon after they sold
their farms and emigrated to Kansas, but never
prospered. This was a tough lesson at twenty-eight years
of age; but it served to bring out all the energy and
determination I possessed to get from under this load,
and in due course of time it was all paid and my credit
In 1868 I built five schoolhouses in
Dodge township, Boone county, receiving school orders
bearing 10 per cent interest in payment, there being no
money in the school treasury. It was nine years before
all the orders were paid. The houses were all built of
native lumber kiln dried, basswood (linden) siding,
white walnut finishing lumber, hard maple flooring and
oak shingles, doors and window-sashes made by hand.
About this time I admitted one of my
clerks, Mr. Swen M. Ferlien, to a partnership in my
store, he having clerked for me about ten years. In 1870
Jackson Orr received the Republican nomination for
Congress. He was at that time conducting a general store
in the city of Boone. Meeting him on the street one
day, he said, "Charley, I want to sell you my stock of
goods." I said, "I have not thought of coming to Boone.
I have a good business where I am." But he insisted, so
I spent about four hours in his store going over his
stock and making an approximate estimate of its value;
after which I said I would think about it. He
said, "I make my opening campaign speech in Jefferson
to-morrow afternoon. You come down and see me in the
morning." I did so and offered to pay his merchandise
bills to a certain amount, give him a house and lot and
two hundred acres of land that would
make good farms, provided he could get
the water off of it, for his stock just as it was.
We walked to the depot together and as his train
whistled he said to his young son who was with us, "You
tell Chris Meidell (his head clerk) to give Charley the
key to the store!" Thus a five thousand dollar trade was
made without the payment of a dollar down or the scratch
of a pen to show for it.
The store in Ridgeport was then sold
to my cousins, P. A. & A. M. Swanson, the first having
clerked for me for several years, and the firm of
Ericson & Ferlien continued in business in Boone
successfully for five years, when the business was
disposed of to L. D. Cook & Co..
Upon organization of the First
National Bank of Boone, No. 2051, in 1872, I became one
of the stockholders and was elected its first
vice-president. Three years later, when failing health
necessitated the retirement of the cashier, Mr. Vincent
Wood, I was elected to take his place and as cashier
entered upon active duties in the bank. In 1878 we
voluntarily surrendered the government charter and
reorganized as a private bank under the name of "The
City Bank" with the same stockholders and officers.
In 1880 the president, W. F. Clark,
died and from this time the management devolved on the
cashier. The second president of the bank, Mr. Frank
Champlin, passed away June 20th, 1905. Whereupon, I was
elected to succeed him as president and Mr. C. E. Rice
is my successor as cashier.
We started with a capital of
$50,000.00. which was later increased to $100,000.00,
and in addition we now have $150,000.00 surplus.
I am now the only surviving charter
member of the bank; which as it is the oldest bank in
the city, has always been the leading bank. It has
successfully gone through panics and hard times in all
these years and retains the confidence and good will of
What little success I have attained in
business I attribute to three things: First, honest and
fair dealing with every man; second, refraining from
speculations and investments in outside enterprises, but
attending strictly to my own business; and third, making
my word as good as my bond.