What if someone in your family disappeared? Just decided to leave their life behind, start a new life in another town? What kind of questions would those left behind want answered?
With today’s technology it would be hard to do, with cell phones, ATM transactions and Social Security numbers it would be more challenging to disappear, but back in the early part of the 1900s not really so hard, and a perfect place to do it? Maybe the West End of Clallam County.
William Russell Robison was working as a mining engineer in 1907 and operating out of the Spokane area, buying and selling mines. One day he left for a job, leaving his eight children and pregnant wife at home
The Robison family had moved from Pennsylvania to Washington. Robison had built a lovely home in Medical Lake and that’s where he and his family had recently moved to. It was not unusual for him to go off on mining expeditions while his family would remain at home until his return.
According to family history, he sent some letters home for a while but from where they were sent is long forgotten, and then time passed and the family never saw him again. The family grew up, had children of their own but questions of what happened remained.
About 20 years ago Robison’s granddaughter Janet Haag of Olympia, began the search for her missing grandfather. Having been such a long time the trail was pretty cold.
Was he dead at the bottom of a mine shaft, murdered, had he started a new life somewhere else?
After searching and searching she could find no leads; it was possible he could have even changed his name. It seemed the search was going to go nowhere.
As more years passed by the families of the siblings lost contact with each other. Then Ed Robison of Port Angeles, reunited with his cousin Janet and began to help in the search.
While searching on the Internet, Ed found a death certificate from Prescott, Ariz., the year of birth and the name matched his grandfather’s, but sadly the document provided little other information, other than the man had died of pneumonia and had died in 1923.
After contacting the cemetery to see if there was any other information, the cousins were able to find out that this man’s belongings had been sent to the Seattle office of “The Forks Drilling Company” of Forks, Washington.
The 1920 Forks Census lists a W.R. Robison residing near what is now Wood Street in Forks, at the time it would have been more forest than town. The information on the census says that the individual refused to answer the census questions. Was this Robison hiding out?
The 1923 Polk’s Directory also lists a W.R. Robison residing in Forks. Had Robison been living in Forks, working for the Forks Drilling Company and then sent to Arizona for a job? Where had he been since 1907?
The Polk’s Directory also lists that an office for the Forks Drilling Company was located at 119 N. Oak St. in Port Angeles.
In a 1977 interview, Forks pioneer Carl Wahlgren shared some of his memories with the Forks Forum. One story included working for the Forks Drilling Company starting in 1918. In the story he said he had a boss named Robison, he described him as a rough man, but he treated him nice.
It is Janet’s hope that this information can help answer some questions. Although it has been a long time, it is possible that some West End family may have a connection or perhaps someone’s ancestor in Port Angeles may have been associated with the Forks Drilling Company.
As far as the information of a man with the same name as her grandfather residing in Forks Janet said, “It’s a needle in a haystack. Perhaps we’ll never know the answers, and maybe that’s as it should be; but when a new clue pops up I find it too challenging not to follow up on it.”
William Russell Robison’s mysterious disappearance may never be explained, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were?