When the Solomon Foot family learned on August 20, 1862 of hostile Dakota in this area, they left for Green Lake. On the way, they stopped at Oscar Erickson’s cabin and decided to stay the night as a precaution. Below, Solomon Foot recounts the events that took place in 1862.
“Arriving at Erickson’s we found another man, his wife and children. I only knew the man as Swede Charley. I said to Erickson and the men (out of hearing of the women): “We can’t go any further tonight, it looks like rain and I believe the Indians are near, and if they are hostile and attacked us on the prairie we wouldn’t have as good a show of repelling them as we will have with the protection the house affords us. We hauled the wagon inside the fence, in which the house was enclosed on three sides, left the oxen in the yoke to feed in the enclosed field in front of the house, so that we could have them to resume our journey in the morning. I said to Erickson, “It would be well to have plenty of water in the house.” He filled the tea kettle, went to the creek and brought two buckets of water. I took my gun and sat on the fence listening and watching the approach to the house from south and west. Nelson had not come yet. I felt some uneasiness for his safety. By this time it was quite dark. The sky was cloudy, indicating a rainstorm. Peering through the darkness I saw moving objects on the end of the trail or road. As they came nearer and crossed the creek and advanced up the rising ground to the house, I knew them to be mounted Indians, a score or more. I went directly into the house saying to the inmates: “The Indians are here. Close and fasten the doors. Put out the light so they can’t see into the house.” Objection was made to putting out the light. It was with strong words I convinced the women that the lives of all depended on being in the dark. The lights were put out, but the women and children’s crying was such that a word, however loudly spoken, could not have been heard. I had taken off my overcoat and hung it over the window at the first approach of the Indians. Stepping to the window and pulling the shade to one side, so as to see and speak to them, I asked who they were.
They saluted me with the usual “How, How!” I had acquired knowledge of many words of the Sioux tongue and could in some degree converse with them. I told them we had heard that two men of Acton had been killed by the Indians, that our women and children were frightened and they must not come near the house. They assented to all I said to them, admitting the murders at Acton, but said it was none of their band; it was bad Indians and gave me to understand it was Indians bands from the north who committed the murders. While this conversation was taking place I saw one ride up to and jump his pony over a low place in the fence near the front of the house. I left the window, going to the other and looked through a hole which was near the top of the door. The Indian had dismounted and was crouched down by the side of the house. What his object was I did not know. I told him to go away. He did not move. I again told him to go and that if he did not go immediately I would shoot him. He sprang upon his pony, jumped the fence and was away.
If any of them came near the house again that night I did not know it. Yet afterwards either Captain Whitcomb or Freeman, who visited the place, reported finding a bunch of fagots or fine brush, placed against the house, with the appearance of having been fired. From the west window I could see that the Indians had made a small fire about six rods from the house where they were camped and squatted; their ponies were turned loose to feed, so we knew they intended to stay all night. All the women and children and the men retired into the loft by nine o’clock to get such rest as they might. There was no necessity for more than one to keep watch. I took upon myself the task. My faithful dog was outside guard, where with low growls he gave timely notice of any approach or stir of the reds. The stillness of night pervaded, but was broken occasionally by the guttural song of the Indians and their most aggravating “Hiya, ya, hiya.” About nine o’clock in the evening it commenced to rain. Never was a rain more welcome to me. It rained from the first nearly all night, and the sides of the house must have been well saturated. A destiny favored us. All the long dreary night I kept watch. My fear of being burned was allayed, for I did not believe it possible that the logs of the house would burn after the wetting they had received. I will not try to tell the thoughts that pervaded my mind during the vigils of the long night. The safety of my family and of the others depended on such action as I would take in the morning, if the Indians should be hostile. I thought of every mode of escape, but no feasible plan could I hit upon more than to wait for morning and be guided by such events as would take place.
At daybreak the Indians began to stir and renew their fire. The people of the house arose. We put some additional covering on the trunk at the west window, leaving a small space at the top and a peek hole at one end of the trunk. From these places we could see the reds and their actions. The sun rose, sending its warm rays over the prairies, lakes and timber groves. All nature rejoiced in peace, with no indication of the bloody tragedy to be acted a few hours later. The Indians succeeded in wiping and drying their guns, every motion being observed by us. To me their actions seemed in keeping with hunters after a night’s wetting. As they had informed me that they were a hunting party on their way to the “big woods”, I thought they were about to go on their way. I knew a great many of them as Agency Indians, and as they had not molested us or made any demonstration of hostility during the night, the fears I had of them were very much allayed, if not fully banished from my mind.
Several of them came to the house. I went out to the fence, they on the outside of the fence and I on the inside, and shook hands with all of them. They extended friendly greeting, except one. His face was painted with red and black, and had the expressions of sorrow, or it may have been hatred or anger. His hood or bonnet was down on the upper part of his face. I looked all the others in the eyes and to see his whole face I raised his bonnet, looked him in the eyes, told him that I knew him, that I had met him on Pipe creek, where I was trapping. I returned into the house. Soon one came to the door and begged some bread; in a short time another came and wanted potatoes and a kettle to cook them in. A kettle was handed him and Swede Charley started to go to the field and get potatoes. I objected, not because I apprehended any danger, but for the reason that I had a fixed principle let them serve themselves, do their own work. I did not see that two of the Indians went into the field with him. The others in the house saw them. One of the Indians approached the fence in a diagonal direction from the door, or the south front of the house. He hailed as if he wished to communicate with one of the inmates. I started to go to him to ascertain what he wanted. My wife objected to my going out to them, saying she knew they meant to kill us all.
I considered it was owing to her fear, which had been renewed when she saw the two go to the field with Charley, having their guns with them. If they intended to murder us they would have shot me at once. This is the way I reasoned at the time. Since I see it in a different light. When I first went out and shook hands with them they did not know what number of men were in the house and had guns. Their plan was not at that time matured. I stood a while in the door looking at the Indian, who with signs and some words was trying to make me understand.
Seeing no gun with him I advanced without the least fear to the fence. Some two rods from the fence I looked him in the eye. I instantly understood and comprehended his design. If ever I have seen rage, deviltry or murder in a wild savage enraged animal, I distinctly saw the like in the eyes of this savage, and like a flash of lightning I realized the danger I was in. Impulsively I turned and saw the Indian taking this gun from under his blanket; at the same moment I saw another Indian in front of the house in the act of raising his gun to shoot. I was between two fires. The Indian in the rear fired at me and I received the shot in my side, midway between hip and shoulder, two shots entering my body, three passing away and going out. The shock felled me to the ground. The Indian in front of me fired while I was falling. He missed hitting me. (I have often thought that he did not intend to shoot me. He might have been one of the Indians who was averse to the outbreak and the killing of the white settlers, but had been coerced into the affair by the murdering majority.)
It was only a moment that I remained on the ground. I arose on my hands and knees and then on my feet and made for the entrance of the house. In doing so I had to turn towards him. He ran back behind the house apparently more scared than myself. His flight made me believe that this was his first murdering engagement or that he had fired his gun at random. From appearance he was young. My wife opened the door, took my hand and helped me inside. Believing that the reds would make attempts to get into the house and consummate the tragedy they had so successfully begun outside, I told her to pay no attention to me, but “take the guns and shoot”. Then I fainted and lost all consciousness for some time. How long a time I cannot tell. When I came to myself I was burning with thirst. I made my way on hands and knees to the water barrel, drinking and spilling some on my breast. I felt revived, but had the most excruciating pain from the buckshot wounds. Seemingly my vitals were being burned with hot irons and were all shot to pieces.
In the meantime my wife and Erickson had fired the guns from the windows and door. I was in such pain that I could not reload my gun. I handed the ammunition to my wife and she loaded it. I had drilled my wife and oldest daughter in the use of a gun, and both had practiced in shooting birds. When the gun had been recharged I took it and ignored the pain I was in. Having a desire to shoot someone of the reds I punched out some of the chinking and clay between the logs and saw an Indian not more than four rods away, looking intently towards the house. I placed the gun at the hole I had made and took aim at his face and head, pulled the trigger and distinctly saw his mouth open with the death gasp and his body fall to the ground. I received some satisfaction so far from the pain I was suffering. I looked and saw another place to get a view of things outside. I saw what very much surprised me –Indians yet standing near by looked to me as though they were amazed or dazed and did not know what to do with themselves.
I got an aim at one of them, pointing at his breast and fired. His hands went up and he fell to the ground. I was so elated and satisfied in having killed two of them that involuntarily I in a loud voice shouted, “Thank God, there goes another of the red devils to hell.”
My wife called my attention to the exclamation I had made, saying; “Don’t use such language”. Otherwise I would not have realized having said anything out of the way at the time. That I was excited I don’t deny, but the excitement lent strength and nerve. I had placed in the hand of my neighbor, Swanson, my single barrel gun, but up to this time he had not fired. Some one asked him why he had not shot. He replied that he could not make the gun pull. It being the gun I allowed my oldest boy to use, I had fixed the lock to pull off hard. I took the gun and looked through the peek holes. I could not see the enemy. The two effective fatal shots had evidently brought them to a sensible realization of the situation. Carefully scanning the surroundings I saw the shoulder of an Indian by the side of an oak tree. It may have been only part of the blanket that he held out as a ruse to draw a shot from the house. I took the little gun and deliberately, as if shooting any game, I fired. The blanket disappeared.
Having reloaded my gun I continually went from one lookout to the other to see if I could not shoot another enemy. While I was crouched down by the west window looking out by the end of the trunk, someone of the reds who was watching the window fired a shot. I received the ball in my right breast near the shoulder, it passed down through the right edge of a lung and out of my body and lay loose in my clothing. It cut a rib in two in its passage. I fell back upon the floor, the blood flowing from the entrance and the exit of the bullet. My wife assisted me upon the bed in the corner of the room and bolstered me into a half sitting position. My right arm was so paralyzed that I had not use of it. I suffered indescribable agony from vomiting and a burning thirst, but not from a moment could I retain a swallow of water. I was sensible to all that was going on in the house—the balls coming in through the holes from the Indians’ guns as they crashed through the window. I begged my wife and Erickson to stoop down and keep near to the floor, so as to avoid being hit by shots, at the same time praying that one of the leaden messengers would strike me in a vital place and instantly end the misery I was suffering. “Why longer?” I was useless to longer defend my family and others. I could see Erickson standing looking out over the trunk at the window through which he had previously fired his gun. I saw him fall backward to the ground. A bullet had struck him near the groin and passed through him, causing him the most fearful pain and agony. His groans and screams were heartrending. I begged of the women and of him to restrain the horrible groans and not let the enemy hear that they had injured anyone. I supposed that I had suppressed all groans, but learned afterwards that my cries had been as loud as Erickson’s.
Erickson was crazed by the pain of his wounds. I thought at the time that he suffered more that I did. He caught up an ax and beat against his head, but the same intervening destiny caused the back of the ax to turn toward him. The women succeeded in getting him up the ladder to the chamber above and laid him upon the bed directly above. Lying on the floor I was secreted and could hear and observe all that was going on in the house. Up to this time no shots had been fired into the room other than through the west window, where Erickson and I were shot. An Indian came to the door. Through the cracks his approach was seen. Mrs. Foot went to the door. The Indian fired a shot. The ball crashed through and passed by her and lodged in the wall several feet above the floor. I scented the smoke of burning wool and called to my wife: “There is fire somewhere in the house”. A smoke was seen oozing through a crevice between the logs. Water from the teakettle was poured on and the fire extinguished. How the fire originated or how or when the reds had set the fire I did not know. At this time the Indians had quit shooting. Mrs. Foot said she could not see any of the Indians around, but there were ponies feeding near and that she wanted to shoot at them. I said, “No, don’t shoot them, they are not to blame.” The women on the floor above saw several Indians at a distance of fifty rods on the more elevated ground near some oak trees. What they were doing there could not be determined on account of the distance. One half of the day had been passed in the way that I have described. As near as I could judge the sun was near its meridian height. The Indians were seen to mount their ponies and ride away to the north.
The pain of my wounds had not abated, but still gave me all the agony of death. I believed it to be only a few hours more when death would come. Why should I suffer these intervening hours, when by one act I could go into a long and eternal rest from the agony I now was in? Thus I reasoned to myself. I asked my wife to bring Mr. Erickson’s razor with that I would open a vein in my left arm and let the blood from that side and it would relieve my of the pain I had in my right side and body. After objecting to me doing myself more harm she reluctantly handed me the razor. I bared my left arm and made a strike with the razor intending to cut the main artery, but owing to the paralyzed condition of my right hand and arm I did not cut deep enough. The blood flowed freely and I felt immediate relief from the pain I was suffering and may have fainted. I fell into a deep sleep or unconsciousness of all surroundings. I did not wake until the darkness of the second night. There had been no disturbance or molestation from the Indians since they had been seen to go away in the middle of the day.
Some time in the afternoon after the reds had left Mr. Swanson and family and Swede Charley’s wife went to one of the islands and hid in the brush, where they came nearly being caught the following day by the Indians as they rode through the island woods to drive out cattle that they were taking to the Minnesota River.
Those remaining were Erickson and his wife and child, my wife and two children and myself. Another long lonesome night went by without any disturbance from the outside. The faithful women administered to the wants of their little ones and their wounded husbands. In the attack the day previous Mrs. Foot had been struck by a bullet that had been fired through an inch board. I saw her as she fell. She rose to her feet and on examination found that she had a flesh wound across the right breast and the underside of the right arm. The wound bled and pained her at the time and gave her some trouble before healing; this occurred the previous day soon after Erickson was shot.
Some time before noon Indians were seen coming from the north, driving cattle. They also had one or more wagons with ox teams. One of the teams was driven to the place where the Indian had been seen the day before, and they were seen to put some effects on the wagon –supposed to be their dead comrades that had been killed or wounded. Then the team was driven back and around the south end of the field crossing the break a distance from the house and going on the road to the south. The cowardly wretches avoided the vicinity of the house and did not take the usual wagon road. Some rode up behind the house, a hay stack and stable screening them from any shots form the house. They fired several shots into the north end of the house. I heard the reports and the thud of the balls as they struck the logs. I asked my wife why she did not fire the gun and let them know that we were still able to defend ourselves. She replies that she had only the two loads in the gun and the two caps and she would save these until the Indians came near. There was in my overcoat another box of caps and plenty of ammunition. One box had been spilled during the excitement of the day before. Poor woman, she thought the last means of defense was the two remaining charges in the gun.
After they had fired at the house several times they rode away, going around the south end of the field. The cowardly, superstitious brutes indicated by their actions that they thought the house a “bad medicine” and they did not want any more to do with it. During this time I lay on the floor on my back free from pain, but weak from the the loss of blood and want of nourishment (for as yet I could not retain a morsel of food or even a drink of water), speculating what the end would be. Were my children with the people of Green Lake all murdered or had they gotten together at the Arnold house and beat off the savages, and would they send men to relieve us, or how soon would such assistance come to us? Were our neighbors a short distance north of us all massacred? How soon would the Indians turn and find only two frail women to offer resistance? Yet, being now free from pain, I had a desire to live equal to that I had of dying when suffering the great pain the day previous. I advised with my wife on the best plan to avoid further trouble from the Indians and prevailed on her and Mrs. Erickson to try to reach Green Lake, assuring them that if they got there they could be saved and send some of the men to assist Erickson and myself. With a great deal of reluctance they left, each taking a little child in her arms and the little girl walking with them. Bidding farewell to their wounded husbands, realizing that it might be for the last time in this life, they took my directions to follow the margin of the lakes, to keep off the higher land so as to avoid being seen by the Indians, if there were any still in the country.
It was perhaps shortly after noon when the women and children started on their perilous journey to the lake. Now Erickson and I were alone. One below and the other in a silent chamber above, looking for and expecting any moment that the Indians would return.
I had my wife place my loaded gun near my left side in such a position that with little effort I could bring the muzzle to bear on the door. My desire to kill any of the reds was as great as the day before. It was very warm and the flies had advanced and gathered over my whole person and blood-saturated clothing. I discovered worms crawling about over me. Oh, horrible! Were the worms of the grave thus to feed on me before being prepared by death for their feast?
While these depressing thoughts were in my mind I heard the approach of steps outside the house. “No Indians makes as much noise as that” I said to myself. I watched the hole in the door and soon saw a face; the eyes were blue and so I knew that it was not an Indian looking at me. I asked, “Who is there?” Immediately the face was withdrawn. Realizing that my voice had frightened the person I asked Erickson to call to him in Norwegian. He did so and was answered from without by his brother-in-law, young Endreson, who was told by Erickson how to enter the house by the shallow cellar under the house, and a trap door through the floor. The women had passed out that way after fastening the door above.
No mother could have given her child more tender care than Mrs. Endreson gave us. She washed our bodies, bandaged our wounds and gave us every possible comfort. Fortunately my wagon stood so near the cabin that the Indians had not ventured to take it. She drew this as near the door as possible, put into it bedding, blankets and other things we might need. She assisted us into it, propped us up in a half reclining position, placed my gun by my side, hitched the young, unbroken oxen to it and started.
I did not know where we were going; my only desire was to get away. My feeble effort to get into the wagon exhausted me and the first realization I had of our surroundings was when we reached Diamond Lake.
All the buildings were deserted. The stillness of death pervaded. On and on we went. At sunset the little team was exhausted. We drove to the side of a fence, unhitched and let the young oxen graze, the boy leading them by a rope.
Mother Endreson supplied all our wants and again bathed our wounds. I saturated mine freely with water and had very little pain. Our good, kind nurse spent a sleepless night watching over us, ever on the lookout for the savage foe.
The night passed and the sun rose bright and warm, the sky clear and the day pleasant. About noon we came to a house which like all others was deserted. Mrs. Endreson found some eggs and one of these I broke and ate raw. It was the first food I had taken since the day before I was shot. I also ate a ripe tomato. This food seemed in a degree to revive and give me strength.
Mrs. Endreson’s dog became uneasy, growled and looked toward the neighboring grove. Thinking this indicated the nearness of Indians I told the boy to hitch up the team and drive on. It was afterwards told me that some white men had exchanged shots with the enemy at this very place. Had we not drove away from the grove when we did it is probable we would have been killed.
Shortly before we reached Forest City I saw a narrow ridge in the road what I believed to be the heads of two Indians. Looking over the small bunch of hay all the others saw them.
The team stopped and the boy tried to turn them around. I said: “Drive on, we can’t get away from them.” As we drew nearer the two hawks on the hay flew up and away. Oh, what a relief we all felt! Our excited imaginations had made two harmless birds a relentless savage foe.
Driving on we came to a bridge over a then dry creek near the village. As we were crossing up rose an object from the reeds. Again we were startled, but it proved to be a white man guarding the approach to Forest City. We were met by several persons as we drove into town, among them my wife and Mrs. Erickson. Oh what gladness after the suspense and anxiety we had all suffered! At the home of George C. Whitcomb we received the best of attention and true frontier hospitality. Surgical aid was given us as soon as possible and in time we recovered.”
Relief parties found the body of Carl Jonason, “Swede Charley” Carlson’s father, a few rods to the north of the Erickson cabin. He had apparently attempted to reach the cabin between attacks, but had been intercepted and killed.
Where: This marker is located at the corner of County Road 25 and 15th St. NE by the Eagle Lake Lutheran Cemetery. The marker is erected 1.3 miles north of the actual site of Erickson’s cabin.
Copyright © 2018 Willmar Lakes Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. All Rights Reserved.