Solomon Foot was the first man to settle in what is now Willmar Township, locating his cabin on the north shore of what is now Foot Lake in the summer of 1857. He and his wife’s uncle, D. C. Hollister, filed neighboring claims on June 10, 1857, then went to work partially building two log cabins, and breaking ground in order to be ready for planting the following spring. As soon as this was done, they headed back to Indiana, where the Foot family had resided for a short time and brought them back to their new home. Foot had told his wife and their four boys about the wonders of Minnesota Territory, even calling it the “Eden of the West.”
They made the trek from Indiana to what was to become known as Foot Lake in six weeks, the family traveling in a lumber wagon pulled by two yokes of oxen, led all the way by either Foot or Hollister.
Winter came early in 1857. By the time the Foot party left St. Paul snow was piling up on the ground making traveling over the rough land difficult. Along the way they did meet several men with whom Foot had become friendly on his earlier trip to the Eden of the West. Finding these people did make the journey more interesting, and also, in several cases, giving them places to stay overnight or longer when the weather was bad. They followed a tough route along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers until they came to Cedar City (now Cedar Mills).
Then they started cross-country to the northwest to reach their new home. Arriving at Acton they stayed with Mr. Jones, a bachelor who had a store and sleeping quarters. They left Acton for Diamond Lake in heavy snow, staying there for a day or two with the Masters family who lived on the northeast side of the lake.
From Diamond Lake it was only a short journey to the west shore of Green Lake, where they were entertained for four days by Mr. and Mrs. E. T. Woodcock. Foot and Holister used that time to go on ahead to finish the work on the cabins they had started in the spring. It took four days for that job, and the family was overjoyed when they realized the long trip was over.
The first family to settle in what would become Willmar Township settled in quickly and it wasn’t long before they had their first Indian visitors with whom they managed to get along quite well, not letting language get in the way of cooperation. The natives would appear at any time — day or night — looking for food or, sometimes, bringing food to their new neighbors. Winter was considerably shortened by mild weather and the breaking up of the ice on Green Lake in March. Solomon ordered seed through another settler who was going to St. Paul to purchase seed for himself. Meanwhile Foot prepared the soil for the new crops. The crops, when they were harvested, proved to be very good, and Solomon broke more soil to enlarge his farming in the next season. In succeeding years, the crops did very well, and the Foots spent the weeks of the harvest season fighting off the birds, which recognized a smorgasbord when they saw it. In spite of the birds, the Foots enjoyed excellent crops.
During the winter months, Foot joined a neighbor in a trapping partnership. That proved to be quite profitable. At one time a fur buyer purchased the results of one week’s work for $130. That was enough to encourage Solomon to build an addition to the family home — this new construction ended up with a second story. Traveling Indians often occupied the unfinished new quarters which were far enough along to offer comfortable shelter during the cold winter nights.
Foot also unlimbered his rifle and spent much of his time hunting the deer and elk which were plentiful in the woods. His skill with a rifle earned him the title of the “Daniel Boone of Minnesota.” He was joined by an entire Indian village of about 20 tepees which moved from the Minnesota River into the area every winter, returning to their regular camp in the spring. They were good neighbors so the Foots befriended them. Things were happening around what was to be Foot Lake and soon Willmar Lake and their surroundings became quite busy. Quite a few new settlers had arrived and filed claims and were busy making homes and farms out of the wilderness. It got to the point where the hard-working settlers could sit back and relax a little. They’d even have parties. Foot’s house, being the largest, became the center of social life and, in the summers especially, those gettogethers occurred quite frequently. It was the site of a very large Fourth of July celebration just weeks before the Dakota Conflict disrupted everything.
The Foots moved to the nearby Erickson cabin when they got word of the attacks going on in the area.
“Daniel Boone” was prepared for an attack with several rifles and plenty of ammunition. When it came, he directed the fighting, even after he was very seriously wounded. When the attackers left the men in the cabin sent the women and children off to safety. Mrs. Foot, though wounded, accompanied them.
The day after the attack, Guri Endreson and her son came with a span of oxen and a sled to pick up survivors. At first they thought the moans coming from the cabin were Indians trying to lure them closer. Finally young Endreson crept up to the cabin and peeked through a hole in the wall. He saw his brother-in-law and Solomon Foot. Both of them were severely wounded, so Guri cleaned them up, put them into fresh clothing and loaded them into her sled. The story of her activities is another story to be told elsewhere, but suffice it to say she brought them safely to the Forest City stockade where they were safe.
The Foot family was reunited shortly. They survived the Conflict and returned to their home, only to find it burned to the ground. Instead of rebuilding, and wanting to get away from unhappy reminders they moved to St. Cloud, where he operated a fruit bazaar for a short time. Then they moved to Melrose where he built and ran a hotel. When the Melrose post office was established he became its first postmaster. Mrs. Foot died there and was the first person buried in the community cemetery. He moved to Minot, N.D., then moved on to San Pedro, Calif., where he spent the rest of his life.
It was in San Pedro that he was seriously injured in a traffic accident. His horse and buggy collided with a similar equipage on the main street of the town. He was hospitalized for several months but eventually recovered.
In 1888, he returned to Willmar for the annual meeting of the newly organized Kandiyohi County Old Settlers Association. About 50 years later his grandson came to Willmar to deliver his grandfather’s rifle to that association.