Here’s a story that’s been told many times, by many people, with lots of variations which just make the story more interesting. It did really happen, with much of it taking place in this area.
Forest City was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, settlements in Meeker County. It was also the site of the federal land office — the place where claims from a wide area had to be filed.
Mary Lobdell was born in the heavy forests of New York state. She was raised by her parents, particularly her father, so the whole family knew all the essentials about life in the woods, and their daughter was an expert on life in the great outdoors. She hunted, fished and trapped as her contribution to the family’s life far, far from civilization.
Her exploits were famous, and she lived up to her fame as a hunter by bringing as much as 150 deer, 11 bears and innumerable wild cats and foxes as well as hundreds of mink and other animals which were wanted for their skins.
On one of her hunting expeditions to Pennsylvania she met a fellow who challenged her to a shooting match. If he could out shoot her, she’d have to marry him. She lost the bet and married the winner. It wasn’t long before she realized that she had married a drunk and ran off and left him.
And that’s where our story begins.
She tried to track down her errant husband without much luck. Taking a big step, she started living and dressing as a man, a role she played so well that no one even suspected her gender. Her hunt took her far from New York and Pennsylania, always without success. One version of the story has her working her way near the Mississippi River, and that one dark night the river boat on which she was sailing met and passed another boat on which her erring husband was working. She continued working her way west, giving singing lessons along the way. She worked very hard because she felt her quarry was at hand.
In Minnesota she worked in a large area reaching from the Lake Minnetonka area to the Kandiyohi lakes.
She kept her disguise as a man, and used the name “LaRoi Lobdell.” The young lady was so successful in this role that one of her neighbors at that time later remembered her as a “hail fellow, well met, and that she had committed no indiscretions” while living and working around the Kandiyohi lakes.
When her first winter in Minnesota approached, she began looking for shelter in earnest. A group of people from the St. Paul area had platted land for the capitol of the new state of Minnesota. They needed someone to live on the property to maintain their claim. An older woodsman who was looking for shelter for the winter applied for and got the job. He was told he couldn’t do it alone, so he had to find someone to live with him there during the winter. LaRoi Lobdell, as she still called herself, moved into that cabin with the woodsman and they lived together all winter. He never had the faintest idea that his cabin mate was a woman.
Her disguise worked so well so easily that she became a little careless and someone guessed what she had been doing and reported her to the authorities. She was promptly arrested and spent some time in the Forest City hoosegow awaiting trial. When the territorial judge reached Forest City there was a quick trial. LaRoi Slater was found guilty of impersonating a man.
She served several months in jail until the District Judge arrived to hold court. He could find nothing wrong with women wearing pants, provided they obeyed all laws (which she had) and didn’t disturb the peace.
Her sentence was reversed, and she left Minnesota in a hurry. Nothing was heard from or about her for several years until someone reported that she had been sentenced to life imprisonment in a Pennsylvania prison for shooting and killing a man.
He wasn’t her husband.