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THE WOODCOCKS

One day after her 19th birthday, a young bride from New York State arrived with her husband on the west shore of Green Lake. With Elijah Woodcock, her husband of a few months, Loretta Curtis Woodcock proceeded to his claim on what is now West Woodcock Lake. Her experiences of the next six months tell a poignant, nearly tragic story.

Loretta, born on October 15, 1837, in Frankenville, New York, became the first white woman in Kandiyohi County. Upon her arrival at Elijah's homestead, she had to set up housekeeping in "a very rude log cabin" erected by J. M. Ayers. "Not a chair or bedstead to commence with." According to Elijah, "Preparations for the winter were made and a full stock of flour, pork, sugar, coffee, etc., was wagoned from Henderson, ninety miles distant."

But let's go back to the beginning of the Woodcock story

Two men by the name of Woodcock appeared at Green Lake in the 1850's, as another article in this book will show. Elijah T. Woodcock, 23 years old, came from New York State and located a claim west of Green Lake on August 10, 1856. Fenn B. Woodcock, originally from Massachusetts, filed his claim south of Green Lake on May 10, 1857. According to research by Victor E. Lawson, former historian of the area, the two men "were not closely related, if at all." The two lakes named for them are their memorials here: West Woodcock Lake for Elijah T., and East Woodcock Lake for Fenn B.

Elijah found his way to Green Lake from New York State via Galena, Illinois; McGregor, Iowa; and Rochester, Mantorville, Faribault, Owatonna, Mankato, Henderson, Glencoe, Hutchinson, and Cedar City in Minnesota. Green Lake so captivated Elijah that "We selected 320 acres, including prairie and timber lands, at this spot for a townsite and called it 'Columbia'. We also took a quarter section joining the townsite lands as homestead under the preemption law ... Here I found my ideal farm...."

Years later, in 190 1, Elijah wrote of his early residence here: "...We thought a glorious future was in store for the Green Lake country ‑ a great city would grow up and steamboats would ply on the beautiful waters. Laboring under this hallucination I hastened to my native state and took myself a wife to share the joys and griefs of a western home."

Loretta herself wrote in 1901 about her first winter in their western home. "No other person was nearer than forty miles except Indians, and there were times that we were glad to see an Indian." Elijah called the winter of 1856‑1857 "one of the severest in the history of Minnesota." Loretta recalled that "winter came early and lasted long." Snow was four feet on the level. "The woods were deserted by beast and fowl," as her husband well remembered. Still a teenager, Loretta made do with "a little pork and beans and molasses; but at last there was nothing but flour and tea, which we lived on alone for weeks. At last the flour became very low, and starvation stared us in the face .... At last the long dreary winter wore away, and wild ducks and geese began to fly. and ice gave way so we could fish. Then we had plenty, but nothing but water and salt to cook with."

But Loretta faced another severe trial. She was pregnant, and when April came, she knew her baby was arriving. Loretta's account of the birth of the first white child in the county was also written in 190 1. It was written for the Kandiyohi History in 1905, edited by Victor Lawson (and reprinted in Lawson's Willmar newspaper in March 1957):

"I became ill and continued to grow worse for nearly a week, and so much worse that it seemed we must have help from some source. One morning quite early my husband left me alone, knowing that one man was at Diamond Lake. He thought he could send him some place for help. He was gone five hours and while he was away a child was born, I should think two hours before his return. I lay there in terrible suspense, and fearing Indians every moment, but none came at that time. He came, not knowing whether to find me dead or alive ... I had cut up my own and made a baby's wardrobe, not a very extensive one, however, but we did the best we could. I began to think it a rather sober romance ... I recovered fairly well, though after a week my limbs seemed to be paralyzed. I suffered much pain, could not move my limbs only by taking my hands and moving them, but by almost superhuman efforts and perseverance I could walk once more. When the baby was fourteen days old V. L. Forsythe and wife came and J. W. Burdick. This was the first woman I had seen in seven months. She was a young inexperienced wife like myself. Mr. Burdick was a great help to me about taking care of the child, as he had two small children. She seemed an ailing child and did not thrive very well. How could she'! We named her Ida Delle. I regretted so much afterwards that I had not called her Minnesota...."

But Ida Delle, born on April 13, 1857, survived and thrived. In 1906, as Mrs. Ida Delle Macken of New York State, she accompanied her parents to Spicer to attend the Semi‑Centennial meeting of the Old Settlers Association.

In 1857 the federal government, under President James Buchanan, passed the homestead preemption laws, requiring all homesteaders to prove up their claims "at $1.25 per acre or take their chances at the public land sales at the expiration of 60 days." But most settlers had exhausted their resources in improving their land and were unable to come up with $200 cash to keep their claims. Elijah and Loretta mortgaged their property and, after exactly three years' residence, went back to New York, intending to return after another three years.

Then the War Between the States broke out. The U.S.‑Dakota Conflict broke out. "The Green Lake country became depopulated. Buildings and fences were all destroyed by fires. To go through a second term of pioneering," wrote Elijah, "my ambition failed me, and I later sold my land to J. W. Burdick for $500. This ended my career as a pioneer."

The other Woodcock known to Spicer history was "Fenn Benjamin Woodcock, born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on January 5, 1834. He married Frances E. Taylor of Warren, Connecticut, in 1857. They removed soon after marriage to Green Lake, Minnesota." (This information, as well as some that follows, comes from a letter dated July 17, 1930, to Victor E. Lawson from Albert N. Gilbertson. Gilbertson, a 1904 graduate of Willmar High School, was then living in North Grafton, Massachusetts.) Fenn Woodcock served with Company D, 4th Minnesota Volunteers, during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

According to "The Extant Records of Monongalia County 1858‑1870" by Arthur Lewis Mitchell (Marshall, MN: Finnell Richter and Associates, 1980), the 1860 census for Monongalia County listed Fenn B. Woodcock, age 24, farmer, head of family, and Frances, age 24, with their post office address at Harrison.

The same records show that Fenn was Monongalia's register of deeds in 1866. In 1867 and 1868 he served on the county board. From 1867 to 1870, the names of Fenn and Frances (sometimes Fannie) appear often as witnesses to various deeds for land transactions.

Gilbertson's letter to Lawson stated that Fenn and Frances had two sons born in Minnesota‑Charles Fenn, born in 186 1, and Ernest Sabin, born in 1870. The whole family returned to the East in 1871. In 1877 the Woodcocks again left New England and settled permanently in the Yakima Valley of Washington State.

Elijah and Loretta Woodcock settled permanently in Urbana, Ohio.

(The Spicer History Committee appreciates the services of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, who preserved these accounts about the Woodcocks.)