WILLMAR, Minn. — Well off the beaten path, at the end of a prairie road that skirts a farm field before being swallowed by mature trees, rests the historic Guri Endreson cabin.
Built around 1858 by Lars Endreson, the cabin features dovetailed corners, a sign of the quality craftsmanship of early Scandinavian settlers who brought their old skills with them to their new home. The cabin is one of the very few structures built prior to 1862 that still exists on its original site in Kandiyohi County.
How the structure was built is a testament to “how talented Lars was,” said Jill Wohnoutka, executive director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.
It also represents the tenacity of early Minnesota settlers who “started from scratch” to build a life here. “It’s a major part of the story,” Wohnoutka said.
The cabin, just north of Willmar, Minn., near Solomon Lake, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
But its placement on that list is not just about architecture and age. It’s about the events that happened there during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and the heroic actions of Guri Endreson, who is credited with saving the lives of two men who were wounded in an attack.
That brave rescue and two-day trek across miles of open prairie came after her own husband and one son were killed on Aug. 21, 1862, at the cabin while Guri and her baby daughter hid.
Another son was seriously injured and two daughters were captured and taken away by Dakota men during the six-week-long war.
“I can’t imagine the fear she had,” Wohnoutka said.
Back then, Kandiyohi County didn’t look like it does now. There were few trees and few roads and few places to find shelter.
At one of the cabins she came to, Guri found two men, her son-in-law Oscar Erickson, and a neighbor Solomon Foot, severely wounded and near death. She got them in the wagon and to safety at Forest City, where her two daughters — who had escaped captivity — were found.
Wohnoutka said Guri is remembered for being a “strong person” in the midst of chaos and is a “symbol” of strength and pioneer perseverance during that violent and complicated time in Minnesota’s history.
A state monument honoring Guri Endreson at her burial place can be found at Vikor Lutheran Church Cemetery in Willmar. The monument is especially noteworthy because the honor was bestowed on a woman from that era, Wohnoutka said.
As did most of the settlers who experienced the war, Endreson fled the area but four years later returned to the farm site where her husband and son were killed and are buried. She continued to live there for some time before other family members made the cabin their home. It has been refurbished over the years to maintain its original integrity.
Locator map of state monument to Guri Endreson
Preserving the story
“It’s kind of a hidden gem,” Wohnoutka said about the cabin and 3-acre site. “And it is hidden.”
“It’s not alongside the road, you have to search it out,” she said.
The cabin is at 3669 67th Ave. NW, Willmar, Minn. Take U.S. Highway 12 west out of Willmar and then go 4 miles north on Kandiyohi County Road 5 Northwest. Turn west onto 67th Avenue Northwest and then turn left at directional signs that eventually lead to the site.
The cabin is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Tours are available upon request with the Kandiyohi County Historical Society. A kiosk at the site tells details of the Endreson family and provides information about the government’s mistreatment of the Dakota people — important context to the U.S.-Dakota War.
“It’s an important story in Minnesota,” said Wohnoutka, who said the war was a “very complicated” and “pivotal” time in the state’s history and it’s a story that many people have never heard.
Even many Kandiyohi County residents are not familiar with the war or the story of Guri Endreson.
The site is frequented by people who travel here from Norway as well as members of Endreson’s extended family — including some that live nearby.
Endreson’s relatives “love the story of Guri and are so thankful that we’re preserving it,” Wohnoutka said. “They’re just in awe that somebody is remembering their story.”
Locator map of Lars Guri Endreson cabin: