Paddock Township is located in the extreme northeast corner of Otter Tail County. It was established in 1882 and named after L.A. Paddock, who had moved into the area in 1880 to set up a sawmill.
The Red Eye River, which flows through the township, supplied power for the mill. A large sleigh, drawn by 13 span of oxen, brought in the sawmill’s steam boilers.
Once the mill was in operation, the area began filling with Finnish settlers. There were no roads; only a suggestion of a trail through the forest, and travel through the swampy areas was treacherous. Eventually several Finnish families, including those of Gustav Saari and Anna Kaisa Nevala, began the hard lives of pioneers, which were not lacking in either work or adventure.
One story, by Jacob Lalli, told of the mutual relationship between the Finns and the Indians, two peoples so different from each other, in the Minnesota wilderness:
“Once, on a winter evening some 60 years ago, our neighbor, John Maunu, fell into the icy river on his way home from a hunting trip, and he would have drowned if the Indians had not heard his cries and come to his aid. They took him to their camp, wrapped him in furs and fed him hot drinks all night long. In the morning they gave him his dry clothes and escorted him home. And to the day of his death, Maunu insisted that there was nothing to the talk that the Indians were eager for scalps.”
The first Finnish children born in Paddock were twin boys, August and John Kuha, born on February 3, 1883. Paddock had a general store and a post office, and a half mile to the east of them Andrew and Isak Koski built a flour mill along the rapids of the Red Eye in 1887. A fire destroyed the mill two years later. There were also other sawmills in the area, and it was thanks to them that the forest disappeared rapidly from the pioneers’ lands. Before their disappearance, however, the forests helped contribute to a certain notoriety achieved by the Paddock Finns.
In those days, there was more than an abundance of wild rabbits in these forests, but only the Finns seemed to use them for food. Their hunting of rabbits assumed major proportions when a New York Mills shopkeeper, Olli Pajari, offered to pay 5 cents per rabbit, for within a few days Pajari had a whole wagon full of them from Paddock. For a long time after that, when someone saw a rabbit in the woods, they would say, “Go to Red Eye, you’ll get eaten up there.”
Information from “The History of the Finns in Minnesota,” at the History Museum of East Otter Tail County online at www.HistoryMuseumEOT.org.