Joe Larsen … Eulogy
Joe was a lone wolf – even kinda looked like one … a tall, rangy black wolf with piercing eyes. He was well over six feet, maybe 6 four or five, lean with a keen eye and incredible stamina: I remember the time when we went up into the Winds by way of Dickenson Park and camped under the Cirque of the Towers and climbed rocks for several weeks. He took me up routes I had no business being on – and some new ones up Wolf’s Head … I don’t think I would’ve trusted another person, except maybe Mike Woodbury – here’s why: In the early seventies, Joe was working as a logger in Ten Sleep for Bob Moses, who had a timber operation. About dusk one day after work, they were in a pickup coming down the mountain, having a few, when they spotted a deer. Well, Bob wanted that deer for supper so he stops the truck, reaches in the back, and hands Joe a .22 rifle with no scope. He says, ‘Joe, I want you to take this rifle and kill that deer for me. It was an awful long shot in the dusk for a ’22 with no scope … but Joe aims and kills the deer with one shot to the head … You could trust Joe with your life … but probably not with your wife – he was a true Lady’s Man – tall, dark, and handsome.
I first met Joe when I was renting an old cabin out on Riverview Road outside Riverton from an old Arapaho woman, Lucy Quiver. She is the woman who taught me the old Indian saying, “May the Great Mystery make the Sun Rise in your Heart.” The cabin sat alongside a house on the same homestead, and my neighbors were Fred Larsen (Joe’s brother) and his wife, Suzanne. Suzanne was from Casper, and had some brothers who were in the motorcycle gang, The Saints. The Saints were a wild bunch who raised a lot of Hell around Wyoming in those days. Anyway, after most of a year living there, Joe shows up – he’s been off somewhere for quite a spell – and he brings gifts for Fred and Suzanne. That’s how he was … always picking up and giving gifts.
That time we went up into the Winds – we had just left the trailhead and were hiking up the trail when here comes Gerry Spence (the legendary Wyoming lawyer), Imogene, and some friends on horseback riding down the trail. We get off the trail to let them go by, when Gerry recognizes us. He stops and greets us, then says he lost his fishing pole back near the big meadow … so Joe takes off his pack, gets out a pole, and gives it to Gerry. “Hell,” Joe says, I’ll just find yours and we’ll be even. That ain’t good enough for Gerry, who pulls out a roll of twenties that would choke a cow, and peels off a few. He says, “When ya get down outta the mountains, have a supper on me over in Hudson” (At that time, Hudson had the two best steak houses in Wyoming). Joe don’t let Gerry know that it’s his backup pole, and not worth much. We found Gerry’s pole – the best money could buy – and had steak in Hudson.
Joe once led me up what became my favorite mountain, Cloud Peak – it was the first time I got to the top and will never forget that weekend. Ten Sleep used to put on one of the best Fourth of July rodeos in the state, bringing in thousands of people and a lot of real good local cowboys and horses. Joe’s dad, Barney, had a cabin right next to the rodeo grounds … but Joe hated the crowds, and usually headed into the mountains on the 4th to get away from the heat and people. He wasn’t much into horses or rodeos or the cowboy culture that surrounded him in Ten Sleep … like I say, he was a lone wolf who belonged in the wild backcountry with his books, fishing pole, and climbing gear.
One Fourth of July when Joe was gone, I followed Joe’s lead and headed to the high country … I was alone and climbed Cloud Peak late in the day, and that evening sat on top of the mountain and watched the fireworks in Casper, Buffalo, Sheridan, Cody, Lovell, Worland, and Thermopolis. In the morning, I could see the tips of the Tetons to the west, and the Black Hills to the east. It’s no wonder the Crow called the Big Horns, the Sweet Medicine Mountains, and Cloud Peak, Big Medicine Peak. It is a great mountain because just about anyone can get to the top without any technical climbing. It’s a walk-up, and at the top is a cairn of stone with a bottle full of notes and poems and thoughts that people have written and left. I saw that an 80 year old man and a 10 year old boy had got to the top. When Joe got to the top of anything, he was fond of saying, “Well, we got to keep climbing!” Joe was attuned to his Soul and always sought to be a ‘Realized Human Being.”
I am writing this now because I only found out about a month ago that Joe had died – a couple of years back — and I just got back home from a trip over to Worland, Ten Sleep, Meadowlark Lake, Hyattville, Basin, and then home again. It has been a long time since I’ve been over to Ten Sleep and the Big Horns. When I drove into Ten Sleep, a Bob Dylan song, Things Have Changed, a song that Joe knew well – he once sang some verses from the song to me — came on the radio. A practice of Joe’s was that when he came down from the mountains, he would just listen to Dylan for a day or two before doing anything else. Anyway … when I got into town, I turned right at the rodeo grounds and drove down to Barney’s and Joe’s to find Judy, Joe’s wife there … with Fred’s son, Aaron, who lives in Sheridan. It was the first time I had met Judy, and we went on a walk with her dog, Jane, and exchanged stories.
The thing is, Joe and I didn’t see a whole lot of each other the last twenty or thirty years. I knew Joe when he was married to Joy, and then after their break-up, up until Barney died. It was strange … and I truly regret not knowing Joe when he got older. The Joe I knew was like a Norse God … perfection meant everything to Joe … and he became incredibly good at whatever he focused his attention on, including wind-surfing and chanting the mantras of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Barney had a cabin in Hazelton, up on the mountain, as well as his cabin in Ten Sleep. He had lost an arm while working on the building of the Sheridan Bridge. There came a time when he needed help to get along in life, and Joe was watching over him at the cabin – although Barney was stubbornly independent and did not accept help readily. I came up to Tensleep to visit and Joe asked me to look after Barney for a spell, as he needed to get up into the mountains. So I did … and I’ve got a lot of stories about those days and nights in Ten Sleep, cooking and taking care of the place and Barney, who was pretty much stove-up. One day, Barney was taking a nap, so I went fishing on the creek a few hundred feet away … and I met the one other guy fishing on the creek that day – a sheep man, Mailen Hibbert, Barney’s neighbor, who had a ranch in Otto. I eventually went to work for Mother Hubbard, as he was known, herding & trailing sheep, cutting posts and poles, and searching for Buttermilk, a strawberry roan that was the family horse that had bolted from sheep camp one night due to a lightning storm and bear in camp, and was lost in the Big Horns. I finally found him after about a month, and I always got a fresh baked pie from the missus when I was resupplied with groceries.
Before I left Ten Sleep yesterday, Aaron offered to distribute my posters around Buffalo and Sheridan. He’s got a lot of Fred in him … though his dad is dead and his mom is alive in Sheridan. He’s helping Judy take care of the place in Ten Sleep. It was Fred who got me hooked on Camel Cigarettes with all the stories he knew about the mysteries and legends concerning the pack itself. One story I remember, was when Fred and Mike made a run to Mexico for some grass back in the sixties. They got there and back over the border when they rolled the VW Van and had to stash most of it in the desert; putting all they could carry in their packs. Things went fine until they got to Farson and the Sheriff recognized Mike, a friend, and told him and Fred to throw their packs in the back and get in … Mike tried to argue, but gave up and talked a ‘blue streak all the way to Lander.’ As far as I know, that was the first time law enforcement helped smuggled marijuana into Fremont County.
On that same trip, Fred told me the story about how Mike and him came across a hitchhiker in Arizona before they rolled the rig … he was going the opposite way but they stopped anyway and asked him if he needed anything, water … food … tequila? Nope, he says. But I will take one of those Camels. Fred gives him one, and before the guy lights up, he chants, “KA-MEL” three times. Fred asks him what that was all about, the guy replied, “If you’re alone in the desert, and you chance upon a Camel, and say KAMEL three times, you’ll be able to see GOD! Fred always got a good laugh after telling that story.
Joe didn’t drink a lot when I knew him. Sure, he smoked his share of grass, but I never saw him drunk. Judy let me know that over the last part of his life, alcohol got the better of Joe — It’s hard for me to believe. Judy says he only had six weeks from the time he was diagnosed to the day he died. She told me the memorial service was in Willow Park … so I drove up there. The Forest Service gate was closed but not locked so I opened it and drove in. There was a private gathering at the meadow, and they didn’t seem happy to see me. I made a U-turn and got out of there, closing the gate. Went to Meadowlark and sat by the lake, thought about Joe, lit some incense that Judy had given me … a present from Joe, she says. I stick the incense in a crack on a boulder, right where Joe would have put it. I’ve attached a few photos of being up there on Meadowlark Lake thinking of Joe.