Walter Chester Larson 1891 – 1977
The story of Val Marie wouldn’t be complete without the story of Walt Larson. He, like so many of the early ranchers, helped carve out this rough and rowdy country and leave a legacy for generations to come.
His was a story of hard work and great dreams, vast challenges and a commitment to the cowboy way of living.
The youngest child of Hans and Mrs. Larson, he was born Nov. 2, 1891, in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, coming north the first time when he was only 13 years old. He ended up in Saskatchewan, where his older brother bust sod and established his farm near Kenaston. He did return to Minnesota for the winter but ventured back to Alberta the next year and found himself working as a ranch hand. He had a natural way with horses and that began a lifestyle that he would chase for the next 80 years. He drifted back to Saskatchewan and hired out to break horses on the T Down Ranch. It is believed that this outfit was amalgamated with a couple cattle companies and became know as the Famous 76 Ranch. Walt was one of the riders working under Harry Otterson and, in the winter of 1915-16, Walt gathered cattle that were wintered on the Frenchman River south of Shaunavon. Walt would tell stories of this devastating winter where temperatures dipped regularly down to 50 below and cows were freezing right in their tracks. Walt went to his grave with frostbite scars from that winter.
In 1914 Walt enlisted in the First World War and ended up assigned to the Lord Strathcona Horse Cavalry in Calgary. During his enlistment, the country was plagued with an influenza epidemic and Walt contacted the disease and became deathly ill. There were so many soldiers sick and dying that at one point Walt was taken to the cold room that held the fatalities. One of the older retired nurses who were helping out passed by Walt’s body and noticed a trace of perspiration on his forehead and ordered him returned to the hospital. He recuperated after a long fight.
After a brief period of breaking horses for the Mounties following the war, he settled down on his first homestead north of Braken. He stayed only long enough to consolidate his homestead, build fences and break land. He was a cowman and his dream was to own cattle and the idea of following a plow all his life didn’t appeal to him.
It was during this time that he met Marjorie Perron, a fine, blue-eyed school teacher who was teaching the T.B. Long children, the 76 Ranch manager at 50 mile camp north of Braken. They were married in 1920 and their son was born the following August in 1921. They spent about a year working at a feedlot in Calgary before they returned to Saskatchewan and bought a tract of land along the Frenchman River. His cattle ranching began at that time with a load of “Manitoba doggies,” and grew over the next 60 years to one of the best commercial herds of Angus cattle in the country.
The early cattle weren’t much and pickings were pretty slim so he supplemented his livelihood with coyote hunting. He ran with a pack of hounds and the best part of this operation was that the hides would bring in enough money to keep his outfit together.
In 1923 a larger house was completed about a half mile from their first little two-roomed shack. It was located on the original homestead of the famous artist and novelist Will James.
Walt and Marjorie had two more children Katherine (Sue) born in 1924 and Barbara (Bud) born in 1927. Like all pioneer children they grew up enjoying the simple life. It was a quiet, often simple life and neighbors and cowboys passing by would often stop in as they traveled along the river coming and going. The children received much of their education right on the ranch.
Marjorie passed away after a long fight with cancer in January of 1950.
Len, their eldest, continued to work in the area as a cowboy, married Dorothy Walters in 1943 and raising three children in the Val Marie area. Len was killed in an accident in 1969 and buried alongside his mother in Val Marie. His sons were Robert, Walter and Kenneth, all educated in Val Marie. Robert ranched his entire life, dying from cancer in 2002, while Wally continues to work for a PFRA pasture near Brock. Kenneth continued his education in the states, worked for 30 years in the newspaper business and is now retired.
The two daughters (Len’s sisters) became registered nurses, educated in Medicine Hat and both migrating and marrying in the states. Sue married Jack Smith and was director of nursing for many years in Malta, Montana. They raised two children, Todd and
Patty Sue, and ranched south of Malta. She passed away in 1994.
Bud married Don Phillips, an engineering professor and after several moves settled in Corvallis, Oregon, where they raised their five children. Her husband passed away several years ago but she remains in Oregon, and, although she retired from nursing, she continues to operate a small business.
Walt and Marjorie introduced Aberdeen Angus blood to their herd during the 1930s. Over the years 12 head cattle were honored at the Toronto Royal Fair and he also won a first pride in the heavyweight class at the Chicago International show.
In 1968 Walt built a new home in Val Marie and spent many winters there, returning to the ranch in the summer. As his health deteriorated, he moved to Montana and was cared for his final years by his daughter, Sue, passing away in 1977. His grandson, Robert, worked the ranch until it was sold to the National Park
From his early years, Walt was a top cowhand. People still remember the young Walt, a colorful figure in his big black Stetson riding tall and straight in the saddle. He not only cowboyed and ranched, but often competed in stampedes and rodeos, winning money in the saddle bronc events and working as a pickup man.
Walter C. Larson, When you look at Walt, you can almost read his life written on his face.
By Mrs. Arlene Orser
Literally, volumes could be written about our pioneers, people such as Walt Larson for example. They lived in a time when men were men, as well as good friends, and horses were horses, not play things.
When you look at Walt, you can almost read his life written on his face. The wrinkles made from years of smiling and squinting into the sun, the dark shadows, reminders of those hard winters when they had cows to look after and nearly froze to death pulling them through. Cows have been Walt’s life, and although he started out with a bunch of “Manitoba doggies,” he now has the best commercial herd of Angus cattle in the country.
Walter Chester Larson was born on the second day in November, 1891, in the little town of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Being the youngest child, he undoubtedly caused his parents many anxious moments. He was always very much on the go, with fishing, catching frogs, hunting and skating in winter, selling what he could for spending money. Being a strong minded child, he soon declared that he did not think he wanted to spend the rest of his life around corn cribs.
He was thirteen years old when he left his home to come North. He reached Winnipeg and boarded an immigrant train, which took him to Kenaston where his older brother Peter had a farm south of Saskatoon. He only stayed for a few months, working with oxen, busting the sod that would become rich wheat fields. He moved back to Minnesota before winter set in to stay with an older sister and her professor husband, to continue his education for a few years.
When he came back to Canada the second time, he went to Alberta and worked out as a ranch hand as he had a natural way with horses, along with the strength to handle them. In due time, however, he drifted back to Saskatchewan and hired out to break horses on the T down ranch. It was probably about this time that this outfit was amalgamated with two or three other cattle companies and became known as the famous 76. Walt was one of the riders for the company, working under the management of Harry Otterson. The winter of 1915-16 found Walt gathering cattle to be fed on the location where the Clarks now live south of Shaunavon on the Frenchman river. The temperature had been hovering around 50 below for days. Not getting much above during the day, and creeping way below at night. There wasn’t much good hay in those days, and the cows were showing it. Some of the poorer ones were freezing right in their tracks. Walt came very close to losing his life from exposure that winter when he tells about riding towards camp at the end of a long day, tired and hungry. The urge to get off his horse and rest a while was almost overpowering, and it was all he could do to keep his head clear till he got home. When the weather broke that spring, Walt and a couple of other hands had to go out and destroy quite a few cows that had had their legs froze that winter. Walt still carries scars from frost-bites he suffered that winter.
In 1914 the First World War began and Walt decided to enlist. He was first taken to Regina, and remembers that stay with much distaste, but was soon moved to Calgary where he was assigned to The Lord Strathcona Horse Cavalry. During his enlistment the country was plagued by an influenza epidemic. Walt contracted the disease and became deathly ill. He was so close to being gone that an overworked physician thought he was, and ordered his body removed from the bed he was in and taken to the “cold room” which held fatalities. The epidemic was so wide spread and “knocked” so many people down that the help of the old retired nurses was required to give a hand to treat the many patients. One of these older women happened to be passing by Walt’s body and noticed a trace of perspiration on his forehead and immediately ordered him returned to the hospital. He recuperated after a long fight but to this day has a high susceptibility to respiratory infection.
After his discharge from the army, he went to work breaking remounts for the mounties. The horses didn’t have to be worked on very much as all they were required to know was to stand still when being mounted and to rein pretty well. Some of these horses had a lot of snuff left in them, and the day the inspector came around to test the horses occasionally proved very entertaining.
Walt’s first homestead was north of Braken. He stayed only long enough to consolidate his homestead and do what was required of him, such as breaking land and fencing. Being a cowman at heart, the idea of following a plow did not appeal to him, as his big dream was to go into cattle.
It was around this time that Walt met the tiny, blue-eyed Marjorie Perron, a school “marm” destined to become Mrs. Walter C. Larson. She was teaching the children of Mr. T. B. Long, 76 manager at 50 mile camp north of Bracken.
Walt and Marjorie were married in the year 1920. Their first child, a son Leonard, was born in 1921. They moved to Calgary for a time then, to work for a big feed lot operator. Their future looked pretty good until the U.S. put an embargo on imported cattle and forced the man out of business. So back to Saskatchewan they came and Walt bought a tract of land along the Frenchman River. He fixed up a small two room shack and they set up housekeeping. His next move was to bring in his “Manitoba doggies”, Walt Larson was now a full fledged rancher. Of course cows weren’t worth much then and pickin’s were pretty slim, so seeing as ranching wasn’t making him any money, he figured he had better find something to do so he could keep going. This was when he became involved in the lucrative business of hunting the wary coyote. The running and killing talent of his pack of hounds was a joy to behold, but the best part of this operation was that the hides would bring him enough money to keep the outfit together.
In 1923 a larger house had been completed about a half a mile from the two room shack, in fact, it is located on the original homestead of one Will James, novelist and artist. In many of his books he describes the river flat here, the hills and the lay of the land, but never mentions the name of the river. The hole over which his shack stood can still be seen not far from the buildings on the Larson ranch.
Walt and his good wife had two more children, Katherine (Sue) was born in 1924, and Barbara (Bud) was born in 1927, (Sorry girls). Like all pioneer children they grew up with very few luxuries in this quiet open country, living to enjoy the simple things in life. Neighbours were more plentiful and friendly then, and hardly a day would pass when someone didn’t stop in, coming or going, for a bite to eat or to stay over night. “Fellas” passing through might stop for even a few days, helping out a bit, resting man and horse, then be gone with many thanks for the kind hospitality.
The children received much of their education right at home. Many school teachers were out of work then and he was able to hire tutoring for his children quite easily. The girls went on to become registered nurses, training in Medicine Hat, and Leonard became a rancher in his own right, along with interests in taxidermy, leather craft and harness making.
The family suffered a terrible loss when Mrs. Larson passed away after a long illness, January 31, 1950. May she rest in peace.
Walt had introduced Aberdeen Angus blood into his herd during the thirties, and from that time on he endeavored to improve the quality of his cattle. He suffered many an embarrassing moment at the hands of kidding friends who wanted to know how many calves he lost down gopher holes, etc. Today his cattle have won many prizes at the Toronto Royal Winter Fair, twelve all told, and also some of his calves were in a group that won first prize in the heavyweight class at the Chicago International.
Until 1968 Walt remained on the ranch. The children all married, Sue living in Malta, now Mrs. Jack Smith. Bud, in Oregon as Mrs. Phillips. Leonard was the victim of an accident that cost him his life on June 21, 1969. Survived by his wife, Dorothy, and three sons. In 1968 Walt had a new home built in Val Marie and now spends all winter in its modern comfort, but looks forward to each summer when he can move back to the ranch and home. Mr. George Orser and his wife have been with Walt since 1960, running things under his supervision.
From his early years Walt was a top cowhand. He made a colorful figure in his black Stetson as he rode straight and tall, riding a good horse, every inch a cowboy and gentleman. He became an outstanding figure at stampedes and rodeos, where he often won top money in the saddle bronc event, and often worked as a pickup man, there weren’t many who could better him in anything he did. He is a man who will always be looked up to, now and tomorrow.
Successful Western Rancher has Long Cattle Raising Career
By Chuck Davis
Canadian Aberdeen-Angus News June, 1970
Mr. Walter Larson, Val Marie, Sask., a 79 year old rancher, tall and straight, from raising commercial Aberdeen-Angus cattle.
Mr. Larson is American by birth, from near Mankato, Minn. And came to Val Marie in 1911 where he worked for Gordon Ironsides and Faris Cattle Co. (on the old “76 Ranch”). He married Marjorie Perrin of Maple Creek. He has two married daughters, both Registered Nurses, Mrs. Barbara “Bud” Philips, Oregon and Mrs. Katherine “Sue” Smith, Malta Montana. He chuckles as he recalled the girls nicknames. Mr. Larson was saddened by the death of his wife in 1950 and his son Leonard just last spring.
He started ranching in his own right about 1920, “I bought doggies from Winnipeg and used Hereford Bulls.” Two years later a man by the name of McArther sold out and suggested that “Walt” throw those bulls in with the sale cattle and took his Angus bulls in exchange. This exchange together with the purchase of Mr. McArthur’s cows marked the beginning of his career in Angus cattle, which now number five hundred brood cows.
Upon Shaking hands with him in hs new home in Val Marie, he exclaimed “I’d be out with cattle in the hills right now if it wasn’t for this bum leg.”
In past years he bought the bulk of his bulls from Roy Ballhorn, Sam Henderson, and Mr. Gibb all from Alberta, and Ken MacGregor, Maintoba. When purchasing bulls he liked to buy the required number all from the same herd giving him uniformity in his calf crop. He buys his bulls in late fall so they are conditioned to this ranch environment by breeding season in the spring.
He reminisced that at one time every cow in his herd was of one of Sam Henderson’s bulls. “How time flies”, he remarked as he recalled being at Sam’s just after his Don had been married, “and now I understand that Don’s son, Doug is with Lloyd Pickard and is a cowman just like his dad and grandad.” He paid tribute to Sam as producer of good bulls and mentioned especially the Eston Compress line. He also used C.P.R. bulls and thos from Clayton Jennings of South Dakota. For the past few years, however, he has been getting his bulls from Dan Nicholson, Montana.
Mr. Larson demonstrated faith in his fellow man when he always got along well with the people from whom he purchased bulls – “they were good to deal with”. In discussing the purchase of the bulls, Mr. Larson stated, “We don’t busy them for their size, we buy them for their strength. Our cattle have to be strong to survive conditions in our country.” He looked for bulls with good bone, correct feet and legs, good muscling throughout and especially good stifle muscle, strong topped, clean sheath, clean up front, and masculine. “I like a straight lined animal with balance. I don’t want a 2400 pound bull. When my cows calve, we don’t sit up nights with them – they go out in the hills by themselves and calve.”
In describing his cows he remarked that after they had completed their calving careers and had weaned their calves in the fall and they were then trucked to market. The average weight of the older cows sent to slaughter was about 1225 pounds. Mr. Larson chose cows with height to them, and in his words, “so that a new born calf can find his mother’s udder easily. When a cow calves her herself out in the hills, we’re not there to lay the calf on its side so it can nurse from its mother.” His cows have good feet and legs and are well muscled with good strong top lines (a result of his bull selection in the past). All the brood matrons in his herd today are bred up from the originals bought from Mr. McArthur.
Mr. Larson has been successful in producing the kind of calves the buyers want. These calves have always brought a premium. He sold calves to a U.S.A buyer who fed them out and won first prize carlot at the Chicago International. Another load of commercial steers from Mr. Larson’s herd, fed by Don Suidimea, Morrison, Illinois averaged 1400 lbs. at the Chicago yards. His steers must have yielded good carcasses as one load dressed out 66 2/3%.
J. W. Maus, Ayr, Ontario, recognized as one of the outstanding commercial cattle feeders from Western Canada, used to draw his supply of feeders from Western Canadian ranchers of which Walter Larson contributed a large percentage of weaned Angus Calves. “Walt” as he was commonly known sold Mr. Maus for eleven years straight during which a mutual trust existed. “I weighed the calves and made out my own ticket and Maus didn’t see the calves until they arrived in Ontario.”
Mr. Maus’ winnings with Walt’s calves are as follows:
1946-First and third
1948-Champion and reserve
1949-Reserve (Douglas Maus)
1954- Champion and reserve
Groups of Three
1948-Champion and reserve
1949-Reserve (Doug Maus)
1950-Champion and reserve
In the past few years Mr. Larson has sold several weaned calves to Gene Hirsted, order buyer from Iowa.
The Larson Ranch, located in White Mud Valley, consists of 30,000 acres of lease land and 14 quarters, owned by Mr. Larson. The latter is used mainly for hay land and winter pasture. While driving through the pastures he remarked that one half section had been farmed for eleven consecutive years without producing a single crop. After Mr. Larson purchased it and seeded it back to tame grass it had proven profitable every year since that time.
His pastures are divided so that he can rotate – thus preventing any pasture from ever being over grazed. “We don’t feed in winter until we have to, but when we do they get the best of hay. I like to keep one to two years supply of hay ahead.”
During breeding season he turns out eight to nine bulls with cow herd and watches the breeding pastures very closely – replacing any “jaded” bulls with fresh ones. He has found over the years that his practice has given him a very even calf crop.
Mr. Larson keeps his yearling heifers isolated in a separate pasture. He doesn’t believe in breeding them until they are two years olds. He feels this works out better in a commercial operation. They seem to mature into better producing females and need that extra year of growth. Allowing more maturity, he has found to be more profitable in the long run.
“Walt” rode the range until four years ago arthritis necessitated his move to town for winter months. There he is quite relaxed because in his absence his capable foreman, George Orsor and his wife Arlene who live at the ranch with their three sons take good care of everything.
Mr. Larson paid a great tribute to the Angus cow for her mothering and milking ability, ruggedness, resistance to disease, and ability to readily conceive. In fifty years of raising commercial Angus cattle, his cows have had nothing but natural shelter, and have wintered well.
Mr. Larson has been a credit to the Livestock Industry and especially to the Angus breed. He has been dedicated to the production of the kind of steer that has been proven to be economical for the rancher and feeder as well as the consumer.
Larson Family Scrapbook