A Page Out of the Book Cliffs: Page 55 – Ray Larsen

Kathy Hurt is a very interesting lady from Fruita, Colorado. She is an author and historian, to boot. I first heard of her when a friend loaned me a copy of a book Kathy wrote in 2011. It’s called “Way Points Along the Book Mountains.”

I highly suggest it to anyone interested in a large dose of Book Cliffs history. The book is easy enough to find online. I managed it myself; realizing I needed my own copy before getting very far into my friend’s loaner copy.

Kathy has written other good stuff, including a book on Rangely, Colorado. Look her up. One particular story from Kathy’s “Way Points” book really stuck in my mind and I will never forget it. I’ve wanted to borrow the story and share it with my readers, so I looked Kathy’s number up and gave her a call. We had a nice chat and got to know each other just a little. She has graciously given me permission to copy part of the story of Ray Larsen from her book so you folks might have a chance to read it.

The story was originally written by May Belle Dahling Harper Phillips in 1997. She told it as follows:

Lizzie married Tom Larsen, and twin sister Lillie married Aultmar (Mert) Tomlinson on Feb. 3, 1903. The two families were very close. Tom and Lizzie had a ranch in Professor Valley east of Moab. Lizzie liked to be outside and help gather cattle with her husband. I was about nine years old when I took care of my sister Lizzie’s children during the summer.

I was older than Jennie, the oldest daughter. The children were Ray, twins Ed and Edna, called (Dollie), Pearl, Lewis (Little Dude) and Charles. Dude got his nickname being fussy about his dress and everything.

I was helping them when they moved to Meadow Creek Ranch over the top of the Book Cliffs. Tom leased the Professor Valley Ranch in May 1916. Tom’s niece and husband Frank Williams took most of their belongings, and the cattle were moved a month earlier. Ray was twelve years old and told the family he wouldn’t see the new ranch. He seemed to have a sixth sense about it. No one took him too seriously.

We stopped at Hay Canyon on the third day to eat. Ray, Dude, and I had coffee. Ray said, “Since this is going to be our last cup together, you won’t mind if I put some cream in it, will you? I said, “Okay” not believing the end was near.

Ray was riding Balley, to go up the steep climb out of the draw. Ray and Lizzie each had a rope looped over the saddle horn and fastened to the wagon tongue to help pull. We crossed the draw to remove the ropes. Ray’s saddle slipped back. While pulling on the wagon, the back cinch came up in his horse’s flank and the horse started bucking. Ray jumped off, and the horse went bucking up the hill and back down. Lizzie yelled for Ray to get out of the way, but before he ran for oak brush, the horse hit him between his shoulders and turned over him. Ray got up and then collapsed.

Tommy ran to help, while hollering for Lizzie to get a blanket and the whiskey. Ray’s last words were, “I’m going back.” And he just died. Tommy wrapped Ray in the blanket then began digging out a flat place in the side of the hill with his heel. When he had cleared a spot about two feet wide and two feet in, he asked me to set there and hold Ray while they took the wagon to the top of the hill and unloaded. I was about 18 years old at the time. I did as he asked. The other children were pretty much in a state of shock.

At the top of the hill, Tommy emptied the wagon and put some loose hay in the bottom of the wagon bed. Dark thunderclouds were drifting up over the Books by this time, and our main concern was getting Ray down off the mountain before a flash flood hit. Coming down off the hill, Tommy carefully took Ray and laid him on a bed of straw and blankets in the wagon, and we started on down. Hitting the wash at the bottom of Hay Canyon, Tommy ordered me to mount up on Lizzie’s horse.

He said, “You and Jennie ride ahead as fast as you dare through the narrows and on to Standifirds place (they had a ranch at Westwater Creek where it breaks out of the mountains into the desert). Let them know what has happened. I’ll be right behind you, so get the gate open. The way the storm looks, I won’t have time to open it. If we aren’t in shortly after you, ya’ll better come a lookin’.”

By this time thunder was rumbling through the canyons like a giant rockslide. We were off like a streak of lightning. We were a good ten miles from the ranch, and we had to follow the wash through the narrows, not a good place to get caught in a flash flood.

The water was beginning to flow in the wash. We felt panic and urged our horses faster. By the time we were getting near the ranch it was pitch dark and we would have sailed right by if the men out in the milk barn hadn’t waved their lanterns at us.

Tommy pulled the wagon out of the creek just minutes before the wall of water, driftwood, and boulders reached us. The next morning Tommy and Lizzie borrowed a buggy to take Ray’s body into Moab.

If you should drive up Hay Canyon and into the Book Cliffs you will see a marker near the top that marks the spot and tells a little bit about the death of Ray Larsen. It seems a lonely place to die…