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 Reflections on the passing of an old friend....

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AuthorMessage
Cliff Caldwell
Regular Member
Regular Member


Male Number of posts : 61
Age : 70
Location : Mountain Home, Texas
Registration date : 2009-01-23

PostSubject: Reflections on the passing of an old friend....   Sun May 10, 2009 4:10 pm

I was thinking of Leonard today and thought that perhaps someone might enjoy this story.



Leonard Whisler
13 October 1918
6 May 2003
Upton, Weston County, Wyoming

 
It has been nearly thirty five years now since I first met Leonard Whisler. I had been working part time in a sporting good store to help make ends meet, and for the enjoyment of it. A stroke of good fortune had made it possible for me to afford to take a hunting trip to Wyoming to fulfill a dream of bagging an antelope. We needed, however, somewhere to hunt and the assistance of a local guide. Someone, I don’t even recall who any longer, mentioned Leonard’s name and said that he was an excellent guide and that his prices were in line with what we could afford. It seems to me that the price was $100 for the two of us, so that gives you some idea of how long ago this really was. I had Leonard’s address, but not his telephone number. I wrote him a very nice letter asking if he would be so kind as to guide for us. I received no reply. I sent another similar letter later in the summer. Again, no reply. Finally, in desperation and quite certain that he was going to ignore my request, I sent a letter to him that included a stamped envelope addressed to me and a form letter that I composed, such that all he had to do was check a box with the appropriate answer. His choices included "yes, I will guide", "no I will not and don’t bother me" and a couple of others as I recall.
Time passed and I was sure I would not hear from him and the trip was off. Then one evening in September the phone rang. It rarely rang, as we lived in the country and everywhere was a toll call. A very deep, very gruff voice on the other end of the line announced himself as "Leonard Whisler from Wyoming". He wanted to know if "I was the persistent son of a bitch that kept sending him letters…". I admitted to being that very same "son of a bitch". Leonard then said, in his course and rough way, that if I was so determined to come out there hunting that I should come on ahead and he would accommodate us. On the evening of 7 October 1975 my friend and I began our drive to Wyoming, arriving there the morning of the 9th. It’s funny how times change. We pulled a 16 foot camper trailer with a six cylinder, stick shift two wheel drive Chevy truck that was lucky to have a heater let alone air conditioning and we thought we were in the lap of luxury.
My first encounter with Leopard Whisler was truly a memorable one, and one that would leave a lasting impression me for, I believe, the remainder of my life. It was on 9 October 1975 at his ranch outside Upton, Wyoming. He was, at that time, already fifty seven years old and worn down by a very hard life. He walked up to introduce himself and he was truly larger than life. He was wearing a plaid western style shirt with snaps straining to contain his bulky chest and belly. He had on a pair of Levi jeans that had seen many years of hard use, a tooled leather western style belt with a large oval rodeo type buckle, boots that had not seen polish since perhaps when I was in diapers – it being unclear as to what color they had started their life as – black or brown. His big head was covered by a faded yellow Dekalb Corn cap and on the breast of his shirt he had pinned on his sheriff’s badge. Hooked to his belt was a holster that contained a very large pistol, going from memory it was a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum Model 28 Highway Patrol with a 6 inch barrel. He thrust a hand in my direction and introduced himself. His hand, more like a paw, was as rough as a weathered piece of wood and half again the size of mine. He had a good, powerful handshake. His face was weathered and covered with deep lines. He was a big man for certain, I am estimating six foot three, maybe four, and easily two hundred and fifty pounds – much of which was residing in that barrel chest and belly that at his age was now sagging slightly over his belt. He had a deep, booming voice and the presence of a man who was in charge. Instantly I like this man, and I could tell that he quickly warmed up to me. The details of this encounter are as clear to me today as they were almost thirty five years ago.
Leonard explained the particulars of our hunt to us, and went over his rules of conduct so to speak. He made it clear that he would tolerate no drinking on the hunt, and that beer was, basically, the devils work and should not be consumed by anyone. Good bourbon whiskey, on the other hand, was acceptable but not while hunting. Apparently he had a group of hunters ahead of us who had not filled out, thus delaying our hunt by one day. We were free, however, to follow he and the other hunters out in the morning and look around on our own. We agreed to this, and met him at the prescribed location in Upton bright and early the following morning. Being unfamiliar with the countryside we had no idea that we would be traveling miles from town, and that there was not going to be a 7-Eleven store on every corner! It was an interesting day. We scouted, and located a nice mule deer which I decided to take. Leonard seemed quite proud of our harvest, and of the fact that we managed everything on our own. Apparently he had a lot of green horn hunters who didn’t know which end of the gun the bullet came out of. That, by the way, was another point. My choice of caliber has always been the .270 Winchester, like Elmer Keith. Leonard also believed in the small caliber as he hunted with a .243. I learned that he was, like myself, a former Marine therefore he also believed in the benefit of taking just one carefully placed shot and not spraying the landscape with bullets.
During the course of the hunt he became more comfortable with us, and finally admitted that we were the first hunters he had ever let travel in the truck with a loaded gun. He had observed how safely we handled our firearms, just as he would expect a marine to do. I noticed many things about Leonard as well. Inside that tough exterior was a truly kind and gentle man. Not someone to be trifled with, and a fine lawman of the old school I would say. Someone inclined to look the other way at the right time, but someone who would come to your aid no matter the consequences or personal risk. I noticed how carefully he searched the skyline for game, how he knew just where to look and what time of day the animals were likely to be in what location. I noticed the .22 caliber pistol in the pouch in the door of his truck. I noticed how slowly and carefully he drove the truck over the broken terrain. I am something of a neat freak, so it should come as no surprise that I observed that the interior of his truck was perhaps the nastiest vehicle I had ever ridden in. I also noticed the sleeve of Fig Newton cookies on the dashboard, which he foraged on as the day drug out.
There is more that I could share, much more. The story of how he quit smoking, running out while horseback and in the middle of a cold mountain stream. He dismounted to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from his saddle bags, standing there knee deep in the ice cold stream. He then realized he was addicted, and tossed the whole mess into the stream and rode off. How about the story of him leaving home at the age of thirteen I believe, and living as a shepherd, alone on the prairie. Or the stories about how he could clear out the local bar on a Saturday night when there was trouble. "I would just pick out the biggest son of a bitch and hit him first" he had said, which made complete sense to me.
We returned the following year to hunt with Leonard. He was, once again pleased that our game were all harvested with a one shot kill. I always felt more like family, like his son rather than a customer. The pressures of work, and a young family prevented me from hunting with him the following year, or the year after that, or for that matter several years. He called me one day, I believe in 1980 or 1981, and invited me to accompany he and his grandson on a deer hunt in the Bighorn Mountains. I was as pleased to have been invited as if I had been given a million dollars. Unfortunately I had to decline. Pressures of work again. Passing up that trip is very close to the top of the list of decisions I regret having made in my life.
I learn that he had retired from his job as chief of police in 1984, and was surprised to learn that he was appointed municipal judge in 1985. I learned today, quite by chance, that he had passed away. I decided to write down my memories of Leonard Whisler before my recollection fades any more. Leonard left a lasting impression on me. He was a fine man, a good Christian, and someone I admired and always will. I suppose he had his flaws, and those who did not like him will be quick to point them out. But for me, the world could use a few more Leonard Whisler’s. I think of him often and feel blessed that our paths crossed. So long old friend…I will be along to join you in due course.
 
 
 
 
 
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