Oaklee hypothermia death: 'It's going to be different with Bill gone'
Carl Larson, 95, the last of four Swedish bachelor brothers who raised horses and farmed near Oklee, Minn., remains hospitalized in Thief River Falls after suffering hypothermia when he walked away from the farmstead last week.
His condition has been upgraded from serious to fair, a nursing supervisor said Monday.
Carl's brother, William, 98, also had wandered into the evening chill late Nov. 10. He died shortly after he was found lying in a field early Wednesday by two deer hunters.
When neighbors failed to find Carl Larson at home, they began a search of the surrounding countryside with Red Lake County sheriff's deputies and volunteers with the Oklee Fire Department.
Edward Larson, no relation but a friend and neighbor of the Larson brothers, found Carl lying in a ditch about a tenth of a mile from home.
"I thought he was a goner when I first came up," Edward said. "But I saw his foot move."
Carl was taken to MeritCare Hospital in Thief River Falls, where he was listed initially in serious condition.
"But he's still with us, and he's planning on coming home," Edward Larson said.
Edward and his wife, Sharon, visited Carl at the hospital.
"They're doing a little therapy with him," Edward said. "But for lying out in the elements all night, he didn't even get a cold. He was able to make a smile and said he felt strong, and he was looking forward to coming home.
"He said that William had been failing for some time. He had been sleeping close to 24 hours a day the past few days."
Carl said the brothers had been working in an outbuilding on the farm, skinning a deer someone had given them, when William apparently dozed off. Carl went to get coffee, but in the dark he "missed the house and got completely turned around," Edward Larson said. A yard light controlled from inside the house was turned off, and there were no lights on in the house.
"He told me, 'I wandered around. I was crawling. I saw your yard light and tried to make it, but I didn't.' Apparently William woke up, and Carl wasn't there, and he must have panicked and went looking for him."
Move to town?
Their father had homesteaded the land, then a swampy bog south of Thief River Falls, in 1896.
Roswall Larson, the eldest son, died in 1975 at age 71. George was 85 when he died in 1992.
William and Carl continued to work the farm, tending their fields and animals, cleaning the barns, cutting and stacking firewood.
Except for military service in World War II -- William scrambled ashore at Normandy, while Carl served as a medic in the South Pacific -- neither brother spent much time away from the farm. They scoffed at the notion of moving into town.
"We feel the town is the poorest place you can be in," Carl Larson said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio last year. "That's about the same as these nursing homes. If you live in town you just sit and look out the window. But here we can go out and do something, you know."
None of the brothers ever married.
"We never found a woman who would take second place to a horse," William said in a 1992 interview with the Grand Forks Herald, though he attributed that explanation to his brother Carl.
Even then, the three brothers -- George was still alive then -- raised and sold Belgian horses. They mowed, baled and stacked 8,000 bales of alfalfa hay to feed the horses, and they cut and stacked poplar and oak firewood for the house.
"We do everything the hard way," Carl said in 1992.
"We're too old to change," William said.
They didn't like all the change that was happening around them.
"In a way, we liked it better when we first started," William said. "When we first started, we talked with our neighbors across the fence lines and across the roads. Now everyone is too busy."
In the 2008 interview, part of MPR's celebration of Minnesota's 150th anniversary, William and Carl said their father was a cowboy in Montana when he heard that free land could be had in northern Minnesota.
To claim his 160 acres in 1896, John Larson walked 40 miles from Crookston.
"This land was just nothing but swamp," Carl said, but the family drained and cleared it and gradually expanded the farm to 1,000 acres. The boys fed chickens and drove horses by the time they were 5. They attended a nearby one-room schoolhouse through 8th grade.
"They were still clear as a bell, both of them," neighbor Edward Larson said. "They could talk to you about anything.
"Just a week ago, they were over here, and William was talking about how he went ashore at Normandy in 1944. He said, 'I can't believe how lucky I am. I went in and they were hauling bodies out on trucks, and I never got a scratch.' "
Sharon Larson said the brothers had a big garden in recent years and distributed much of their produce to neighbors. "They brought us 22 ice cream pails of strawberries this year," she said. "We didn't have to pick them. They did that."
"Yes, Carl will want to get back in the garden," her husband said. "First of March, he'll be seeding his plants in the house.
"It's going to be so different for us now with Bill gone," he said. "We take it for granted they're over there. We always have."