Terry Larson

“First Man of the River”

Terry Larson, mid sixties, born and raised in Itasca Township, now lives on Wolf Lake some 30-40 miles away, still along the Mississippi. Family land—Gulsvig Landing—remains an important fixture of his and his family’s life here at Itasca. He’s often considered the “first man of the river,” and he has been interviewed and written about many, many times before. He’s a practiced interviewee, coming with prepared stories and recitations, and yet the sentiment feels true and authentic.

He launched our time together speaking of his family history and land as we met right upon it, and he wandered into a more personal story of his experience with injury—how it changed his life to suffer and overcome pain, with much thanks to the river.

Almost immediately, in telling us these stories, he waded into the narrow stream called the Mississippi there at Gulsvig Landing to fetter out what he thought was a bottle containing a handwritten message. In the end, this excursion turned into a science lesson, as he showed us the precious fresh water sponge growing on the rocks beneath the surface and plucked a few off the rocks for us to keep for our research.

Tom held his arm so as not to slip on the rocks as he climbed out of the cleanest part of the river here at Itasca, and we finally began our recordings and made our way down through the Gulsvig land to his most special spot for a blessing, some foraging, a poem of majestic dying, and many more stories on the day.

Nearly four and a half hours later, we had traveled many circles together, finding ourselves right in the middle of it all—a lesson from Ojibwe warrior Ozaawindib (Yellow Head) that Terry shared with us: apparently he once said to explorer Schoolcraft on his expedition to the source of the Mississippi, “why is the white man so intent on learning the beginning and the end of everything, when it is the middle that matters.”