Passages Four

Do you save things? I do. When I’m walking along a creek bed or a forest path I find things. Odd things. Pretty things. Curious things. Sometimes I put them in my pocket. Momentos…

When I return home I put these things on the window sill in my cabin, or my bookshelves, or anyplace I can find to tuck them in. They remind me, sometimes decades later, of trips I took, vacations Kathy and I shared, people I’ve met or moments I am glad I can still recall.

The items are certainly meaningless and practically valueless to anyone beyond me. My descendants will be left scratching their cumulative heads wondering why on earth I kept this stuff. If they only knew the sacred memories they served up.

Below is one of Forrest’s interesting saves…


The Price of Freedom

History will not say that Alex LaFountain was a great sculptor, unless you throw grit and character into the mix as requirements to that end, then he would nicely fit the description.

In 1967, I met him at an art show in Great Falls. His bronzes were spread out on a display in front of us. We spoke about him casting his work in his own foundry. I was impressed because I was lost wax casting in my garage in Lubbock and was just learning the craft. He shared some ideas with me that were helpful.

As I turned to leave, Alex reached into a box and pulled out something that quickly gave me pause. It was an original wax model of a wolf. I thought it was wonderful, and he handed it to me.

The Price of Freedom
-Alex LaFountain

The Price of Freedom
-Alex LaFountain

The poor animal, with hair standing up on his back and ribs hard pressing against his skin, was chewing his leg off to gain independence from a steel trap. His turned up nose posed snarling contempt for whoever lay that horrible device in his wait.

I purchased the model from Alex with the handshake understanding that it would cast in only thirty copies.

I quickly made the mold and started casting bronzes. The first one I poured was #28, thinking that the casting bugs would be worked out before making the lower numbers, which would be more valuable. Twenty-eight of the copies were sold over time, but I liked #28 so much I’ve kept it all of these ensuing 50 years. I also kept the #1 copy, but I can’t remember why.

Valor can lay hidden in the human body for many years with no requirement to expose its existence. Then, with only a moment’s notice, it can reveal itself in astonishing ways. That’s how heroes are made.

In 1971, Alex and some friends were floating down the Missouri River on a sunny afternoon getaway. Near Great Falls, Alex heard a frantic voice crying out, and noticed someone floundering in the water. Although not a strong swimmer, he dove in and swam to the rescue. Evidently, in his struggle to save someone he didn’t know, Alex was pulled under and disappeared in the sweep of water.

Every time I look at my The Price of Freedom bronze I think of Alex, and how tentative life is for all of God’s creatures. f


117 thoughts on “Passages Four

  1. There he goes again with enough clues to take you straight to the treasure site if you know where to look.

      • I read he was in Great Falls Montana riding down the Missouri with his wife on an air mattress when they spotted the swimmer…somehow seems irony in how at peace he must have been on his last ride.

        • No, I’m his grandson, They were on a boat drinking. He knew the man drowning and went to save him, after doing so he grabbed his chest and went under not to be seen alive again.

  2. The price of freedom is high and it has been paid by many fallen soldiers since 1776… to them I say “thank you” for my freedom….

    Thank you too Forrest for your service supporting those freedoms…..

    Have a great night my friends….see ya

  3. It is sad, and I thought a long time before deciding to tell the story, I wondered how many readers would not be ready for it. But when I look around the world today and see so many people struggling just to stay alive I can look at the bronze and be reminded that we may have hard times coming in this country. No matter how tough things get we must always do whatever we must, and never give up, never, never. I love that beautiful wolf. f

    • Forrest Fenn
      sad story,
      sad memorys.
      I wonder the other 28 bronze statues that were sold
      if they knew of this story.
      you have two. #28 & #1.
      you have a house full of memorys
      thank you for sharing this one with us.


    • Bittersweet story and a nice bronze Mr Fenn. Interesting that Mr LaFountain was part Chippewa, How much would you sell one of those wolves for(?) 🙂


      • There are some things I’m sure Mr. Fenn would never ever sale, sometimes things cannot be bought.

    • Forrest – Thanks for sharing such a difficult story; sometimes the lessons learned are not ones we would expect or prefer.

      When my brother and I were going to college, we had a painting business during the summer with a couple other people working with us. One hot, sunny day, we had a job postpone for a day so everyone had the day off. Two of the guys decided to go swimming at a local dam. While swimming about 20 feet from shore in about 8 feet deep of murky water, one of them quietly slipped under. The other tried unsuccessfully to find and rescue him. About three hours later, divers finally recovered the body of this bright young man who had an exciting and promising life ahead of him.

      On the day of the funeral, my brother and I were headed to Idaho where our friend was from. But with my less than superior map skills, we ended up on the wrong road. We never arrived for the funeral. Even today, each paint can I see is a poignant reminder of that hole somewhere inside for the loss of that friend. Unfortunate for me, paint cans are far more common than wolf bronzes, and far less pleasant to look at.

      How I wish we had painted that day.

      • JCM, that’s a difficult memory to have, and you’re right, there’s a lot of paint cans out there. But, don’t be so hard on yourself for being a bad map reader. I think your friend knows you tried to get there. Maybe you can go to the top of the prettiest hill where you live and have your own private memorial service for him. I bet he would like that. I hope I haven’t upset you, but your story tugged at my heartstrings and I guess having your own little memorial is something you could do to let him know how much you care. Maybe fill a paint can with good stuff for him and keep it.

    • Forrest,
      You are so right, and with that being said we need to be there for each other not always be thinking about what WE can get but what we can give.
      Showing love to our neighbor always.. and not setting traps for any animals, crying my eyes out now!

    • Well Goofy, without getting into the political side if the [ and I agree with your assessment ] I’ll just add this;
      “A person is smart. People are dumb…”
      We the People, have become herded cattle.

    • Mr. Fenn,
      I for one am glad you told the story. I hope all here truly take a moment and think about the struggle the bronze model represent to them personally…
      The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    • Thank you for ending up deciding to share this story, Forrest. You had the good fortune to be friends with quite a few talented and amazing people who are now gone from this Earth. I like reading and learning about them, and your stories are beautiful literary monuments to their memory.

    • Yep, Forrest, this was the first time I read a story of yours and was upset…not because a great man died saving another human being but because of the wolf. It reminded me of the picture I sent you last year about this time of the German Shepard I found caught in the animal trap. That story had a happier ending.

      • Yes Cynthia, I knew when you read this post it would remind you of that day/incident.
        Trapping animals is such a cruel and inhumane thing to do.
        I’m glad you were able to free that poor dog and it hadn’t been injured. 🙂

    • Unwritten Rocky Mountain tourism brochure:

      “Washington got you down? Come out to the Rocky Mountains and find some gold!”

      Unwritten diary of a politician forty-years hence:

      “No one took me seriously until I found that chest of gold in the mountains. I used the fame and fortune to change the world!”

      Unwritten drug advertisement:

      “Are you suffering from being a stupid, immoral, fat, lazy, mindless lemming of the government? Take 42 lbs of gold and you’ll feel much better in the morning!”

      Unwritten career advice:

      “Do you really want to be a wolf? Be a hound dog, it pays better!”

      Looking for a treasure chest won’t fix everything that’s wrong in the world, but I assure you, it does provide an excellent distraction.

      • Jeremy P-Thanks for the laugh.

        Good Morning to all.

        Unity of heart and spirit is elusive in homes, families, churches, states and countries.

        Standing together untied is so important! Take the Arctic Ox…there was a herd of 11 with small calves. They united, will form a tight semi circle to almost a horseshoe formation with calves inside, and position themselves facing the calves so hind quarters face outwards to deliver hard kicks to their enemiy the Arctic Wolf. Which hunt in packs. One of these Oxen became nervous and took off, causing the group to break up into two small arcs, leaving entire herd at risk. Adult oxen recongnizing this all took off in various directions abandoning their calves to save themselves.

        United we stand. Divided we fall.

      • @crazyfamily – People seriously overestimate the value of their browser history. Let me correct your headline: “Man buys browser data looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure, finds embarrassing amount of cute cat photos instead.”

        • I think its a coffee and grits morning with a dash of salt and tabasco given the tenor of talk today. Oh ya, don’t forget an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

    • Mr. Fenn said “flight” not fight.

      Homo sapiens should have the ability to fly

    • That’s a beautiful story Mr. Fenn. Alex is my father’s father, he was a great artist and a well known war hero. He knew all too well the struggles of life and death which as you can see were conveyed in this piece. The things we do to stay alive.

  4. Beautiful tragedy…I wonder if Forrest would consider a trade for this powerful work of art since he has more than one. Guess I’ll have to go get the turquoise bracelet and find out.

    P.S.- Has anyone heard from Davio22 since he went out to search in early March?

      • I find one of the post as inspirational. In part:

        ‘I have kept this sculpture (wolf and trap) as an inspiration to my youngest as he is about to through a serious surgery (amputation of his leg) and the sculpture shows the wolf spirit of tenacity and determination to survive.’ — Raul Luis — April 18, 2016– 7:45 a.m..

      • Hello all,

        Firstly, to Mr. Fenn and Mr. La Fountain, a hearty THANK YOU for the information on Alex La Fountain and his untimely passing. I wish I had had a chance to meet him, but sadly he was gone before I was born. When I wrote about the piece I own (I believe it’s called “Dancing Bear” but that’s a shot in the dark – it’s the post on my blog referenced above), I only had a short, two paragraph obituary to base my post on. As I didn’t wish to plagiarize it, I only hit on the highlights.

        Your thoughts and remembrances of this fine man are deeply appreciated. Even being impaired by drink and his health, he still jumped into the dangerous waters of the Missouri River to try and save a friend in distress. To me that’s an ultimate act of bravery. There is no greater act of love than to lay one’s life down for a friend.

        I know that I treasure my bronze. I’m proud to have it in my collection.

        Frank B
        The Bronze Hound

    • ~Has any one heard from Davio22?

      *Can Dal email him and see if you can find out if he is ok?

  5. Through your story you have rang his bell so to speak and he is remembered. I’m sure he likes your story and it makes him proud.

  6. Men laying traps. Men dropping bombs. Same old story. The innocent pay the price.

  7. “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”.
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Great story Forrest, thank you.

  8. I also had a frein by the name of Alex LaFountain, we grew up about 100 miles or so from Great Falls, i wonder if they were related, i got into a fight at school with him and my father explained he was my relative 🙂

  9. Full of tears will be that day
    When from the ashes shall arise
    The quilty man to be Judged
    Therefore Spare him, O God.
    Merciful lord Jesus,
    Grant them eternal Rest.Amen —-eXit in peace,go in in peace,peace in peace.end in peaceRest.

  10. Valor indeed…I’m sorry such a great man, and your friend with a heart for others, was lost to this world. I wonder how many similar deeds of service you are personally responsible for. Often men of valor are humble in their recounting.

    (I was raised on the Missouri River – it’s known for it’s placid surface and dangerous undercurrents. The river’s canyon between Great Falls and the Gates of the Mountains near Helena is truly spectacular in its rugged beauty; one of my favorite drives.)

  11. The fabric of life is woven from many threads. I see a tapestry and sense yet another invaluable life lesson from The Flyer to us all. I feel beauty in its purest form in the sacrifice of Alex LaFountain and am humbled. I believe he would ‘share’ the depth, meaning and real value behind the very first and last bronze.

    Earnest Thompson Seton, Lobo and Blanca. Full circle – The Price of Freedom:

    • Attempt to add information to my 1:42 am penning has failed. (It involved specific historical New Mexico location of LOBO related story).

      Something else ‘appeared’

  12. Like Alex, I cannot swim worth a nickel. I’d probably have ended up with the same story if presented with that scene.

    • It wasn’t that he couldn’t swim, it was his heart. He was seen grabbing his chest with a look of surprise on his face before he went under. My grandmother, (Alex’s Wife) said he had a heart attack. He rescued the man that he was trying to save and to do this in the Missouri you’d have to be a very good swimmer indeed.

  13. The agony I feel for the wolf and every bite, I hate to think about those things.
    I am not a good swimmer at all, a fear of water over my head, Alex Lafountain didn’t hesitate, so much bravery in a time most needed.
    Thank You Alex, Forrest and all who give so that we may be free.

  14. The hard Truth of Freedom has many faces. The basic will to survive is often bittersweet…Today I will remember what Freedom means to me.

  15. Thanks for this story, Forrest.

    Alex seemed like a truly selfless man. Heroism often lies dormant until a need arises. A no one can become a hero in an instant.

    Alex proved this by being in the right place at the right time.

    • Mindy,
      There is no “one” that is a no one, we all have value jus as a sparrow does. We just have to use or value for promoting the good.

      • You’re right Sweettea. 🙂 I was talking more in the sense of not being known, or an unknown. I didn’t mean it in a derogatory sense.

        Everyone is someone. 🙂

  16. Maybe the ole coot is saying life is a great gift let’s all not risk our lives or the lives of others this spring Looking for it in dangerous places I don’t think it’s in water now .

  17. And was a good story ole coot well good but really sad had meaning for sure

  18. Sure set some neurons to firing with this one. All about what if’s and multiple possiblities and the fluidity of coming Time(s). The everflowing fountain of our collective experience. Save them all to save yourself. Reaction Time. Take a deep breath and be calm. Now. Make her stop crying or….

    Learn to swim.

  19. I think that the fact that each of us has been touched by the TWO hero’s in this tale speaks a lot for us as a people. The Wolf, a victim on man’s inhumanity to other species speaks volumes. Life is so very precious, and then Alex, who without even thinking, dove into the waters of the Missouri in hopes of saving someone he did not know – also speaks volumes…If only we listen…If only we listen. Listen to that voice within that screams that we are all one. JDA

  20. Beautifully sad story F! Truth of Freedom can be brutal but we all need this reminder every once in a while to shed the scales from our eyes!

    Thanking all those who have served not just in our military but those who have laid down their life in the service of others known and unknown! And to those who serve in various other ways!

    Being called to love is our greatest service to others! Let us love more!

    Not giving up ever!

  21. Stories like this kind of make me want to learn how to make and cast bronze sculptures. Carving in wax sounds like fun, and maybe I could eventually sculpt something that doesn’t end up looking horrible.

  22. Even though this is such a sad story I really like it for so many reasons. To me, it’s also a perfect example why a nic nac is not just a nic nac. Just looking at that wolf brings a flood of memories and thoughts to Forrest. Some would say it’s just a hunk of metal, but to someone else that wolf is so much more. A very hard thing to explain to people who don’t understand.

  23. I always wished I could see a certain “Ship” be modeled large and cast in bronze. This rendering woud suit a ooastal placement, above the Pacific. A beautiful, mysterious creaton for folks to marvel about. Alas, I also wish I didn’t doubt that I’d eveer see it happen. Mother always said “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Why do so many wishes go begging?

  24. Kindness cannot be measured, especially in the critical time of need such as the threshold of life and death.

  25. This post is still gnawing at my heartstrings. Alex would have been just as much a hero to his family and loved ones by staying on the air mattress…though decisions like that are often even more difficult and, less often, recognized with the level of heroism they, too, entail. So many instant decisions made from one side of the door….unbeknownst to what is on
    the other side, or what ripples may eventually flip a shell on a distant shore a thousand miles away, nor which way that shell may flip. There are no best decisions. Theyre all gray.

  26. This passage strikes so many chords with me. The decision to stay on the raft, to his family and loved ones, may have been even more difficult and heroic (albeit less recognised) than the one to jump in. Bravery and valor come in so many colors….though all of them are gray. Luck and circumstance tend to provide the illusions for casting more or less vibrant tones.

    It is more than a coincidence, to me, that Forrest took Alexs wax sculpture on a handshake, and cast it into his medal. That’s how I know he’s a stout hearted man.

    • For certain kinds of people there is no decisions to make. It is automatic. The jumper lives. The catcher is gone. g

  27. Jars of clay, indeed. I am reminded to never cease from filling the jar with the best of treasures, while the vessel still holds.

  28. Yes, such a sad ending. This story reminds me of the time my family and I were at Abiqui Lake kayaking and canoeing for the day. We were taking a break and were on short when a young man came over to me and said someone was drowning and pointed to him. I yelled to my husband who was in the water to swim over there to help him. He did swim over, but the young man had already gone under and there was a deep cavern there. I was hysterical watching this young man die. We blew our emergency whistles, called 911, and waited for the emergency vehicles to arrive. I kept screaming for someone to save him. But, alas he was gone.
    I replayed this horrific scene over and over in my mind. Eventually I was able to find out his name and my daughter and I were able to contact his family and go to his viewing. They were so happy to meet me. I was able to answer some of their questions … like no one pulled him under, he drowned on his own and I mentioned the 3 people who had been with him and then fled. They invited us over to their tiny little mobile home in Espanola afterwards and we talked more. Although I could not save Cesar, at least we were able to give his family some comfort. I also wrote a letter to the editor and asked for people to send money to a fund for his burial. HIs family did not have money for a casket.
    Cesar has always stayed in my heart. We are connected through his death forever. I am so sad that Alex died the way he did. Thank you, Forrest, for not forgetting him.

    • And thank you and your husband as well, Moonshine. Sooner or later, the trio that bolted will be living with what they didn’t……do.

      • Thanks SL … and also thanks for changing MoonShadow to MoonShine! I am from Kentucky!

        Seriously, though, I find it difficult to believe friends would leave another friend in such a tragic moment.

        • Moonshadow,

          Only me; only me!! LOL (Intuition working overtime).

          Appreciate your ‘calm’ sense of humor, my friend.

          SL, or is it…..

  29. Thank you Forrest and Dal. This was such a heartbreaking sorry. Thank you for sharing it. Some go through life with their eyes closed and see so little. You Forrest have lived such a rich life and have seen so many things. Your life has crossed paths with so many amazing people. I can only imagine the stories you have yet to tell.

  30. I think your TTOTC epiphany says it best, ‘We are all here only for the pleasure of others, everything living, only for the pleasure of others’; ‘If I cannot enrich those with whom I interact each day and cause them to be better for having passed their view, then I have wasted my turn’; ‘….and smile at a homely girl’.

  31. And a wise man once said something like…that I succeed is not as important as it is that I try. Alex understood that well.

    What a beautiful world we have with such great lessons in every moment, whether cast in struggle or peace.

    Be hungry to learn; be wise to listen; be relentless in love. Never give up.

  32. Forrest, thank you for sharing parts of your life’s adventures and journey through your wonderful storytelling. Appreciate your wisdom, teachings and encouragement .


  33. I am so heartbroken Mr. Fenn,
    What a kind man to have given you a wax mold! He fell in love with you and was obviously impressed with you!
    Alex lafountian was brave!
    Courage is residents to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear
    Mark Twain
    When my husband used to go to work, he would tell me it was a good day to die.
    WOW! The price of freedom is so great!!!!!
    Mr. Fenn, I cried about this story!
    Do you have some Happy one’s? Thank you Mr Fenn from the bottom of my heart!

  34. I love the “Price of Freedom”.
    “100’000 more powerful and beautiful”…Aron Ralston.
    Thanks for sharing your story,Forrest. Your friend was a humble soul.

  35. There comes a time in your life when others are more important for most.
    You don’t even think about sacrifices at this point, you just do what needs to be done & sometimes you are sacrificed in the process.

    • Jake,
      You are so right, and what I find absolutely amazing is
      …… Freedom is so RARE, the majority of people in this country don’t even realize it!

      • Yes Martha,
        “Freedom shrinks every day.”
        That will be the title of my new book.

        If I am reincarnated in the future, I probably won’t notice being born in a new world without memories of our past.

        This plane is going in the wrong direction.

        • Jake, Love never goes in the wrong direction, when all is said and done in this very short life time.
          I must admit, I am shocked at the fact that the more sophisticated a civilization gets the more it expects!
          Thoughout the centuries the same result, nothing is new under the sun.
          That’s why we must worship God in Truth and in Spirit.
          Love never fails, a twinkling of an eye, we are now talking nano second’s
          I can’t wait to be reincarnated!

  36. Maybe by the middle of this century, People will look at his sculptures from a different perspective. J

  37. Thanks Forrest for a sombering reminder of our existence. The story was eloquently relayed .

    The wolf reminds us of free will as a totem symbol. The lone wolf. And sometimes the wolf is half man- wer. But still a creature of nature.

    I am glad one of my solves includes this beautiful creature in its creek.

  38. Does anyone know the end of the story about Alex’s selfless, heroic act of valor? Was Alex able to save the person from drowning? I wonder, and what that person might say of Alex.

    There are 2. Price of Freedom bronze castings at Arlington National Cemetery. So many Alex’s too.

  39. If I understand the kind of man Mr. Fenn is, I suspect he “chewed off a paw” during Vietnam. Thanx for sharing Mr. Fenn.

  40. Forrest,
    I’m so happy to read your posts, though this one made me sad as well. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing, congratulations on the award, and also thanks to Dal for running this blog. Happy Hunting everyone 🙂

  41. Speaking on passages, I can’t help but notice the chat on this site reminds me of a Poker game. I can’t get a read on any of you. I’m holding my cards and eyeballing every one of you while we wait for the turn. Great story comes to mind of Sho-Lo Arizona and how that town got its name 🙂

  42. Forrest,

    Thank you for the reminder, on more than one level, as we many times get so engulfed in our daily lives that we forget to remember.

    Gone but not to be forgotten. Like so many others, Alex laid down his life to try and save someone else and he will be remembered for that selfless act.

    And the wolf, he’d do anything to save his life, even at the sacrifice of a limb. We have Veterans who in effect have done exactly that and even given up there precious lives to protect our country. We must remember, respect, and honor those acts. Those who have served in defense of America must forever be honored and when they die, on the battlefield or at lifes end, will be gone but not to be forgotten. Remember them EVERYDAY, not just on Veterans Day.

    Thank you again for serving Forrest, I sincerely mean that. Ditto to all the searcher Vets out there in Fenn Land and my brother Mike who flew A-7s in Vietnam near the end of the war.

  43. A Beautiful story btw. Fortunately, or – maybe not – not a lot of people ever have to experience that moment that — hovers between life and death. It shocks you to the core — You lose all sense of reality — of belief — Do you act or — do you freeze? .. Do you run away – or — do you run into that fire? To that mass of — dead and injured bodies .. screaming .. crying for help .. And if you do? — What do you do? .. There’s no experience that prepares you for that moment. You don’t have the training. You don’t have the knowledge — And there’s so many things that go wrong to make it worse .. The numbers are overwhelming. You go numb and lose all sense of everything that happened before that moment .. of everything that is happening during that moment .. And after it’s all done, you wonder who you are .. It’s euphoric when life is restored — but it’s debilitating when all you can do is sit .. and look into their eyes .. and watch the eyes dim .. and the light of a child go dark — \

    And there’s nothing you can do .. to save them .. or bring them back ..


  44. Remembering all that have given the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we share today.

    Today I am remembering A1C Carl J Ware Jr. for his sacrifice.

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