Lester Big Goose finds keys Lawrence Jacobsen lost nearly 4 decades ago
He holds in his hands a set of rusty keys that unlock memories of life in the Carson Valley, life in the military and reflections on the past.
Recently, Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen was presented with a set of keys he had lost in the Sierra foothills nearly three dozen years ago, by another military veteran, Lester Big Goose of Dresslerville.
Finding keys lost that many years ago is fantastic enough, but the circuitous route these rusty relics took to get back to the hands of Jacobsen, 77, is a story itself.
Thirty-five or 36 years ago, Jacobsen, then a volunteer ambulance driver with the Minden Fire Dept., responded to a call regarding a boy who had fallen off a cliff with possible injuries up Kosser Canyon south of the old Kingsbury Grade. In the struggle of that rescue, Jacobsen lost a very special set of keys.
“We went out on the call in a one ton panel truck,” Jacobsen recalled. “We found the boy, who had fallen off a cliff, set his leg, and used a basket gurney to lower him down,” Jacobsen said. “I remember he was about 10 or 12 and scared, thinking he’d fall out of the gurney, but I told him, ‘From what I learned in the Navy about rope tying, you don’t need to worry – once I’ve tied you in, you’re not coming out.'”
After the successful rescue, Jacobsen checked for his keys and couldn’t find them.
“I went back two or three times looking for those keys, but I never found them,” he said. “They were special to me because my original 1939 dog tag was on there.”
One day, nearly four decades later, Lester Big Goose, a member of the Washoe Reform Council, was at one of the Indian cemeteries in the Valley, looking for exposed human bones – a rumored result of the last two years’ flooding in that particular area off Foothill Road north of what is now Kingsbury Grade. He came across a strange clump of metal while he was visually scouring the ground.
“We were up there looking over the graves because there had been reported human bones uncovered in the floods,” Big Goose said. “We were trying to find out if there were any bones there, and I came across this set of rusty keys as I was looking. They were sitting a little bit north of the cemetery, and for a minute I worried that there would be skeletonized bones somewhere up the canyon.”
When Big Goose picked up the object, he began to notice a familiar item on the ring – a dog tag from the military. An Army veteran himself, the son of a longtime veteran, Leonard Big Goose, who served for 32 years, including World War II and the Korean War, and brother to two men who fought in Vietnam, Big Goose, 48, reached down and picked up the clump, cleaning off the dog tag to see if he could read it.
“It was pretty dirty, but when I cleaned it off, I could read the name on it,” he said with a smile. “I was pretty excited when I saw whose it was.”
His wife, Andrea James-Big Goose, called the senator and told him they had something of his and invited him to their home to get it.
“Driving there, I couldn’t imagine what it could be,” Jacobsen said. “At first, when I got there, she played with me a bit and didn’t tell me right away. Then, when she showed me the keys, I remembered them and couldn’t believe it.”
There, on the ring with eight rusty keys, a rusty crescent wrench and an equally rusty skeleton key, which Jacobsen says he used to open the back door of “almost every house in town” when he was the local ice man, was his old original 1939 dog tag, with his name, blood type and service number, 3760494 – the worse for wear, but still readable.
Also on the ring, he rediscovered a perfectly preserved tag from the heavy cruiser, USS Astoria, where he spent four years on the “Nasty Asty,” through the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of the Midway. The small oval tag reads: “If found, return to Jake, USS Astoria, V-Div, and receive reward.”
It was those last two words that caught the eye of Andrea James-Big Goose. Half joking, half serious, she asked the senator what his reward would be for the return of the keys.
“When I asked her what she might like, she said that all she wanted was to make sure someone took care of that cemetery,” he said. “It was damaged in the flood and the fence needs repairing. I thought it was the least I could do to see what I could do about getting it taken care of.”
Jacobsen is now attempting to research the history of the small cemetery through the state archives office in Carson City. He also plans to contact the Carson Valley Historical Society and see if they have any data on it, and then proceed from there.
“I might see about using the inmate crews to help,” he said. “I’ve been taking care of the veteran’s cemetery here in town for many years.”
The hand off of lost and found keys from one veteran to another, from Lester Big Goose to Lawrence Jacobsen, seemed a fitting connection, both men agreed.
Big Goose’s mission at the cemetery the day he found the keys, was one of respect for those who were buried there, and the possibility that their bones could have been unearthed in the same flood waters that washed Jacobsen’s keys out into the open.
“I was there because I think we have a responsibility to each other,” Big Goose said. “Without that, we are just faces in the crowd.”
Andrea Big Goose said she remembered that when times were tough in Dresslerville, Jacobsen, then delivering heating oil for Union Oil, continued to deliver oil to her parents’ home although the money was not at hand sometimes.
“I remember delivering to Ivan James,” Jacobsen said. “I delivered to practically everyone. We worked things out.”
Jacobsen said he will likely donate the rusty keys to the historical society, and hopes to continue to make headway in paying back the “reward” for the return of his keys.
“I still can’t believe it,’ he said. “They bring back so many memories.”
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