The last time I talked to Dale Olson he was busy teaching children how to ride. As president of the Shoshone Back Country Horsemen, he was determined to bring new members to the …
The last time I talked to Dale Olson he was busy teaching children how to ride. As president of the Shoshone Back Country Horsemen, he was determined to bring new members to the group.
“Community service is a hard sell these days,” he told me while working at the free clinic. The group set a record that day, with about three times more kids joining the fun than in previous years. Dale was proud of the group’s new banner and the program’s success.
The local chapter is the most active in the national organization, clearing about 150 miles of trails annually in the Shoshone National Forest. Without the volunteers, many area trail systems would become overgrown, littered with fallen trees and possibly lost forever.
Many opt to simply ride without giving much thought to those laboring behind the scenes. Dale was not that guy.
About six years ago Dale and his wife, Carol, were riding the Little Rock Creek Trail, in the Beartooth Mountains near Clark, and found it cleared of trees and debris.
“He was like, OK, who cleared this trail? This is awesome,” Carol said. “He said, ‘Whoever’s doing this, I’ve got to be part of it.’”
Dale found out the Shoshone chapter of the Back Country Horsemen had done the work and quickly joined them. The Belfry area resident was already a member of the Beartooth chapter of the national organization, so he spent much of his time in retirement splitting duties between the two groups.
More than anything, Dale wanted folks to be able to explore the forest and fall in love with the wildlands he adored, said his son, Daniel. “He just loved being outdoors.”
The one thing he didn’t want to do was be in a leadership role. He didn’t have the heart to make unpopular decisions, Carol said. Maybe the better way to say it is that Dale respected everybody’s opinion. He was always considerate and empathetic. It made him very likable, according to chapter member Frank Fagan.
“He didn’t really have a best friend,” Fagan said. “Everybody was Dale’s best friend.”
He reluctantly took on leadership roles, first as vice president, then president. He felt the need to do everything he could to help out of a sense of duty, Carol said.
Dale was 75, but he would ride all day to clear a trail. He never shied from hard jobs and approached folks with a graciousness that’s extremely rare.
“You were the only person in the world when he was talking to you,” said Carol.
Dale would look at you with his kind eyes and truly listen to every word. His family and friends were in shock when he died of COVID-19 on May 28. By that time the pandemic was supposed to be over in the Big Horn Basin, Carol said. Many had been vaccinated and life went on. Folks stopped wearing masks at the grocery stores, headed back to in-person services at their local churches and were largely moving on.
When Dale got sick, everyone thought he’d recover, she said. Up until the day before he died it was thought he would just need a little time — maybe needing some extra oxygen while he recovered at home. It wasn’t to be.
After his death, friends and family came to support Carol and the couple’s large family. The Back Country Horsemen came through in a big way, she said.
“Nobody knew what to say. And nobody knew what to do,” Carol said. “But they called and came to help. They listened. The Shoshone group is the best group of people I have ever known. I’m telling you, they surrounded me.”
“My Back Country Horsemen friends were my support,” she added.
The loss was felt across his community.
“Dale was a bright light among us with his quiet faith lived out in love for people, horses and life in the outdoors,” said Kathi Gimmeson, a member of the Shoshone Back Country Horsemen. “He brought a sense of enthusiasm, adventure and encouragement to live life fully, with humor and appreciation, as well as reverence.”
The family listed Dale as a farmer on his death certificate. The truth is he dabbled in several fields to support his family, but he loved being a farmer the most, Carol said, “because he got to work outside.”
A celebration of Dale’s life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Bennett Creek Church (11 Road 8WC) in Clark. Those seeking to join the horsemen can contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.