My Sister Died Yesterday

Elizabeth J. Laden, a few years ago.

Some of my earliest memories are of my sister, BJ, who later preferred to be called Elizabeth. Each of my three siblings, all older than me, had a measurable influence on my life, influences that happened when I was little when they, much older, were mostly ignoring me (I'm not saying that is a bad thing). In the case of Elizabeth, the influence was mainly socio-political. She was the girl that the Catholic school probably regretted admitting because she was trouble, or at least, that's the sense I got. She was a hippie when being a hippie was the rough equivalent of being gay or black or whatever, in that if you walked down certain streets people would look at you hard, say bad things to you, and occasionally physically attack you. (No illusions here... one could terminate one's hippie status more easily than one's status as a black person or a gay person.) She was a principle organizer of Refer and Equinox, organizations designed to help at risk youth, and she organized the famous demonstration against the attack on Attica. And no, she had nothing to do with the bomb that went off on that day in the state office building. Anyway, BJ, er, Elizabeth, was an active and a radical and I came to admire that and became my own sort of activist and radical in my own time.

Elizabeth started the Yellowstone Gateway Post while she lived in West Yellowstone. Later, on moving to Island park, Idaho, she started the the Island Park News.

When I was about 13 or so, she and David, who would be Ben's father, moved to California, but a funny thing happened to them on the way; they moved to Montana instead. Then divorced, and eventually Elizabeth and John got together and married. I think Elizabeth and John had a good relationship and were very happy with each other. For years, after moving out West, Elizabeth was a reporter for newspapers, for the AP, and eventually, ran her own newspapers (three or four in total, though most people will remember two of them). This was mainly in the Yellowstone area.

After moving to West Yellowstone, Elizabeth fell in love with mountains and the Park and all that. She became an expert fly fisherperson, and was a guide for a while. I don't know how much they have fished lately, but she and John would fly fish for everything. Catfish. Walleye. But of course, usually trout. Elizabeth also fell in love with the people and the culture of the land. She was the only reporter allowed into Elizabeth Clare Prophet's compound, probably because she did not automatically assume her to be crazy. I think she came to admire the philosophy of the Sagebrush Rebellion. The leftist radicalism that got her in trouble with the FBI in the early 1970s became what she called "free thinking realism" which to most people I know means, basically, libertarianism.

Politics can be complicated, even if you live in a log cabin. Even though my own political orientations were strongly influenced by my sister, later on, we tended to disagree about certain, but not all, things.

She was admired and awarded accolades for her journalism. If you ever read much about the Great Fires of Yellowstone, the fights over bison vs. cattle in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, the reintroduction of wolves in the park, or the problems and ethics of tourist-Grizzly bear interaction, you've read her work, either as a byline or as an AP report, because she was the reporter on the scene from the 1970s trough the present. And if you've visited the Yellowstone area and picked up the local paper, the Yellowstone Gateway Post, that was hers. She eventually returned to her religious roots, left behind quite a long time earlier, to become a form of Christian, but before doing that, she was admitted to a Native American cult and became a Crow Shaman. And so on. Let's just say she was into a lot of things, and she and John shared an interest in and relationship with Native American issues, both cultural and political.

Wherever Elizabeth lived...a commune named Joy Tribe, a farm in the foothills, West Yellowstone, a small town in the Idaho mountains, she became a core member of a community, a community that probably would not have even existed had she not been there. One could say she was a leader. Others might say she was the irritant that made the pearl form around her. Personally, I don't think there is a difference.

Elizabeth with Ben and Koren.

Elizabeth's younger child is Ben, and he's a smart guy who takes the time to think about things and question the received knowledge the world seems to always have ready for us. Elizabeth's older child is Koren. She and I are only 10 years apart, Elizabeth having been born just under 10 years before me, and Koren before Elizabeth was 20. Korky is one of my favorite people. They are both now adults with kids. Of note is the fact that Ben was born in the log cabin built by Elizabeth, on the outskirts of West Yellowstone. Also of note is that he weighted 10 pounds at the time. Elizabeth has written two novels.

Yesterday, Elizabeth suffered a major aneurysm and quite unexpectedly died at a relatively young age.

You may know Elizabeth as a commenter on this blog, and if you are my Facebook friend, from there. She commented here now and then as Elizabeth, but more often as CalderaGal.

My other sister, Bunny, has written a post on her memories of Elizabeth. They are much more detailed than mine because they were much closer in age, and for a long time lived together, lived as neighbors, or worked together or for related organizations.

More like this

Sorry for your loss.

By stillwaggon (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Beautiful tribute Greg. I am so sorry for your loss. Elizabeth was remarkable and I truly enjoyed her perspective on the world and the impact she made on so many. I wish I had gotten to know her better.

By Sondrah Laden (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

My deepest condolences to you and your family. It's really special that you remembered your sister in this way. I wish all of you many fond memories that make you smile even as your hearts are hurting.

By Amy Phillips Bursch (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

I'm so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful story about her. She sounded fascinating.

By Lynn Wilhelm (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

You have my deepest sympathies, Greg. My step mother passed last year from a very sudden aneurysm as well, and she too was an epic force of nature. Your tribute to your sister was beautiful, and i send your entire family warm thoughts in your time of loss.

By Double Shelix (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Greg, I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your tribute to your sister.

Oh, damn. Elizabeth was one of those people who are so entirely who they are that you forget things like this can happen. She was an institution, if you will.

Thinking of you and the rest of the family. Let me know if I can do anything to make life easier.

By Stephanie Zvan (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

So sorry for your loss, Greg. Your tribute was wonderful. Be kind to yourself and your family for the next little while.

I am sorry to hear of your loss, Greg, my thoughts are with your family.

By Clay Oertel (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

I will fondly remember CalderaGal, every time I think of the Yellowstone Caldera, which is quite often.

By Andrew C. (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Sorry for your loss. I remember the Yellowstone Post, from multiple trips through the area.

Rest and remember, best to you and yours.

Sincere condolences. Let me know if there's anything I can do, no matter how minor.

By Jason Thibeault (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink


My condolences.

By Physicalist (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Sorry to learn of Elizabeth's passing. She worked for us at the Chronicle for many years, covering the West Yellowstone area. I remember her stories about reintroducing trumpeter swans. She was an original, and your tribute captured her well. Condolences, Gail S.

By Gail Schontzler (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Sorry for your loss.

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Greg: I just became friends with Elizabeth on facebook a few weeks ago. I have not seen her in years but she is someone I will miss. Knowing she is not still out there, raising her own brand of hell makes me very sad. Jim Spas's brother, Paul and I hitchhiked to NYC with Elizabeth when Paul and I were 16 years old. She was our elder and our teacher. We followed her without hesitation into the bowels of 42nd street for a wild 48 hours of country boy innocence shattering adventure. Jim had to send us bus fare via Western Union to get us out of there, we were thrilled to survive and not have been thrown in jail. I think I can speak for both Paul and I when I say we would have followed her right back there to do it all over again.

Thank you for sharing such a moving tribute to your sister. She sounds truly remarkable. I'm sorry for your loss.


By Justin Starr (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

My condolences and deepest sympathies. I lived in Wyoming for a long time, and I am certain I have read her writing before.

By Tomato Addict (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

I am the current County Prosecutor and Elizabeth and I had a love-hate-admired each other relationship. Reading your background of her, I realize now that we had more in common than differences--catholic school girls gone wild. Her last email me to me said "when this is all over (the campaign) let's have a glass of wine on my patio. Cheers Elizabeth! She will leave a tremendous void and I will truly miss her.

By joette lookabaugh (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink


You and your family have my sympathy. What a wonderful and meaningful life she had.

My condolences to you and your family, Greg. Rest assured that she indeed lived a meaningful life and that she lives on in your collective thoughts and in her children.

I'm so sorry, Greg.

By Dan Fincke (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

I am sorry for your sudden loss, Greg. I hope the memories, friends, and family provide you with some measure of solace during this difficult time. Peace.

Greg, my very deepest condolences. What a loss.

Thank you Greg. And, thank you, thank you, thank you, Eliz for your contribution to my life and the lives of others. You are deeply missed but will never be forgotten.

By Christy Warner (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

My Condolences. One of the suckier things about growing old - we lose more loved ones along the way.

By GrayGaffer (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

My deepest sympathy.

By John Pieret (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

How very, very awful. I'm so sorry.

By Susan Silberstein (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

I, too, extend my deepest sympathies for the sudden loss. I was friends on facebook and loved her comments, but had no idea how much she had done and accomplished in her too short life.

By Michael Haubrich (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

That's terrible news, I'm sorry Greg. I'll try to count her in the list of people that I think of when I'm feeling sorry for myself and need some inspiration.

By John Moeller (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments, sympathies, remembrances, and so on, it is much appreciated. I don't know what is going to happen in the near future, but I understand we'll hear from John about a possible memorial gathering.

It is nice to hear that people care. Also, please note that my post was not meant to be comprehensive, I left quite a bit out!

Again, thanks, this is actually me being speechless. In three paragraphs but still....

Very sorry for your loss. It looks like she may have lived more than most ever will, if that helps.

Her death is a terrible shock and leaves a great void with many people. My thoughts and prayers to you and the rest of her family. My husband and I contributed photos to the paper. Loved your blog and thank you for sharing the memories. I have posted a tribute in my own blog:

By Jean Bjerke (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

What a moving tribute. I never knew anything about Elizabeth, but through your words I feel I have gotten to know her a bit and I share your sense of loss.

By August Berkshire (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink

My condolences, too.

By CherryBombSim (not verified) on 22 Sep 2012 #permalink

She was a wonderful friend. So strong and caring. We will miss her so much. Prayers for all her family. The world lost a great lady.

By Ken and Jerrie… (not verified) on 23 Sep 2012 #permalink

Hi Greg,
I guess I'm a bit late in learning this, but reading it this a.m., even on the fly, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am to hear this and, of course, let you know that I'm thinkiing of you. Bad as my memory is, I think you were one of the first people in our department to offer me condolences when my youngest brother Scott was killed. Do you recall this? It really meant a lot to me. Hang in there.

By Joe Marcus (not verified) on 24 Sep 2012 #permalink

Joe, I do recall that and I occasionally remember and think of some of the conversations we had then. My friend Ana and I talked last night about how when something like this happens, we each felt a need to know the facts, details, all the information. That made me think of your situation, because that is what you did then.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Hello Greg,

Our deepest sympathies to you and your family. Elizabeth was a valuable and important part of our community. Losing her is like cutting out one of our mountains......we now have.a huge empty space in our landscape. She will be missed and revered for a long time. Your life sketch was elegant and touching, thank you. She did so much and we are glad for the opportunity to have had her with use for any amount of time. You are in our thoughts.

George and Jackie Morrison
Island Park, Idaho

By George Morrison (not verified) on 24 Sep 2012 #permalink

Greg - so sorry for your loss. Your tribute to your sister was beautifully done.

By Doug Alder (not verified) on 26 Sep 2012 #permalink

So sudden. From your tribute I would gather that your sister's thunder will roll on long after her light has flashed out.

By Richard Chapman (not verified) on 26 Sep 2012 #permalink

Greg, We thought that her obituary in the Post Register was greatly lacking in just how amazingly remarkable a person Elizabeth was and so glad to red your blog about her. We were there yesterday for Elizabeth's funeral Mass and thought that she would be happy with the arrangements. Also, I too, grew up in an all girls Catholic school. Elizabeth and I had many long and interesting discussions about our earlier education. She will be greatly missed by so many...Judy, Chan, Lyn & Sue Atchley

By Judith Atchley (not verified) on 29 Sep 2012 #permalink

Greg, what a great tribute to your sister. We attended her Funeral Mass yesterday and believe that Elizabeth would have been happy with everything. I too, was educated in an all girls Catholic school and Elizabeth and I had many long and interesting discussions. She will be greatly missed...Judy, Chan, Lyn & Sue Atchley

By Judith Atchley (not verified) on 29 Sep 2012 #permalink

We attended her Mass yesterday and think that Elizabeth would have been very happy with everything. My education in an all girls Catholic school led to many interesting discussions with Elizabeth. She will be greatly missed...Judy, Chan, Lyn & Sue

By Judith Atchley (not verified) on 29 Sep 2012 #permalink

Greg, sorry, about the extra blogs. I thought when it said awaiting...that my blog was too long. So, as you can read I tried to shorten what I was feeling. If you can, could you erase the extras? Thanks

By Judith Atchley (not verified) on 29 Sep 2012 #permalink

Sorry for your loss. What an amazing sister.

By Paul Lagreze (not verified) on 22 Sep 2013 #permalink