Jo Gjende’s original name was Jo Tjøstolvsson Kleppe. He was born in 1794 at Sørigard Kleppe in Vågå. His father, Tjøstol, fell in the river and drowned in 1797 when Jo was only 3 years old, and his mother died shortly afterwards. After living with his appointed guardian for a few years, he subsequently moved in 1803 to the Heringstad Farm in Heidalen where his aunt and her family lived. His aunt’s husband died when Jo was 13 years old and he soon became her confidant on the farm since he was the eldest. Jo lived at Heringstad for over 20 years. He joined in all of the work both inside and outside at an early age and both around the farm and out in the outlying fields.
And Jo eventually became a great hunter. He was more at home in the mountains with reindeer to keep him company than he was among the people in the village. He was to live a hermit-like existence in the mountains for most of his adult life. First, as a “roaming vagabond” – during summer and winter alike – and subsequently in his hut at Gjendeosen near the river mouth, which he built around 1840. It is still standing there to this very day, and is easily visible from Gjendesheim. Jo Gjende gradually became a legendary reindeer hunter, and it is said that he downed more than 500, most of which were large bucks. One of the most common hunting routes went in across Steinflybreen Glacier and up towards Tjørnholstind Peak.
Jo Gjende was a masterful reindeer hunter, but like many of that period’s great hunters he had a custom that today’s hunters frown upon. He almost always downed the largest bucks. The wild reindeer stocks eventually died completely away. There are now only domesticated reindeer in the area. When you see a flock roaming the Steinflybreen Glacier, it makes you wonder what it must have been like back in the days of Jo Gjende.
However, Jo Gjende was also more than just a reindeer hunter. He had bold ideas concerning life in the local village and in the world in general. Jo learned to read at a late age, but eventually ended up consuming everything he came across and particularly works of a philosophical or religious character. Visitors who met him at his cabin at Gjendeosen met a unique human being who had grown up in “the hidden Norway”, which his century was in the process of discovering. And there were plenty of guests.
An Englishman named Blackwell came to Gjende in the summer of 1855 together with another Englishman (Rathbone) and a servant. They spent much time with Jo during the summer and fall that year, and they shared his passion for hunting and the mountains, and thus ended up getting along quite well. They stayed at Gjende right up until just before Christmas, and it was difficult for Jo when he had to bid them farewell at Ridderspranget. Blackwell later fell for a girl from Våga with whom he got married and settled down in the village. His friendship with Jo lasting all the while. The decade following his meeting with Blackwell and Rathbone were perhaps the best years of Jo’s life.
His reputation as a hunter eventually spread far and wide and he was constantly meeting new and interesting people while continuing to be an “awesome force in the mountains”. In his later years, Jo moved to his farm Brurusten, which he had purchased around 1850. This is where he died in 1884. It is said that it was his best friend, Jakob Snerle Kleiven, who persuaded Jo to purchase the farm.
“I am as you well know,
a mountain man,
and therefore go to the mountains
as often as I can”.