Thursday, August 27, 2015

Old Bill Williams, Mountain Man Extraordinaire

Old Bill Williams

   Born in North Carolina in 1787, William Sherley Williams may not have been the most famous mountain man, but he was one of the most interesting. Proud of his feats of daring, strength, and valor, he felt no need for protection, and often traveled alone earning him the name Old Solitaire, and Lone Elk.
   The end of the revolutionary war was not the end of conflict or chaos, and heading west sounded like a good idea. In his younger years Old Bill was a preacher, bent on missionary work. 
              He translated the bible into the Osage language,
Osage Treaty of 1825and and was the interpreter for the 1825 treaty between the Osage and the United States. But in the end, it was the Osage who converted him rather than the other way around.

  He married an Osage woman named Wind Blossom, and fathered two daughters, Mary Ann, and Sarah. After that, even though he turned his back on the white man’s civilized ways, he sent his daughters to school in Kentucky. They both ended up married to the same man. First, Mary became the wife of John Allan Mathews. Upon her death, John married Sarah. They had a deep connection and  kept in close contact with the Osage people.  

 Sarah’s grandson, John Joseph Mathews became an historian for the Osage tribe. He studied at the University of Oklahoma, Oxford University and the University of Geneva, and after serving as a flight instructor during World War I, Old Bill William's great grandson served on the Osage Tribal Council,                                             and in 1938 he founded the Tribal Museum.

                              Uncle Dick Wootton                                     Kit Carson
                      with his companion Jesus Silva 

Uncle Dick Wootton as I knew him. 

    Old Bill traveled in esteemed company including such notables as Kit Carson, Uncle Dick Wooten, and John C. Frémont. But because he had a gift for languages, he spent more of his life with the varied Native American tribes than with other mountain men. A skilled trapper and natural born leader, he never sought fame or a captain’s title. He explored for the sake of exploring, and loved what he called “an innocent frolic”. He seemed to be of a dual personality, looked upon by some as treacherous and near crazy, and by others as kindly and trustworthy. Wherever he went, he was steeped in controversy, with a penchant for mischief, and mysticism, including the belief in reincarnation. 

John C. Fremont

     In November 1848, Frémont headed up the Transcontinental Railroad survey party. Their route to the west included crossing the treacherous Sangre de Cristo mountain range. By the time Frémont reached Bent’s Fort in Colorado, there was already a foot of snow on the ground. 
                                                         Bent's Fort reconstructed

       Here he ran into Uncle Dick Wootton, and asked him to be their guide over the pass, but was turned down. Moving on to Pueblo, Frémont next came across Old Bill Williams who agreed to give it a go. But as the unrelenting snow continued, with no signs of letting up, Williams eventually advised Frémont to turn back. 

    Unfortunately, Fremont continued on, and ten members of the expedition were lost to starvation and exposure. Old Bill's group not being among them.
                                                                                                                            (How it looks in good weather.)

  Rather than admit to his own failings, Frémont blamed all on Old Bill accusing him of incompetence, premeditated treachery, and even cannibalism. Truth be told, they would have been in even more dire straights without him. Old Bill never got a chance to refute these terrible claims. About two months after arriving in Taos with the splinter-group of survivors, he was killed by Utes in an area he often traveled. The army in Taos had recently been out "teaching the Indians a lesson" and when Old Bill crossed paths with the Utes they were in no mood to parley. 

It is surmised the band of Utes who killed Old Bill did not recognize him at the time. Later when they realized who he was, the gave him a chief's burial. 

For more details on Old Bill's life, read Favour's excellent book, from whence came a good deal of this wonderful information. 

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