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W.W. (Billy) Woods

September 1964


Billy Woods had to borrow the train fare that brought him to Montana. By the time he had ridden eighteen miles into a Chinook wind to reach the ranch where he was to be employed, he'd have been glad to borrow another fifty dollars to take him back to California! He couldn't, so he stayed. He says he's been trying to get hold of that fifty dollars ever since so he could quit the country, but he's still here.

Sixteen-year-old Billy was working for twenty dollars a month on a farm near his California home. At Christmas he had a week off so he went to Los Angeles, where his folks then lived, and found his uncle, Andy McLain, visiting from Montana. His uncle offered him work in Montana, but Billy went back to his job. However, when his employer told him help was plentiful and he could hire all he wanted for fifteen dollars a month, Billy decided to let him hire it, saddled up, and went back home. His uncle was still there so Billy asked him about wages, how long the job would last, and what else he might expect. The job would be permanent and starting wages would be twenty-five dollars a month the first year, then thirty-five to forty a month after that. Billy said he'd come as soon as he earned the fare (he planned to go back to the job as messenger boy which he had held previously), but Mr. McLain told him he'd loan him the money, and they could come together. So it was that on the evening of March 22, 1891, W.W. Woods arrived in Glendive.

That same evening George Williams (later undersheriff when Aiken was sheriff) came to see Mr. McLain, and he asked Billy when he was going out to the ranch. Billy replied, "As soon as I get a chance." Mr. Williams then announced that he was going out that way the next day and had an extra horse across the river (there was no bridge at that time), so if Billy had a saddle, he could go along. Billy's saddle was in his trunk so Mr. Williams left with the understanding they were to meet at the pump house next morning at nine. Billy was there, and when they got to the river, he found there were two young fellows taking people across in a rowboat at one dollar per head. One of the boys was Billy Allen, about the wildest kid in town, and the other was Joe Hurst, the most exemplary. These three young men, whose ways crossed so briefly on their first meeting, were to take widely divergent courses. Within a few years, Allen was murdered in Culbertson; a little later Hurst was hanged in Glendive for the murder of Sheriff Cavanaugh, and Woods, years later, became sheriff.

The river had started breaking up so the ice had risen in the middle with a channel of water on each side. They would row across the first channel; drag the boat over the ice in the middle, then cross the other channel. When they reached the ice, Woods was the last to get out of the boat. As he did so, one of the boys started to warn, "Be careful - there's an air hole around here some place!" but the warning came too late; Billy was already going down. However, he managed to get his arm over the side of the boat and only got wet up to his waist. The remainder of the crossing was made without incident. Then Billy and Mr. Wilson saddled their horses and started for the ranch, eighteen miles to the west. It was thawing, but that Chinook wind was cold.

The Fourth of July that first summer Billy Woods was in Montana was a day to be remembered - by Billy, anyway. He and his uncle got up at three o'clock that morning to get to town for the celebration. They had loaded up the night before so they could get an early start, and before ten o'clock they drove their wagons onto the ferryboat to cross the Yellowstone.

They were planning to feed their horses and get some breakfast before unloading. That would still give them plenty of time to get to the fairgrounds before the races started. They crossed the river all right, but when they landed on the town side, Whoop Up Brown let out too much slack on one of the ropes connecting the ferry to the overhead cable and the ferry started to capsize.

Quick action averted that catastrophe, but the boat sprang a leak so Frank Kinney (he was running the boat for Mr. Mead) told Brown and Billy to keep the pump going while he went for help. Brown was so badly scared he couldn't stand up so Billy had to man that pump until four o'clock that afternoon. Mr. Mead gave him a dollar for it, but by that time he'd almost made up his mind he'd about as soon drown as run that pump any longer. He didn't get any breakfast, and he didn't see any races that Fourth of July.

 

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