Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy 179th Birthday, William West Woodland (1823-1906)!

Nita Woodland Welch's grandfather

How appropriate to begin the year with the man with the most futuristic initials: William West Woodland. Most descendants probably know the stories of William following the mysterious light, and lassoing his bride. But how about the stories of William and the stagecoach robbery, the Australian gold rush, the miraculous crop, and his ghost appearing to save Laura from a banana investment scam? Keep reading.

William & Laura Woodland

Woodland home in Idaho (still standing); William & Laura front middle left

As his middle name foretold, William was an explorer, moving west from his Illinois birth to the California gold fields, and on to a brief Australian journey. He had one blue eye and one brown eye. When he was a child, the Woodland family was chased from their Missouri home by the anti-Mormon mobs and William's grandmother and brother were killed. As a teenager in Nauvoo, William saw the mantle of Joseph Smith fall on Brigham Young and was a devoted Latter-day Saint the rest of his life. William was one of 14 children and fathered 14 children himself.

William had several experiences in which the Lord warned or delivered him from danger. One night teenage William was taking a message to President Young in Salt Lake. As he arrived at the Jordan Narrows about midnight (this is around current Thanksgiving Point), a light suddenly appeared in front of him three times and he felt compelled to follow as it guided his horse over the mountain on a dim trail. Returning the next day, he saw the reason for the warning: Indians had been camped there. William might have been scalped, his horse stolen, and important papers would not have reached the prophet. The memory of this experience was a spiritual guide to him throughout his life. Another time, William reopened a mail route cut off by Indian disturbances. One night while doing this, in his sleep a voice called his name and warned him of Indian trouble, and again William knew the Lord had saved his life.

A fair, tall man at 6’2”, twenty-year-old William drove a herd of cattle for the Church to California, and then went to buy cattle in Mexico. There he learned Spanish and gained a vision of ranching. He returned to California and panned for gold (one day collecting enough to fill a baking powder can, and panning fifty thousand dollars’ worth total) until his equipment was washed away in a storm. He returned to Utah with some saddles and fine clothes, including silk underwear, and had a watch with a gold nugget on the fob. William was conscious of his clothes and his granddaughter recalled that he would never wear bib-overalls because they looked like slave attire in the South, so William wore a white shirt and trousers even to mow hay.

In his late twenties, William returned to California and heard of a feverish gold rush in Australia. He spent two months sailing there, but upon arrival, William wasn’t impressed so he returned on the same ship to San Francisco.

William first met his future bride when he rode up to a watering hole and showed off the tricks he’d taught his horse, Byjon, to the girl there (Laura Peters). Three years later, he came to visit and nephew, and the two young men rode past two young ladies walking. They stopped to talk and invited the girls to ride on the back of their saddles. William said he would lasso the one he wanted to give a ride to--Laura. This time she learned his name and the courtship began. True to his adventurous style, they eloped to the Endowment House without a recommend (denied by jealous local polygamous church leaders who wanted Laura for a bride) and were married by Heber C. Kimball.

The Oregon Trail ran in front of the Woodlands' Idaho ranch. William was a station agent for the stage that ran between Utah and Montana, and once robbers held up the stagecoach and stole half a million dollars in gold. William led a posse and trapped the robbers. He was shot at several times and his clothing pierced, but the treasury box was recovered. Another time sly old chief Pocatello followed William in the mountains intending to harm him, and William confronted him and scared him off.

His early agricultural efforts were thwarted by frost. He told visiting apostles Lorenzo and Erastus Snow of this challenge, and they knelt in the middle of the field and dedicated the land to the Lord and blessed it to be fruitful. William raised abundant crops ever after, including 65 bushes of wheat to the acre the very next year after this prayer. He said, “Some people might think this occurrence was a result of natural causes, but I am so simple as to believe that the Lord heard the prayer of His servants and blessed the land, thus making my labors a source of profit and satisfaction to myself.”

Family members told how their father literally did talk to God when he prayed, keeping his eyes open to “watch and pray.” In fact, his daughter recalled that the family knew that when William got to a certain point in his prayer, it was time to put the biscuits in the oven, and they would be done to perfection when he had finished.

After he died of liver cancer, William appeared to Laura in visions. Once he saved her from a foolish investment in banana stock targeted to seniors, and reassured her that she had enough money to last through her life and that the investment was a scam. As Laura lay ill at the end of her life, he returned to tell her that he would be back the next night to bring her home. As his son Daniel said, “Father has never told an untruth, and William, ever-prompt, was there to receive her at 6:30 as he had promised."

William & Laura

Despite the hardships of pioneer life, William led a charmed existence in many ways: he didn’t die young, and we have records and photos of his life. Plus he was only married to one woman and his family relationship weren’t complicated. So I’m afraid my wish for him is a little frivolous: I would give him access to a drycleaners. All that silk underwear…

What would you give William West Woodland?


  1. a bodyguard and/or bulletproof vest :)

  2. both fabulous ideas. thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Wow Anita - this is fantastic! Glad I checked. I'm sure there are a few Williams in the family. Our youngest, Joshua Wm. Woodland carries his name part way. Thank you for the tip on fb to come check the blog site.

  4. William West Woodland is the star of many favorite bedtime stories, and quite the character! I'd give him a gaming system-- I bet he'd like the simulated adventures.

  5. I would have given him the appreciation of many descendants. And a hope that my grandson who was given Woodland as a middle name by my daughter will know of him and appreciate the connection. WWW was my great-great grandfather. Thanks for the nice post about him!

  6. You've done such a great job on all these profiles--thank you!

    Mark Steele