Lake County History, Chapter 122: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

This tale is about a hunting accident. The accident was gory and grotesque. Despite the odds, the victim not only survived, but he also got better, went back to work, and lived for another thirty-five years. It was told by Art Fifield of Lakeport, and it happened in 1906. Men had to be tough in those days.

“Howard Williams was one of the men who worked at the Gunn Sawmill in Cobb Valley. It was deer season. In the middle of the week, Williams, a man named White and a thirteen-year-old boy, started out to hunt. They went down the road from Windy Mill toward the Colwell ranch. At a large rock, they split up, Williams going to the right and White and the boy to the left.

“Someone spotted a deer creeping through the brush, and White took a shot. His bullet missed the deer and hit a rock. It was a freak accident because that bullet ricocheted and struck Howard Williams in the chest. The bullet left one and a half inches of flesh and skin with the right nipple attached, and the same bullet took off the other nipple along with the breast bone and exposed the heart and the lungs.

“By some miracle, Williams was still standing. He ran down the canyon toward White and the boy, who, until that time, did not know Williams had been hit. Immediately, seeing Williams bleeding, they knew something was wrong and ran toward him. Williams had stopped at the bottom of the canyon where there was a small stream. To Williams, it was a mortal wound.

“The boy’s grandmother had put up lunches for the three men. Each of the lunches was wrapped in a linen napkin. White grabbed the three napkins and soaked them in the stream. Then he rolled each one and placed one above the wound, the second, below the wound, and the third napkin over the terrible wound. Next he took off his shirt and wrapped the shirt around Williams and the napkins to keep the whole shooting match in place.

“Williams bled little and he could breathe without difficulty. We sent the boy back up the road to Windy Mill for help. The people at Windy Mill telephoned Dr. Upton and then called Gunn’s Sawmill. The doctor was already there and it was getting dark.

 “We had to make a stretcher. For the materials to make a stretcher, a man from Windy Mill took an ax, a piece of carpeting, and some baling wire. We collected two long poles and two shorter cross poles to hold the longer poles apart. The carpeting was attached to the poles by ‘sewing’ the baling wire securely around the poles. We also took a lantern along to light the way ahead.

“Our group, and Dr. Upton, started out. We came upon Williams and White. Dr. Upton gave Williams an anesthetic. Anxious to let Williams’ relative know he was bad off, Williams was asked if he had anyone that should be notified of his accident.

“Williams was able to speak and said, ‘There is someone at Annapolis in Sonoma County that is a relation.’ We carried Williams to Windy Hill and into the bunk house. We made the operating table from a bunk that was nailed to the wall and Williams bandages were taken off. We all saw the awful damage the bullet had done. The right lung had been slashed for a couple of inches and the pericardium, the covering over the heart, had been cut. The heart was exposed so we could see that it was beating.

“I held up the kerosene lamp for the operation and Dr. Upton went to work. It took two hours. When the doctor was finished, Williams was all cleaned out and sewed up.

“There was no such thing as an ambulance, so after two weeks, we hauled Williams in a four-horse wagon over to the old Specht home in Kelseyville. We had to take him at night to get away from the heat. Another stretcher had been made, and we put Williams on it. One man stood at each end of the stretcher to hold it up and ease the bumps and twists of the wagon over the rough roads. The stretcher was tied, loosely, to each side of the wagon to keep the whole thing in control. It got heavy after a while, and we took turns.

“Time passed. Several years after that, while I was riding with a lady friend, it developed that Howard Williams was her brother. She said he had passed on at fifty-four years of age. He had lived for another thirty-four years.”

Next episode; Three Tall Stories


To enjoy and learn more about Author Gene Paleno’s books

visit Gene’s website; http://genepaleno.com/

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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