By Patrick Whitehurst
|The statue of Bill Williams, located in Monument Park, was built by local sculptor Bill Pettit in 1979. It was unveiled in 1980 during the first annual Rendezvous Days.|
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter
The statue is always silent, always watchful over the citizens of Williams, Arizona. Its unblinking gaze penetrates deep into the soul should one take the time to sit for a while with the Williams icon, as some have found out. Leaves rustle overhead as one sits before the monument ‹ and all seems still for a time. Sometimes it seems as if no one else were even there. It's only later that other visitors are seen, lunching over a picnic or walking their dogs along the small park located at the west side of town. The park's main occupant, however, never seems bothered by the dogs or by the sounds of happy picnickers. No matter the occasion, the statue of Bill Williams remains, as always, the sentinel of Williams.
The town belongs to him after all, hence the name ‹ as well as its rich history in the world of Buckskinners and trappers.
Work on the statue, created by artist Bill Pettit, began in 1979 thanks to the vision of Pettit and current Williams City Manager Dennis Wells, current Williams-Grand Canyon News Publisher Doug Wells and area resident John Wamble. The group formed a Monument Committee March 27, 1979. Committee members included then Williams Mayor Bob Eddingfield, Doug Wells, Dennis Wells, Roger Weise, Bob Talarsky and Diz Dean. Artist Bill Pettit, who friends said had always desired to create a life-size sculpture of the town's namesake, donated his time to work on the project.
The statue was unveiled for its dedication April 26, 1980. The sculpture project, made with the assistance of Dr. Wintrop Williams of NAU, involved several hundred pounds of wax and clay, welded framework, 45 bags of silica and 1,000 pounds of bronze. Planners then found a suitable location for the 1,100-pound monument, which led to the creation of plans by Forest Service architect Bill Lauger for the park located at the west end of town. The 8 1/2-foot-tall statue was lowered into its future home April 14, 1980, just 12 days prior to its dedication ‹ as well as the kick off for the town's first annual Rendezvous Days Celebration.
Old Bill Williams
Rendezvous Days celebrates the lifestyle of Buckskinners and trappers, though one particular character stands out when it comes to the celebration. William Sherley Williams, the city's namesake, was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina, in 1787. He was the son of a preacher, tall, ungainly and possessing a shock of red hair that many historians say was rarely cut. Williams spent most of his life in the woods, trapping and living from the land and would rarely venture into "civilized" lands.
Called the "Lone Elk" by numerous Native American tribes, Williams was constantly on the move throughout his later years. Legends tell of his heroic tales, ranging from wild escapes from bands of warriors to daring rescues reminiscent of a Hollywood film. Stories of his death also range from freezing to death to meeting his fate at the hands of "friendly fire" from a tribe of Native Americans who were friendly with the trapper. Besides his Native American nickname, Williams also earned the title "old Bill" by most that knew him.
In November 1848, according to sources, Williams set off on an ill-fated expedition into the Rocky Mountain wilderness led by Captain John C. Fremont of the U.S. Topographical Engineers. The expedition hoped to discover a usable railroad route to California, though ended up finding only misery. Due to a series of storms and heavy snow, over 10 men died in the expedition. Old Bill managed to survive the ordeal, however, and soon planned a return trip to the doomed expedition in order to salvage abandoned supplies. It would be Williams' last trek into the wilderness. He was shot and killed, according historical records, while on the return trip to his base in Taos, N.M., burdened with salvaged goods. But like most good legends, it can often be difficult to pin down the truth, just as Bill Williams himself did not like to be pinned down.