William E. Wood likes projects; they’re what keep the 71-year-old Rawlins native, U.S. Army veteran and amateur historian busy in his retirement years.
William Wood’s latest project has him researching his family tree.
He has discovered many things about his family, including the fact his great-grandfather, Samuel S. Wood, founded Woods Landing, Fox Park and Mountain Home more than 120 years ago.
William Wood has traveled to Woods Landing several times to meet with people who know the history of the area, and once enlisted the help of a woman in Saratoga who had built a database of the Saratoga Cemetery, where Samuel Wood is buried.
He also obtained copies of Samuel Wood’s Civil War records from the U.S. National Archives about two years ago.
William Wood said he plans to travel East next summer to learn more about Samuel Wood and his family when he lived in New York before coming West.
Earlier this month, seated at a table in the Lander Valley Public Library in Lander, William Wood began telling the story of his family with Civil War records from Historical Data Systems Inc. of Duxbury, Mass., and an obituary that ran in the Laramie Boomerang on May 21, 1901.
The obituary calls Samuel Wood “one of the pioneer settlers of Albany County and the founder of Woods Landing” as well as a “straightforward, honest man in all his dealings.”
Despite years of research, William Wood does not know where his great-grandfather was born.
“He was born some say in Sheldon, Vermont, some say in New York and some say in Massachusetts,” he said. “That’s about all I know.”
Historical Data Systems lists Samuel Wood’s birth date as “about 1835.”
Not much is known about Samuel Wood’s childhood.
His story picks up on April 18, 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln ordered the states to muster their militias.
“Most of the military was sponsored by the states,” William Wood said. “The federal army was pretty small.”
He said his great-grandfather carried on the family tradition of military service by readily answering Lincoln’s call to arms. At 26, he enlisted on April 19, 1861, in Concord, Mass., and was assigned to Company G, Massachusetts Fifth Infantry Regiment on May 1, 1861, as a private.
“He made corporal on June 22,” William Wood said.
Samuel Wood’s military career was cut short at the First Battle of Bull Run, which took place July 21, 1861, in Fairfax and Prince William counties, Va., and involved 60,680 Union and Confederate soldiers.
The Union lost the battle, and Samuel Wood was wounded and listed as one of 4,700 casualties from both sides.
“He was a drover during the Civil War,” William Wood said of his great-grandfather’s service. “He ran a supply wagon and got a little too close to the front line.”
Records show Samuel Wood was discharged from the military in Boston on July 31, 1861, after 103 days of service.
Several years after the Civil War, Samuel Wood left New York and journeyed West with his brothers Robert Wood and Nelson Theodore Wood in an ox train.
In 1872, the brothers and their families made it to Atlantic, Iowa, where they had to stop so Samuel Wood’s wife could give birth.
“That’s where my grandfather (Shelley Sheldon [S. S.] Wood Jr.) was born,” William Wood said.
Robert Wood stayed in Iowa, but Samuel Wood, Nelson Wood and their families eventually continued on to Wyoming, arriving in Albany County in 1878 or 1879.
Samuel Wood established a 160-acre homestead on the Laramie River near present-day Woods Landing through the Homestead Act of 1862.
In 1883, with his holdings and help from his brother, Samuel Wood established the post office and dance hall that stand in Woods Landing today.
The dance hall, which had a saloon, was a popular stop for freighters, stagecoach drivers and tie hackers working the timber mills in the area.
Later, Samuel and Nelson Wood were able to secure more land through the General Mining Act of 1872 and the Timber and Stone Act of 1878, which they used to start mines (including the Cummins City Mine) and timber mills in the area.
“They did logging, tie hacking, everything under the sun,” William Wood said.
As time went on, Woods Landing became one of the most popular “summer resorts” in southern Wyoming, the Boomerang obituary says.
Samuel Wood continued to run the dance hall and the post office as postmaster until he died from complications due to pneumonia at 4 p.m. May 20, 1901, at his son Ralph Wood’s home in Saratoga, according to an obituary that ran in the Saratoga Sun newspaper three days later.
“Mr. Wood had been ill for a week or ten days when the disease developed alarming symptoms,” the obituary says.
“Dr. Hamilton of Laramie was summoned by telephone and arrived Monday noon. He was met at this place by Ralph Wood and taken out to his place in Elk Hollow, but the old gentleman was too far gone and passed away at 4 o’clock.”
Samuel Wood’s funeral took place on May 23, 1901, in Elk Hollow, and he was buried in the cemetery east of Saratoga.
S. S. Wood continued to live in Woods Landing, running the post office, dance hall and his father’s other businesses. Wood’s father, William S. Wood, was born on Sept. 1, 1916.
S. S. Wood was killed in a train accident in October 1929 near Fort Steele, which was an abandoned military outpost located 43 miles west of Medicine Bow.
“They were in a vehicle and (the train) hit them while they were crossing,” William Wood said. “I, to this day, think that my grandfather was drag racing the train because it’s in the family genes.”
After S. S. Wood’s death, his children sold off most of the family’s businesses in Woods Landing and the surrounding area.
William Wood said his father relocated to Rawlins, where he opened the second Dairy Queen restaurant in the state.
William Wood was born in Rawlins in 1939. He left home and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves shortly after his 16th birthday.
“I lied about my age,” he said with a smile.
William Wood served several tours in Vietnam.
It was in 1972, when he had returned home from Vietnam, when he began researching his family’s history.
He said researching his family tree was a “great diversion” from the anger he felt toward the Army after his last tour in Vietnam.
“They just treated me like s—-,” he said. “That box full of photographs sure kept my sanity from going.”
In 1974, William Wood took that box of photographs he found in his parent’s basement and contacted his uncle, Russell Ralph Wood, who put names and stories to the photos.
William Wood was in the Army for 21 years before he was honorably discharged in 1976 as a sergeant major.
He worked several jobs, including a stint as a steel welder, before retiring from the civilian workforce.
Today, William Wood is an amateur historian who plans to continue researching his family tree.
To learn more about Samuel Wood, the Wood family or Woods Landing, contact William Wood by mail at William Wood, P.O. Box 378, Hudson, WY, 82515.