Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

When Dad was trying to quit practicing medicine in 1919 (when I was 3 years old), people still wanted him to treat them. Dad didn’t like to send his patients to someone else and his patients didn’t like it either, but he had to do it. After he sold the drugstore, he built a general store on his own property next to his home. He built it with his own hands at age 65. We ran the general store and everyone in the family clerked in the store. Dad was very interested in Indian artifacts and had many in the store.

Dad had many Indian friends and tried to learn the language, but wasn’t very good at it. Ute Indians migrated in the spring and fall to a reservation near Roosevelt and back to the southern reservation. There were men on horseback and long caravans of wagons -it was quite a sight to see!

People came to the store to see the Indian artifacts collection when they came to town. The building was ½ store and ½ museum, pretty much. A Commanding General came by to see Dad when we had the last Indian war in 1920, or so.

It was slim pickins when I started in the tour business. We mailed black and white brochures out to a lot of people from mailing lists. We advertised in magazines, which we found out was very expensive. With word of mouth, we got the business going bit by bit.

Before Lake Powell existed, we had a ferry crossing at Hite on the Colorado River. Woody was a character and he’d ferry us across the river powered by a model A Ford engine. Cable stretched across the river with wheels on it and the engine turned the wheels. He had a nice trading post with a lawn and shade trees. The lawn was a great place to sit, cool off and rest a bit. Woody was so glad to see some company. It was always his birthday and he was looking for someone the help him celebrate. He’d bring out a bottle of whiskey and start passing it around.

Woody could be abrasive at times, especially when he went to tell the Governor how to run the state. Woody went to see Governor Clyde and was smoking in the Governor’s office and blowing smoke in the Governor’s face. The Governor told him to put it out. Woody told the Governor that he was taking our freedom away. The Governor asked where exactly Woody lived. Woody told him he lived 87 miles west of Blanding and plum the hell out of Utah! Woody went back to Hite and never went back to see the Governor. The Governor was about to put him in front of the firing squad!

When entering Moab Valley in 1854, the first settlers’ wagons had to be taken apart and taken down the cliffs piece by piece while the animals were taken around a couple of hills to get them down -this is called “The Jumping Off Place”. The lower valley was good farm land, but is covered with houses now. The Billings party tried to settle Moab, but went back home after Indians killed 2 of them. They built a fort here, but had to abandon it when they left. It was later taken over by two mountain men. It was run by a black man called “Nigger Bill”, which was later changed to “Negro Bill” on the maps, and a Frenchman called “Frenchie”. They were mountain men and weren’t very sociable and they lived in opposite ends of the fort.

When settlers came in, Frenchie loaded up his canoe and paddled off down the river because it was getting too overpopulated. He couldn’t stand all the people. There is no further record of Frenchie after he left the fort. There is an inscription on a rock on the ground in Negro Bill Canyon that says “Nigger Bill” with a carving of a face. It is very old and weathered and had been covered with sand. Nobody knew it was there until June 2003.

A.G. Wilson settled in Moab in 1879 and was the first permanent settler . They donated land to make a Main Street for Moab. I knew A.G.’s boys and girl, but he and his wife died before I was born. None of A.G.’s boys married. Of course, they were old and I was just a kid.

The “tourism” business is now the “expedition” business. My son, John, owns NAVTEC Expeditions. The name of my oId company was Tag Along Tours, now called Tag Along Expeditions. I sold the business 22 years ago.

Mary became as enthusiastic about living in Moab as I was. She became a true “Moabite”. The first thing I did was visit the local airport. The airport operator wanted to hire me immediately to fly his planes, but I wanted to go uranium prospecting and get rich! A year later, I came back from prospecting and took the job flying the airplanes for the local operator .

In the 1950s, I had a little yellow jeep called the Yellow Peril. It had an aluminum cab on it that somebody had built and it rattled worse than anything I ever heard in my life! I sold that jeep and bought a eep station wagon -boy, would it climb the rocks! I named it The Old Green Lizard. My father had been such a great promoter of tourism for this area that it was a natural thing for me to start in the tour business.

I worked for the M4 Ranch, now known as the Pack Creek Ranch (which was the original name of the ranch). I started running tours for the ranch, flying airplanes in between tours and taking care of the trailer court Dad and I had built while I was in the service. So, I had 3 things to take care of, but that’s what it takes sometimes to make a living!

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