William Shirley Williams was born in August of 1787 in North Carolina to a devout Christian family of farmers. When he was six years of age, the family moved west to the new frontier in Missouri area. His education came from his mother in reading the Bible and learnin his sums.
When a teenager he heard the call and became a traveling country preacher, calling himself Parson Williams. During his preaching, he met the Osage tribal members who were to become such an influence on his life in the country to the west of the Mississippi River.
He quickly learned the Osage language and became an interpreter for other missionaries, traders and often the U S Army when dealing with the tribe. Bill learned the ways and culture of the Tribe and took an Osage woman to wife. Some say he started to mix his Christianity with the native culture which damaged his reputation with his peers in the religious community.
At some point in time, Bill learned to hunt buffalo and live in the western country from Osage hunting partners and trappers he found in his roamings. He became more reclusive as he pushed deeper into the wilderness, often staying out for weeks alone, living off the land and developing survival skills that few could equal.
In the early 1820’s Bill gave up his preaching as a full time profession and joined a fur trapping party traveling up the Missouri River to the Yellowstone country where he first encountered the Blackfeet nation.
He kept his red hair for many years as he traveled the west trapping beaver pelts and hunting for a living. Since this tall and lanky character came to the west later in his life after years of serving the Lord, his trapping companions tended to be younger than Bill so they called him Ol Bill Williams.
He is credited with exploring the Santa Fe Trail and covered much of the SouthWest in his journies running afoul of various tribes in his travels. Once captured by the Apache in present day Arizona, he was robbed of his knife and weapons, stripped naked and turned loose in the desert. He was saved by another tribe, the Zuni pueblo members rescued Bill and gave him a new outfit after his long walk in the desert.
By 1840 the demand for beaver plets was drying up and Ol Bill started a new career which made him an infamous horse thief. Heading west to Baja Norte California from what was called The Old Bill Williams Ranch at the foothills of The Spring Mountains in present day Nevada; Bill, Pegleg Smith and some friendly Indians would travel over and back across the Mojave desert with stolen horses.
One of his famous trades was at Bent’s fort where he traded a herd of horses for a barrel of whiskey. As the years rolled on Ol Bill got work as a scout for the Army and helped several expeditions with his knowledge of the mountains and rivers of the wilderness west. One of his employers was John C. Fremont on a couple of his explorations as Bill served as a guide with Kit Carson and other Mountain Men.
So to answer the question, who was OL BILL Williams? you could say he was a pioneer, trapper, preacher and Mountain Man who helped explore the American West.