From the emails, voicemails and other sources:
ROUGH DAY AT RANCH – Just over three weeks ago, Escalon’s Gary Thompson led a riderless horse up the hill to the cemetery in Hornitos, where they laid Bob Woods to rest that day.
You might remember the story. When educator, cattleman and mentor Art Turner suffered a heart attack and died at his family’s 140-year-old ranch in September 2012, Wood built his coffin. Then, in March, 59-year-old Wood suffered a brain aneurysm while at the ranch and died in a Modesto hospital a few days later.
Thompson, Wood’s best friend, was among those who adorned Wood’s coffin with deer skins, coyote pelts and a piece of elk fur – all of which Wood had shot.
This, an excerpt from my column that appeared March 28, following Wood’s funeral.
“They all signed their names on the inside, with Thompson signing his initials, ‘G.W.T.’ and adding ‘Augustus’ in reference to the Augustus McCrae character played by Robert Duvall opposite Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call in Larry McMurtry’s novel and the TV miniseries ‘Lonesome Dove.’
“‘He (Wood) was Woodrow,’ Thompson said. ‘They broke the mold when they built him.’
“On that warm Friday afternoon, Thompson led ‘Coyote Bob’ Wood’s horse ahead of the hearse carrying the casket made out of respect, love, tradition and the spirit of the Old West.”
The story should have ended, or at least paused, there that day. Life at the ranch resumed with gathering and branding the next morning. But on Saturday, Thompson returned to the ranch in Mariposa County to help move the cattle to pastures with more plentiful grass and water. He saddled up Wood’s horse. An experienced horseman, the 59-year-old had ridden the horse before without incident. This time was different. Something spooked the animal, and it threw him.
“As best as we can tell, as soon as he got in the saddle, the horse lunged and then bucked three or four times,” said Marla Woody, Thompson’s daughter. “Somehow, his head hit either the horse’s head or the saddle horn.”
The impact knocked him backward, He landed with the back of his head hitting the hard ground, unconscious immediately. Others at the ranch called 911, and he was flown to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, where he remains unconscious. His condition hasn’t improved, Woody said, but it hasn’t worsened, either, and that is a positive.
She said Calvary Chapel began a prayer chain, and the family welcomes others to add prayers of their own.
“That’s what we really, really need,” Woody said. “We’re hoping he can get well and go back to doing the things he loves to do.”
FUNDING FOR FISHING – Once again, The Fly Fishing Film Tour returns to the State Theatre to raise funds for Rivers of Recovery, the organization that sends veterans disabled from combat on rehabilitative and therapeutic fishing trips. This year’s event will be April 30.
It’s been a passion of Modesto attorney Jim Mayol for the past several years. Rivers of Recovery, which joins forces locally with Stanislaus Fly Fishers, is a nationwide nonprofit that stages fishing trips all across the country. The local group this year plans to send 36 area veterans to the Lower Sacramento River in Redding in June and October. Each veteran participant receives fly-fishing gear along with hand-tied flies courtesy of the Stanislaus Fly Fishers.
INTERNMENT CAMP ARTIFACTS – As I wrote in Sunday’s column, pressure from the Japanese-American Citizens League and others forced a New Jersey auction house to cancel the planned sale of artwork and artifacts from internment camps during World War II. The general belief is that the relics should be on display in museums, not sold to the highest bidder.
The column drew an email from Barbara Ratzlaff, president of the Livingston Historical Museum, which offers the opportunity to see similar artifacts just 27 miles from Modesto. The Valley had a significant number of Japanese-Americans who were sent to camps just months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
“We have taken great pride in displaying the articles of the Amache Camp (in Colorado) to which people were sent to during the war,” she wrote.
The museum, at Main and C streets in downtown Livingston, is open from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays.
AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – Jerry L. Mitchell is the author of “In the Shadow of Wrath: A Veteran’s Journey,” a story about a Dust Bowl-era family that came from the Southwest to the Valley, detailing life in the labor camps on the way west and telling “of family times that became torn and never repaired.”
The book follows his own family history: Mitchell’s parents settled in Empire, worked for numerous Stanislaus County farmers and raised their family here. Mitchell attended Empire Union School, Downey High and Modesto Junior College before joining the Army and going to Vietnam.
“In The Shadow of Wrath: A Veteran’s Journey” can be purchased at Amazon.com and other online booksellers for $18.95 plus any applicable taxes and shipping charges.