Cover image for Wild Bill : the legend and life of William O. Douglas
Wild Bill : the legend and life of William O. Douglas
Murphy, Bruce Allen.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvii, 716 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF8745.D6 M87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
KF8745.D6 M87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



William Orville Douglas was both the most accomplished and the most controversial justice ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court. He emerged from isolated Yakima, Washington, to be dubbed, by the age of thirty, "the most outstanding law professor in the nation"; at age thirty-eight, he was the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, cleaning up a corrupt Wall Street during the Great Depression; by the age of forty, he was the second youngest Supreme Court justice in American history, going on to serve longer--and to write more opinions and dissents--than any other justice. In evolving from a pro-government advocate in the 1940s to an icon of liberalism in the 1960s, Douglas became a champion for the rights of privacy, free speech, and the environment. While doing so, "Wild Bill" lived up to his nickname by racking up more marriages, more divorces, and more impeachment attempts aimed against him than any other member of the Court. But it was what Douglas did not accomplish that haunted him: He never fulfilled his mother's ambition for him to become president of the United States. Douglas's life was the stuff of novels, but with his eye on his public image and his potential electability to the White House, the truth was not good enough for him. Using what he called "literary license," he wrote three memoirs in which the American public was led to believe that he had suffered from polio as an infant and was raised by an impoverished, widowed mother whose life savings were stolen by the family attorney. He further chronicled his time as a poverty-stricken student sleeping in a tent while attending Whitman College, serving as a private in the army during World War I, and "riding the rods" like a hobo to attend Columbia Law School. Relying on fifteen years of exhaustive research in eighty-six manuscript collections, revealing long-hidden documents, and interviews conducted with more than one hundred people, many sharing their recollections for the first time, Bruce Allen Murphy reveals the truth behind Douglas's carefully constructed image. While William O. Douglas wrote fiction in the form of memoir, Murphy presents the truth with a narrative flair that reads like a novel.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Murphy, a judicial scholar and biographer of three Supreme Court justices, this time reveals the genius and the warts of William O. Douglas, arguably the greatest influence on American jurisprudence. Douglas was one of the youngest and longest-serving Supreme Court justices, a perennial dissenter who shaped the right to privacy and attempted to halt President Nixon's Vietnam War efforts. After graduating with honors from Columbia Law School, Douglas was highly sought after and eventually settled on a professorship at Yale Law School. Attracted by the New Deal of Roosevelt's administration, he accepted the post of chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and helped reform Wall Street. Here Murphy explores new material on Douglas, including his hidden ambitions to be president. This extraordinary man, a rugged outdoorsman and master of political machinations, endured four impeachment attempts to unseat him from the court, as well as four sometimes-turbulent marriages, and yet remained an American giant. This is a well-researched and absorbing look at an enduring figure in American legal history. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite the enduring image of former Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas as the white-haired, mountain-climbing protector of individual rights and liberal causes, the man who emerges from Murphy's thorough biography is a great deal more complicated. In such books as Of Men and Mountains, Douglas himself carefully crafted the myth of the poor boy from the state of Washington who arrived in New York with just a few cents in his pocket and ended up conquering the Eastern establishment in the name of the little guy. Like so many of the stories he fostered about himself, though, this one was only partially true; others, such as a childhood bout with polio, were outright false. In reality, Douglas enjoyed tremendous emotional and financial support throughout his life from his family, friends and multiple wives. On a professional level, he achieved much that has been overshadowed by his career on the Court. As the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission during the 1930s, he helped to curb self-dealing by Wall Street brokers and bankers who manipulated the system at the expense of the small investor. (This discussion has obvious parallels to today's scandals, as does Murphy's examination of how civil liberties eroded during the Cold War despite Douglas's efforts to the contrary.) Murphy (Fortas: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice) does a wonderful job of providing just enough historical context to allow general readers to appreciate the complexity of his brilliant, but flawed, subject without bogging down his narrative in a crush of detail. Douglas's biography is as much a history of American politics in the mid-20th century as it is a portrayal of the man himself. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The author of two previous biographies of Supreme Court justices, Murphy (civil rights, Lafayette Coll.) here provides a fascinating accounting of the multiple political and legal careers pursued by William O. Douglas, who, as the high court's longest-serving jurist, survived four attempted impeachments. Murphy's careful research uncovers new dimensions of Douglas and his connected political and judicial activities. The result is a clear picture of Douglas's libertarian skepticism toward many government activities as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the 1930s, and law professor at Yale and Columbia. Murphy draws a convincing portrait of Douglas's formative years in the Northwest, examines the intellectual and economic insecurities that influenced his career, and provides new information concerning Douglas's bid for the 1944 Democratic vice presidential nomination. This judicial biography will be a welcome addition to most public and academic libraries.-Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Author of Fortas: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice and The Brandeis Frankfurter Connection (CH, Dec'88), Murphy (Lafayette College) has written a landmark work that is, inarguably, the definitive biography of Justice William O. Douglas. After 15 years of research on his elusive subject, the author has produced a book that is weighty both physically and intellectually. Although many readers will know already of the justice's four wives and three divorces, his contempt for his clerks, and his generally irascible nature, few will be aware of the details of these incidents or of Douglas's activities in attempting twice to win the Democratic Party presidential nomination. In his careful research and documentation, Murphy also discovers that the legend of Douglas--the poor boy who had suffered from polio, whose mother's savings had been stolen by the family lawyer, who lived in a tent at Whitman College, who served in the US Army during WW I--was, in fact, a self-invented myth. The book is ultimately evenhanded, since Murphy is clear and pointed in his recognition of Douglas's genius as a legal intellectual and his commitment to civil rights and liberties. Extensive endnotes and bibliography add to this work's importance. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All levels of readers. M. W. Bowers University of Nevada, Las Vegas



1 JULIA'S "TREASURE" With a good education, you can always be free. --Julia Bickford Fisk Douglas He arrived at Columbia Law School smelling of sheep, carrying nothing but a battered suitcase and the burden of his mother's ambition that he should become president of the United States. With his unruly sandy-blond hair and dirty, rumpled clothes, Orville Douglas felt in mid-September 1922 a lot less like the valedictorian of North Yakima High School and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Whitman College and a lot more like one of the sheep he had tended on a train part of the way cross-country. Now, outside of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, Douglas knew that he would have to change everything about himself--even his name--to put all of the ghosts of Yakima, Washington, behind him. But Julia Fisk Douglas had raised her eldest son to meet such challenges. Julia had named her son William Orville to bring honor to the two men whom she most admired: Orville Fisk, the father she adored, and the Reverend William Douglas, the husband she deified. Raised on his mother's stories about these patriarchs, young Orville grew up believing that his very name destined him for greatness. His grandfather, he believed, had served with distinction as a member of the Union forces in the Civil War. He thought that his father had been a devoted family man. Only Julia knew that the truth was far different--and that Orville's life thus far, filled with obstacles and disappointments, had closely mirrored the lives of the men whose names he bore. A New England farmer, like his father before him, Orville Fisk had stood five feet nine inches tall, with an unruly tuft of light hair, a very pale complexion, and compellingly clear blue eyes. In 1861, at the age of twenty-four, he married Salome Bickford Richardson, a widowed mother of two who was six years his senior, and fully expected that the rest of his days would be spent tilling the earth. Like so many of his peers, though, when the government called for assistance in quelling the rebellion in the South, Orville enlisted for three years. On Octo- ber 4, 1861, he became a private in Company D of the Sixth Regiment of the Vermont Volunteers and was mustered into the army in Montpelier eleven days later. But while his regiment trained, Orville quickly discovered that military life did not suit him. By February of the following year he chose to follow his own path, checking himself in and out of a series of military hospitals over the next several months without his commander's permission, all the while complaining of diarrhea and stomach pains. The precise nature of Orville's ailment was never fully diagnosed. Only when his exhausted unit returned on August 9 from the front for a leave at Fort Monroe, Virginia, did he feel well enough to rejoin them. Just under a month later, however, as the men of the Sixth Vermont marched off toward South Mountain in Maryland, Orville Fisk disappeared once again. And so, with his comrades on the verge of fighting in the bloody battles at Crampton's Gap and Antietam, on September 7, 1862, Private Fisk was listed on the company muster rolls first as being "absent without leave" and a month later as a deserter--charged also with stealing his gun and equipment. Orville convalesced for two months in the General Hospital in Steuart's Mansion in Baltimore before moving to the Army General Hospital in York, Pennsylvania, where he was eventually taken into custody on February 7, 1863, and relieved of his gun and equipment. Orville was then put on a train to Brattleboro, Vermont, to face a court-martial. While all of the military's records indicated that he had been a deserter since September 7, 1862, and little more than a wandering hospital patient prior to that, Orville was somehow able to persuade the military authorities to send him to a convalescent hospital at Fort Wood on Bedloe's Island in New York. There he remained until May 25, 1863. Finally, in June 1863, the itinerant private, now listed on the muster rolls as being "gained from desertion," rejoined his regiment for active military service. But his time with the regiment near and at Gettysburg, at Funkstown, Maryland, and in various locations in Virginia did not change his mind about the desirability of military service. In March 1864, after reenlisting for another three years as a "veteran volunteer"--entitling him to receive a month's pay in advance, be promised a bounty of $402 (sixty dollars of which would be paid immediately), and get a month's furlough home--Orville left for Glover, Vermont, and was never seen by his regiment again. Knowing that the Union bounty hunters would be looking for him, Orville and his wife packed up all their belongings and traveled thirty miles, past the Canadian border to the tiny township of Bolton Centre in Brome County, Quebec. There, Orville used his reenlistment money and Salome's savings to pay one hundred dollars for forty acres of land from Elbridge L. Loyal on June 27, 1864. While his old army comrades were fighting in such places as Ream's Station, Virginia, Charles Town, West Virginia, and Opequon, Virginia, Orville and Salome built a new home and began farming in Canada. And six months later, in December 1864, with the men of the Sixth Vermont welcoming a respite from the shooting in their winter camp south of Petersburg, Virginia, the Fisks were welcoming their first child, Alice. Over the next four years, they would be blessed with two other children, May and Walter. After nearly eight years of life in Canada, in the spring of 1872 Orville and the again-pregnant Salome decided that it would be safe to return to the United States, but only if they moved to the frontier state of Minnesota. Salome's nephew, E. A. Bickford of Glover, Vermont, had already been lured to the area by the promise under the Homestead Act of 1862 of eighty acres of free land to anyone who would live on and "improve" it for at least five years. Ten years later, the Fisks obtained full ownership of their land in the tiny community of Maine, Minnesota, just eighteen miles northeast of the growing city of Fergus Falls. Soon after their arrival, tiny twin girls, Julia and Jennie, were born to the Fisk family on June 24, 1872. Julia came to be nicknamed Mite because she was so small that she had to be carried around for months on a pillow and was not able to walk until after her third birthday. Only through exercise and sheer force of will was she eventually able to overcome her physical inadequacy and run "like a deer." While Salome raised the children, including her youngest son, Milo, who was born in 1874, and supported the family by tilling the wheat fields, milking the cows, tending the vegetables, and cutting the firewood, the perpetually sickly Orville went into politics, winning election year after year as the town clerk. Besides keeping the small town's modest records, Orville spent his time sitting on a rocking chair on the porch of the town hall, telling harrowing stories of his "distinguished" military service during the war. But even this limited amount of activity proved to be too rigorous for Orville, as he came down with pneumonia and died at age forty-eight on May 15, 1885. The local paper hailed Orville in its obituary as one of the town's "most prominent citizens" who "took an active and brave part" in the Civil War. Despite the undistinguished nature of her husband's military service, Salome came to believe that as a veteran's widow she had a government pension coming to her. So she hired Washington attorney P. J. Lockwood to file for one on May 18, 1888. Despite Salome's diligent two-year effort gathering supportive affidavits, her petition was denied when the Pension Board discovered that her husband had deserted the army not once but twice. Not satisfied with this response, in December 1888 Salome instructed her attorney to seek a removal of the desertion charge from her husband's record in order to reestablish her eligibility for a pension. She argued that her husband had left his post because he "had been sick a great deal, was in several hospitals, the last one was Brattleboro, Vt. Was sick after he came home his mother was sick and on account of his own health and his mother's he never went back he was the only child of a widowed mother whose mind was not right" [sic]. Not only did Salome fail to mention their move to Canada during the war, she also failed to mention that Orville's sister Emma had been able to care for their mother. Even without these facts, though, the two-man appellate panel in the army adjutant general's office denied her petition. While for most people this would have been the end of the issue, such was not the case for the determined Salome Fisk. She commissioned the building of a grand new farmhouse. By the time the masons had finished what was described as "one of the best houses in town," all the neighbors marveled at what a large pension Orville must have received, providing so well for his family even after his death. But that did not mean success would be enjoyed by all their children. The oldest son, Walter, would one day inherit the family homestead, so Julia and her sisters each began to chart different courses for their lives. All of them decided to pursue one of the few options open to them: a teaching career. Twenty-one Maine residents, including all the Fisk girls, took the state teacher's exam on March 7, 1889, in order to gain admission to the state-run institute for teachers. A passing grade there would result in the issuance of a teacher's certificate and eventually a job. But on October 24, when the Fergus Falls Weekly Journal proudly listed the dozens of people who had passed the exam, Julia's was the only Fisk name not among them. She did not then realize that her life had taken a fateful turn. While her sisters had promising futures, unless she married, Julia's life was now tied to the family farm. Years later, Julia would repeatedly tell her children, "With a good education you can always be free." But her children never learned of her own personal experience. While she felt trapped by circumstances beyond her control, the same, she vowed, would not be true for her children. Just three days after her sisters left for the institute, their younger brother, Milo, then just fifteen years old, began complaining of acute stomach pain accompanied by a high fever and nausea. In a matter of days, the young lad died of peritonitis, a severe inflammation of the abdominal lining. The loss of her adored little brother deeply affected the devoutly religious Julia. This was God's will, she said, and Milo was dead because either he or someone close to him had sinned. As a result of this experience, and perhaps also her father's history, Julia developed an intense fear of stomach troubles. By the middle of April 1890, when her three sisters had finished their training and left for new teaching jobs in the townships of Gorman, Leaf Lake, and Friberg, Julia seemed destined to live out the remainder of her life supported by the charity of her mother and elder brother. Julia decided she would develop a life of her own by teaching herself to play the organ. While this did not lead to a paying job, late in the fall of 1894 it brought her to the attention of the most eligible bachelor in town: the new Presbyterian home missionary, William Douglas. Standing more than six feet tall, this slender, auburn-haired, handsome man possessed startlingly clear blue eyes, like Julia's father's, and a soothing baritone voice. A well-groomed full mustache made William look older and more serious than his thirty-seven years. In time, Julia would learn that thus far his life had been no more successful than her father's military career. He had already pursued several professions in his native Nova Scotia: shoe merchant, traveling evangelical choir member, and, when his throat became inflamed from overuse, dry-goods salesman and part-time minister. After hearing about the great financial opportunities available in California, in early 1894 William had traveled across the continent and invested all his life savings in a retail business opportunity in the tiny town of Shandon, some two hundred miles south of San Francisco. In a matter of weeks, however, the new business failed, leaving him with only enough money for a train trip back home. Taking this as a signal from God that retail trade was not his calling, William decided to turn permanently to the business of saving souls. He had heard of a newly established divinity school in Chicago, the Bible Institute of the Chicago Evangelization Society (later the Moody Bi- ble Institute), which had been founded by evangelist Dwight L. Moody, a former shoe salesman like himself. This school was designed to train "gapmen," lay evangelists who filled the gap between the lay world and the ministry, aiding those who had studied in seminary. Despite his lack of training and financial resources, William successfully made his application and began his studies in the spring of 1894. Just one month later, though, he was forced to leave the school abruptly because of a lack of funds. What remained of Douglas's financial stake now allowed him only to complete the journey back to Nova Scotia. To their surprise and delight, when members of the First Presbyterian Church in Maine, Minnesota, acting on the advice of a nearby minister who had met Douglas in Nova Scotia, contacted him in early September asking if he would like to replace their departing minister and serve other churches in the region as well, with no other job prospects in hand, Douglas said that he could come immediately. So for the fourth time that year, William Douglas packed his meager belongings and boarded a train, seeking his new destiny. When Douglas arrived in Maine, he began his service as the "stated supply" local evangelist, meaning that he could preach but not serve communion. However, his frail health would not even permit him to do that much. As soon as William arrived in Fergus Falls, he was laid up until late October while his throat recovered from the trip. And after he was able to begin his new job, William became so debilitated after just two weeks of work that he was forced to return to Dr. McLean's in Fergus Falls for more treatment. Not until the end of November did the doctor pronounce Douglas fit enough to return to work, but he warned that Douglas's throat was so weak that he should preach only once a day. For a minister whose duties now extended over several congregations, Douglas knew that this would be impossible. When he finally began his full-time preaching duties, the pleasant new minister began to take an interest in the church's organist. By this time, Julia Fisk had developed into an attractive woman, stand- ing about five feet four inches, with reddish-brown hair framing her schoolmarm-like face. When William eventually proposed marriage, Julia quickly accepted, unconcerned by the fifteen years that separated them in age. Shortly after Julia and William quietly eloped on April 13, 1896, William's health began to fail him again, and it was now his wife's duty to care for him. Since for William his far-flung church duties always came first, with each passing week Julia found herself more and more abandoned. A typical Sunday began with an early service in Maine followed by a long buggy ride, often through blizzards so bad that passing buggyriders could not see each other, torrential rains, or scorching heat, to the other nearby towns for other services. Should there be a marriage, a funeral, a counseling session, or some other function on the weekdays in between, regardless of the challenges faced by buggy-riders in bad weather, William's presence was required there as well. Beyond dealing with this sense of abandonment, Julia, like her mother, was required to be strong. In late 1896, when Julia was pregnant and bedridden, William, rather than ministering to his wife's needs, left that task to his parishioners as he continued on his ministerial rounds. Likewise, on April 17, 1897, after the ordeal of the delivery of their first child, a tiny girl whom they named Martha, the incapacitated minister's wife was once more left to the care of her friends. Only when the reverend himself became quite ill five weeks later, with his eyes so weak that he was unable to read, did he pause in his duties. Needing what the local newspaper reported as "a perfect rest from study," he and Julia's cousin, E. A. Bickford, immediately left on vacation to join James Richardson, Salome's son from her first marriage, in North Yakima, Washington. While the three men went "into the mountains to rest, hunt, and have a good time" for ten weeks, the still bedridden Julia and their newborn daughter were left in the care of a midwife at the parsonage. For Julia, the period was not a pleasant one. Three weeks after William left, a thunderstorm swept through Maine, and a powerful lightning bolt struck the steeple of the church. The electrical surge raced the length of the church roof, tearing away the wainscoting and wall plaster and starting a small fire in a corner of the building. With her husband half a continent away, the impact on the frightened, lonely woman with a baby daughter was considerable. Then, a month later, illness struck the Douglas household as both Martha and Julia caught the measles. With the manse now quarantined and no one able to come to help her, the townspeople were reassured by the local newspaper report that the reverend would return home in a few days to care for his ailing family. Only later did they learn that instead he had chosen to extend his trip to attend a religious convention in San Francisco and returned only after both his wife and daughter were fully recovered. Life for the Douglas family seemed to turn a corner in 1898 when the townspeople decided to reward Reverend Douglas for his faithful service by installing him as the permanent minister for their church and the one in nearby Maplewood. For Julia, though, her husband's new status meant no change in her own. Just as she was giving birth to their first son, William Orville, on Sunday, October 16, 1898, William left to preach in Maplewood. The sandy-haired infant with the clear blue eyes would be called Orville to distinguish him from his father. Once more, the trauma of the birth sent Julia to her bed, where she was unable even to sit up for six weeks. Relays of neighbors came in to help her while Reverend Douglas split his time between continuing his church duties and visiting a battery of local doctors while complaining of a variety of his own assorted ailments. Only when Julia had to fill her husband's Christmas church duties because he had become so sickly that he was completely bedridden with what the paper described as "some kind of stomach trouble" did she finally leave the house. Thereafter, for the Douglases, the first twenty-one months of their new son's life were filled with illness, especially eye problems and undiagnosable stomach ailments, for the reverend and hard work for his dutiful wife, who was saddled with raising both their family and helping to lead their church. By mid-July 1900, Reverend Douglas was so "broken down in health" that, after stomach surgery, he was ordered by the doctor to his bed for several weeks. In early August, with the temperature soaring to 104 degrees in the shade and sickness of all types spreading throughout the county, the reverend departed by himself on another monthlong vacation. Abandoned once again, Julia immediately relocated her family to Salome's farm. This time, though, a wave of the deadly typhoid fever struck Maine during the week of August 26, terrifying the woman who knew that it could result in peritonitis, which had killed her brother Milo. Soon the papers reported that little Orville Douglas was "very ill." While the precise nature of Orville's illness was not described, readers were reassured that Reverend Douglas was being summoned to re- turn to help his wife. In fact, just as in the previous year, Reverend Douglas decided not to return until his planned vacation had concluded. For a time, the twenty-two-month-old infant rallied, but any early optimism was misplaced. By the time Reverend Douglas finally returned, Orville had suffered such a severe relapse, running a high fever, that he had not spoken a word for several days. Despite his son's critical condition, the reverend immediately departed again to preach at the Maplewood church, leaving family friend Mettie Jenne to help Julia, who remained at her mother's farm. "Reverend Douglas's son Orvil [sic] is still very sick," reported Wheelock's Weekly on September 13. "He has not spoken for ten days. The doctor has hopes of his recovery." The doctor from nearby Battle Lake, H. C. Leonard, prescribed that food be given only by the teaspoon and that warm saltwater massages be given for fifteen minutes every two hours. He was likely hoping to get the blood flowing to the limbs to help prevent atrophy. "[Mother] told me 'I only had my clothes off to change them. For six weeks I rubbed his arms and his legs in salt water day and night,' " recalled Douglas's sister, Martha, years later. It seemed to Julia that she was the only person in the world interested in saving her little boy. Salome Fisk journeyed to Minneapolis with her son Walter to bring home Elmer Richardson, another son from her first marriage, who visited for a month. After they returned, relatives and neighbors came to the house to meet the distant visitor in the front parlor. Meanwhile, a sleepless and frazzled Julia labored mightily in the back bedroom, massaging her son's limbs vigorously and praying fervently for his recovery. But nothing she did had any effect. By the end of September, little Orville had become so ill that Reverend Douglas, for the first time in his married life, interrupted his religious duties to tend to his family. Martha later told her brother: "I remember Father walking the floor with you and you were so hungry, you'd chew your fists. And they would feed you only a few teaspoons full at a time." But despite these efforts, on September 27 Wheelock's Weekly reported ominously, "A doctor spent three nights last week with Reverend Douglas, working for the life of his boy. The task seems nearly hopeless." By early October, the Fergus Falls Weekly Journal prepared the Maine religious community for the worst: "Orvill[e], the little son of Reverend Douglass [sic], who has been very ill, is no better and his recovery is doubtful." Wheelock's Weekly added somber news indeed for those who knew of their minister's devotion to duty: "Reverend Douglas will not preach again until his little boy is better." Then, without warning, just a week later, the newspapers reported that while waves of typhoid fever ravaged all of the communities in the Otter Tail County region, a miracle had occurred in the Douglas household. "Reverend Douglas's boy is very much better and is now considered out of danger," reported Wheelock's Weekly. The Fergus Falls Weekly Journal added that the little boy had "sufficiently recovered from his long illness to be removed from Mrs. Fisk's to his home at the parsonage." For the little boy's first meal following his recovery, Julia made a huge pot of baked beans, which he ate with great relish. Just one week after his recovery, little Orville was well enough to celebrate his second birthday with a party in his own home. Having already lost her father and a brother to intestinal ailments, not to mention the unrelenting stomach difficulties of her husband, the sudden recovery of her little "Treasure," as the family now called him, had a profound impact on Julia Fisk Douglas. Only her constant massages and her prayers, she told her children over and over, had saved the young boy. God had spared her tiny Orville for some noble purpose, she decided, and now it was her job to help him fulfill that heavenly destiny: He was to become president of the United States. Julia vowed that she would make that possible by protecting him from harm for the rest of her life. As a result, nothing was ever really the same in the Douglas household after little Orville's sickness. Orville now occupied all of Julia's waking thoughts, while her three-year-old daughter, Martha, was left to the care of the preoccupied reverend, who taught her to read and prepared her meals. The reason, Martha was told, was that her younger brother was special and deserved more attention from their mother. After more than a year of seeing their church expand in size, in mid-April 1902 the Maine congregation was shocked when Reverend Douglas, exhausted from his increasing duties at the larger parish, his efforts to start churches in other towns, and his frequent attempts to recover from various illnesses, submitted his resignation. He had received three calls to take charge of a church in Estrella, California, they were told. But the townspeople never learned that in going to the town just miles from Shandon, Douglas was actually returning to the same California area from which he had come by way of Chicago and Nova Scotia nearly eight years earlier. Even more oddly, no one in Estrella knew that he was coming either. "He just arrived one day is all anyone in the area knew," recalled Ross McMillan, whose family lived near Estrella in the early 1900s. After visiting friends in Yakima, Washington, and attending a religious meeting in San Francisco, the Douglases eventually settled in nearby Shandon, where they lived by a small church that was shared by the area's Methodists and Presbyterians. But the reverend quickly discovered that he could not have come to a worse place for his health. Having been in the region during the late winter and early spring in 1894, when the weather was more temperate, he found in the summer of 1902 that the area's dust-filled air, searing hot winds, and unrelenting sunlight were about the worst combination of conditions for his health. His throat was now so bad that on occasion he could barely speak. And the reverend's eyes hurt so badly that he was forced to write his sermons in the darkness of the church manse's dank basement. But as bad as the move was for him, it was that much and worse for Julia. Seven months into her third difficult pregnancy, immediately upon arriving in the arid town in mid-August she took to her bed. No one in town knew just what ailed the new reverend's wife, with some even voicing the suspicion that it was more psychological than physical. And just as he had done in Maine, the reverend could not take time away from his duties for her care. Entrusting Martha to the care of his bedridden wife, the reverend took little Orville and rode up to McMillan Canyon, named for the huge wheat and barley farm and cattle ranch established and run by Canadian émigrés Alex McMillan and his wife. His wife was terribly sick, the minister explained to the McMillans, the area's most visible Presbyterians; would they mind taking care of his three-year-old son? The McMillans were not thrilled with the idea, but since Douglas was now seen as their minister, they agreed. Alex McMillan drove the little Douglas boy in his wagon out to the home of his spinster sisters, Kate and Helen McMillan, to be cared for along with his youngest son, Donnie. In no time at all the two women began complaining that they had never seen anything like the new preacher's little boy. "He was such a mischievous and hard-to-handle kid," recalled another of Alex's sons, Eben McMillan. "Even as a young boy he was very determined and extremely competitive. Douglas was a problem. He had his own ideas about what he wanted." As word spread throughout the region about what their new minister had done, people grew downright angry. "The community didn't like the fact that he was never around his family," recalled Eben McMillan. "He relied on others to take care of his own responsibilities." And as the caretaking duties continued for several weeks, the community grew still angrier. "Reverend Douglas was not thrifty at all," explained Eben McMillan. "He lived off the goodwill of the farmers, and so he didn't command any respect at all." As a result, the town soon lost interest in anything that Reverend Douglas had to offer. When the Douglases' second son, Arthur, was born in October 1902, leading the community to believe that there would be a need for more child care, the self-sufficient people of Shandon and Estrella turned against him. "In the end," remember both Ross and Eben McMillan, "the judgment on Reverend Douglas was that he was just too eccentric for us." So, in April 1904, less than two years after their arrival, Douglas announced that he was leaving to accept a call from central Washington State. "Frankly, no one in the community was too sorry to see him--or them--go," recalled Eben McMillan. "He was a rather itinerant individual, and he didn't seem satisfied to stay in one place for too long." Just as two years before, though, there had actually been no call from central Washington. But since many of Julia's family and old friends had followed E. A. Bickford and now lived in the North Yakima, Washington, area, the Douglases knew that they could provide them with support. Though he had no job in hand after the move, providence was with the reverend. Just one month later, Reverend J. G. Hodges, then serv- ing the small communities of Cleveland, Bickleton, and Dot, a little more than fifty miles south of North Yakima, unexpectedly resigned. When the $450 per year job was offered to Douglas, he quickly accepted and moved his family to his new post. But despite the more agreeable cool mountain climate, the reverend's health began to fail once again. By early July, Douglas was so stricken by what the doctors now diagnosed as stomach ulcers that he was totally bedridden. Since no medical remedy seemed to work, after leaving her children with family members in North Yakima, on August 1 Julia and her brother-in-law, Samuel C. Pettit, took William by train to the Northern Pacific Sanitarium in Portland, Oregon, in the hopes that cutting out a portion of the stomach (the prevailing medical treatment for ulcers) would help. While the operation itself was a success, the end result was not. Gastritis soon set in, to the point that Douglas could not take any food, making a slow death by starvation inevitable. By August 10 his bereaved wife was by his bedside, pleading, "Do you know me? Do you know who I am?" The fast-fading reverend, though, seemed as unconcerned facing death as he had with his own earthly fate. "If I live it will be grace," he said, "if not, it will be glory." On Thursday, August 11, 1904, he passed into glory. Three days later, the thirty-two-year-old widow, now bearing deep, dark circles under her eyes and still unable to shed tears because of the depth of her grief, donned a black dress to accompany her husband's coffin on the train to North Yakima. When she arrived at her sister May's Yakima house, Julia locked herself in a room, to keep her grief from her children. Days later, five-year-old Orville, dressed in his Sunday suit, trailed behind the dust raised by the horses carrying his father's coffin up the hill to its plot in Tahoma Cemetery. His mother looked terribly small and thin in her black dress and veil as she stood solemnly over her husband's open grave. Reverend F. L. Hayden, the local minister, said a few words and turned to young Orville to say, "You must now be a man, sonny." But rather than staring into the new gaping hole in the earth or dealing with the new burden placed upon him, Orville shifted his eyes elsewhere: As I stood by the edge of the grave a wave of lonesomeness swept over me. Then I became afraid--afraid of being left alone, afraid because the grave held my defender and protector. . . . My throat choked up and I started to cry. . . . I tried to steel myself and control my emotions. Then I happened to see Mount Adams towering over us on the west. It was dark purple and white in the August day and its shoulders of basalt were heavy with glacial snow. It was a giant whose head touched the sky. As I looked, I stopped sobbing. My eyes dried. Adams stood cool and calm, unperturbed by the event that had stirred us so deeply. Suddenly the mountain seemed to be a friend, a force for me to tie to, a symbol of stability and strength. For the young boy who had known so much uncertainty, the mountains would come to symbolize permanence and peace. But there was no peace for Julia. For days after the funeral she kept to herself, remaining unable to cry. For the rest of her life "Mumsey," as her children called her, held her dead husband up to them as the smartest, gentlest, and most handsome man she had ever known. Nothing they would ever do, she told them repeatedly, no success that they achieved, would ever approach his greatness in her eyes. Julia did this out of love for her husband, seemingly unaware that by holding him up as an icon, she was sowing the seeds of their belief that they would never achieve any real success in life when measured against their ancestors. After a while, Julia came to accept that though she was now a widow, there were three little children who needed her help, and it was her destiny to take care of them. Given the choice of returning home to her mother's Maine, Minnesota, farm or returning to Cleveland to get their things and then moving to North Yakima, where most of the rest of her extended family now lived, Julia decided to stay in the west. It was the first real decision she had made for the family, and it was one that had a profound impact on the life of her elder son. Now, eighteen years later, that son, Orville Douglas, was perched on a similarly decisive precipice, contemplating how to take the next step toward fulfilling his destiny in New York City. As the blue bloods of Columbia's Beta Theta Pi fraternity, all clad in tweed jackets, inspected the man who had just come through the door claiming to be one of them, his future appeared to be in their hands. Excerpted from Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas by Bruce Allen Murphy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.