Williams, William Sherley, 1787–1849, American trader and trapper, known as Old Bill Williams, b. Rutherford co., N.C. Much of his early life was spent in Missouri, where he was a traveling preacher. Becoming (c.1822) an independent trapper, he accompanied (1825–26) a surveying party on the Santa Fe Trail. He also trapped in the Yellowstone country and in Texas and went to California on an expedition in 1833–34. After that he spent much time in the mountain country and along the Santa Fe Trail. In 1848, Williams, who was one of the most colorful of the mountain men, joined John C. Frémont's fourth expedition at Bent's Fort as a guide. Frémont, disregarding Williams's advice, led the group toward the headwaters of the Rio Grande, where most of the party perished of cold and starvation. Frémont retreated, blaming the episode on the guide. Williams was killed by the Ute while retracing the path of the expedition.
See biography by A. H. Favour (new ed. 1962).
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