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The Ridge Runner
Aka William Mooreland
If you are you thinking of moving to Boise or Idaho, here is an interesting story from days gone by! I grew up in a house with a master musician, he played multiple instruments loved music. His other passion was history, he had a million little sayings relating to famous events and how those long ago events could teach us about our current situation or predicament. He especially loved Idaho history from the murder of governor Stunenberg to driving the Lolo Motor road. He followed the Lewis and Clark trail and rode his 4 wheeler to the end of just about every road in the state. It did not matter which creek drainage you were in or what pass you just drove through, he always had the story about what happened here in 1840 or 1940. Loon Lake airplane crash, Nez Perce Battle Sites, he loved them all and passed on that love of this great state to all three of his kids!
One of his favorites was the story of the Idaho Ridgerunner a small slightly built man named William Mooreland. He became something of a folk hero for his ability to outsmart and outwit the forest service for 12 or 13 years. He stayed in their cabins and ate their food. The Forest Service estimate the cost of feeding him at $1,000 year. Over the years there have been numerous stories and a book or two outlining his exploits. Read one of these and he is a heroic, reclusive outdoorsman with the skills and abilities to elude even the most savvy Forest Service attempts to capture him. Using elk footed stilts was just one of the “tricks” he used to escape time and time again. Another time he was at a cabin when the pursuers arrived. It was pouring rain as they entered he grabbed his coat and he slipped out to “take care of the horses”…and was gone again. The Forest Service has written a little ditty up on their history page that paints a different picture of this survivor. In this article he is basically called dirty, a thief, responsible for ransacking and trashing forest service cabins throughout the Clearwater country. In short a disrespectful outlaw. He had lost nearly all his teeth, left trash everywhere, smoked up the cabins, never restocked the wood supplies. His history with the forest service goes well beyond his arrest in February 1945.
My guess is that the Forest Service's account is more accurate than the glamorized sunday morning paper version of loner vs the world. Complete dirt bag thief, probably. One thing is for sure he was a survivor. He basically lived outdoors year round in Idaho’s back country in a camp that most of us would not last 15 minutes in.
Here is a brief time line of his exploits:
January 1936- Broke into Lantz cabin on Main Salmon and stole rifle and backpack. Escaped to the north and wintered in and around the Meadow Creek Ranger Station (the old one, you can rent out the new one as part of the Forest Service rental program). Spent the bulk of 1936 going north via Powell and Kelly Creek areas.
1937 to 1942- Spent considerable time in St Joe and Clearwater forests. Many of his entries were dismissed by Forest Service personnel as legitimate as it was not uncommon for multiple divisions to use the various cabins.
1942- Forest service realizes they have a problem. The first known theft by William Moreland in June of 1942 at the trail camp located on Isabella creek. Taken were various items including one workers draft card. In August, another theft. The forest service master minds get together to try and solve these thefts and come to the realization that they have a string of break ins, by the same man!
1942-1943 Spent winter at Roundtop ranger station. Ranger arrives only to find the Ridgerunner has just fled.
1943- June theft of 90 day ration kit from lookout attributed to the Ridgerunner. September a .22 rifle disappeared from the Collins Creek cabin. Mooreland had this rifle on his person when captured in 1945. He spent 7 years living in Idaho’s back country without a gun to kill game. That in and of itself is a testament to his ability to survive and the Forest Service’s extensive array of out posts that were primarily used to restock the lookouts!
1944- March found the Ridgerunner preparing dinner at the Flat Creek cabin. There are 2 versions of what happened here, the hero story, went to take care of horses and slipped away before the two Forest Service Personnel realized who he was. The other is the official story that Rangers Holt and Cole did not realize that they had permission to apprehend him. So had dinner with him and watched him walk off into the night.
1945- January. The Forest Service decided to get serious about catching this man. Hiring the best outdoorsman they could find to track and corner the elusive recluse. Morton Roark and Lee Horner set up trap lines in the Bungalow area, occasionally meeting at the flat creek cabin and using radio communication to coordinate any evidence they found.
1945- February. Roark and Horner found tracks and evidence of use at one of the local cabins. They check all other local haunts and saw some tracks and decided that the ridge runner had left the trail and climbed a side creek. By circling around and dropping down from above they found the smoke from his fire and captured the ridge runner hunkered down preparing the last food that he had on his person with barely any warm clothes and just a tarp for protection. His flimsy bedroll was soaking wet.
Following Moreland's arrest in 1945, he was sentenced to one to five years for burglary, but it was suspended. He actually spent about 90 days in jail at Orofino. During this time he was sent to the State Hospital for observation. The report of the hospital was that he was rather antisocial, but no more apt to harm anyone than the ordinary individual. Mooreland had a big problem with authority figures and would spend the next 16 years fighting with and harassing employers, stealing from and antagonizing the forest service and spent several years in mental hospitals. He was released in 1961 and was not to be heard from again here in Idaho!
This is but one of many stories of back country mystery and intrigue. From Bill Darling and Dead Shot Read on The South Fork Of The Salmon, to the 1930’s murder mystery at Sheep Creek on the Middle Fork Of The Salmon River there are many more stories in and about this, The Great State Of Idaho!
If you are moving to Idaho and are looking for service oriented realtors to you have come to the right spot! Search homes for sale in Boise mls or Meridian Idaho Mls right here!