There isn’t much known about the life of Bill Young, who lived here during the hungry 1920s and dirty 1930s. What is known is that he left his home in Ontario at age 18, headed to the American southwest looking for adventure (which he found in abundance) before making his way to Lake Cowichan in 1927.
In the 20s and 30s life at the Foot (as Lake Cowichan was then referred to) was rough and tough by city standards but no worse nor better than any other rural logging community. Having already worked as a logger in the woods, Young would have had no problem finding work as the Cowichan Lake area was filled with many small “gypo” logging companies scattered here and there. The life of a logger was very hard and could be cut short in an instant should the worker be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those who survived the dangers and hardships were tough men hardened by the job, their experiences, and the lives they led. Those experiences combined with his days amid outlaws and robbers are what legends are made of.
In October of 1939, as he lay on his sickbed at King’s Daughters Hospital in Duncan, a group of old friends crowded around his bed in the Coronation ward. They had come to visit the old timer, who turned 83 that day. Amid the chatter that ensued, cards and gifts were left unopened as the patient quickly began to entertain his visitors. His stories of the life he led during his Wild West days, prospecting for gold and the outlaws he encountered during that time were legendary. The visitors were kept enthralled with stories of his days among legendary figures such as Jesse James and Billy The Kid with his many-notched gun, who Young claimed he knew by sight.
Later, he told a Cowichan Leader newspaper reporter “something of his life in remote and dangerous parts of the old (American) west, making free with names that to the ordinary man carry the suggestion of the fantastic and legendary.”
His exploits from Ontario took him overland to California, south to New Mexico, Nevada and across the Rio Grande “to that land of hot tempers and quick knives—old Mexico.” Coming north again he rode the range to the Territory of New Mexico “whose meager and seldom-enforced laws made it the gathering place of vicious rabble from the two continents.” It was in this territory that his mining partner was shot down and indifferently tossed into a gully by Col. Fontaine’s Mexican Rangers.”
It was there that he came to know several infamous outlaws by sight. Being what he described as a nervous youth, he was in awe of these men while at the same time terrified of them and the lawlessness of the land.
When he’d had enough he headed north to the lower mainland of B.C. There he settled in New Westminster, Port Moody and Vancouver (which was then called Gastown) where he worked as a stagecoach driver, labourer and other related employment. After missing a great opportunity to make lots of money as a land speculator in Gastown’s earlier days, he fled to Vancouver Island.
On February 2, 1940 at age 83, he died in the Duncan hospital. His last sight of the outside world he had traveled so freely was that of the evening mist and the wood smoke as it drifted past his hospital bed window.