Death and Grief by Patricia Woodell

Why is David taking a nap on the deck? This incongruous thought flashed through my mind. A moment before, I had seen him and Bud taking shots at the elk running across the meadow and now he was lying on the deck of the Sky Meadows Dude Ranch lodge. I had been looking out of the window, just ten feet away. I had been at that spot since they began shooting and I knew I hadn’t moved, turned my head nor blinked. David should have been standing except that now he seemed to be taking a nap.

Bud stumbled through the door. “Call the doctor! David’s been shot.” He turned back to render help, then shouted “Call the police. He’s dead.”

I stood rooted, unable to move. My dad who had seen it all from a side window, came slowly into the living room, his face contorted, tears streaming down his face.

Rose, David’s mother, rushed into the dining room, stepped to the window and gasped, “My God, they shot his eye out.” I saw her collapse sobbing onto the couch, her head back her hands covering her face. Her unconscious implication that “they” did it jolted me.

“No, Rose,” I thought, “‘THEY’ didn’t do it—neither my father, my mother, my four little children nor I shot David. It was Bud, my husband, the wrangler at the dude ranch you’ve been coming to see every other week-end all summer long. He is the one who shot him.”

By now Bud was inside and Rose turned. “Is there any chance?” Bud just shook his head and kept walking.

Sitting on the steps which lead to the basement, Bud gave way to the most heart-wrenching sobs I had ever heard. Stripped of his bravado, Bud became vulnerable, so totally defenseless I wanted to protect him, to alleviate the trauma. I put my arms around his shoulders but there was nothing I could say. I couldn’t say, “Don’t worry. It will be all right” because it wouldn’t be all right. David was lying dead outside.

I couldn’t say “Don’t worry—we’ll get through this” because we weren’t the only ones involved. Rose, a widow, had just lost her 16-year-old son, her only son, the focus of her life. My parents would always remember the tragedy which happened at the front door of their new Sky Meadow’s lodge.

And our children. The day was November 11, 1958, Ralph’s first birthday. He was oblivious to what was going on around him. But Tommy, (4), and Christine (6), were well aware that something had happened. But with all my attention going to Bud and Rose, they were left to quietly deal with the trauma themselves. They haven’t forgotten. Clifford (3) was more curious than anything and kept going to the window. I don’t remember any blood, but David’s body began to steam. That horrible image of his body steaming and steaming is with me to this day.

I don’t know who finally pulled the draperies. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I was moving on automatic.  In the face of such tragedy with others in greater pain, I had automatically put my own feelings aside. Too many others needed my support.

I must have appeared normal because Dr. Rogalski, after he finished his coroner’s report, called me aside. “Pat,” he said, “I’m leaving some pills here for Bud and Rose, but I’m giving you the instruction because you’re the only one here who knows what’s going on.”

The details which I remember, I remember clearly. But there is much that I have forgotten. For instance, I don’t remember anything about my mother that day, nor do I remember anything about the children except for Clifford looking out the window.

I don’t remember the county sheriffs coming nor being in the bedroom with Bud as we were questioned by the officers. I learned afterwards that Bud thought he might have dropped the gun causing it to discharge. I was no help because I “saw“ nothing—one minute David was standing with his back to me and the next he was down. My dad, however, saw exactly what happened. After missing the elk, he said, Bud dropped the butt of the gun downward and gave it a frustrated slap. At that exact moment, David turned and Bud’s angled rifle, with its hair-trigger mechanism, discharged into David’s left eye.

I don’t remember the body being removed, or the officers leaving with the two guns. But I do have one last image of that horrible day—as I was driving home with the children—Bud had opted to stay at the ranch with Rose— I looked back and saw my dear gentle father outside with a bucket of water and a broom scrubbing the blood away. How hard it must have been for him.


I was born in 1927 on the first dude ranch to open in Oregon or Washington. For the next nearly 40 years dude ranching played a major part in my life. When I married, I married---who else?----the handsome dude wrangler. After starting our family, we left the dude ranch to try something new, only to be drawn back again to join my parents in the business we loved.

Next to being a dude rancher, I wanted to be a writer. When I could, I attended writing classes and wrote some articles. I could have asked for a job at the local newspaper but I was afraid I couldn’t meet the deadline. Then when I was 60 years old, an editor contacted me and I became a professional writer---I was a stringer writing features and covering the goings-on in three small towns for two different papers. It was a dream-come-true but for a pittance. I had to keep my day job.

At almost 91, I’m still working a few days a week but my writing is now devoted to telling the dude ranch story.

-- Pat Woodell

Go ahead and Leave Feedback about this essay for a reply from the author.

Memoir Magazine