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Squirrelly Bill Carpenter

Outdoorsman William ‘‘Squirrelly Bill’’ Carpenter (April 17, 1827-February 21, 1921) was born on the Elk River near the mouth of Laurel Creek on a homestead later lost in the building of Sutton Lake. Grandson of the Braxton County pioneer and legendary fiddle player Jeremiah Carpenter and his first wife, reportedly an Indian, Squirrelly Bill was himself grandfather to another fiddler of renown, Ernie Carpenter (1907–97).

Carpenter built dugout canoes, which he sold by length for a dollar per foot. He also occupied himself fishing, hunting, freighting, scouting, fiddling, and guiding prominent West Virginians, including Governor MacCorkle, through the wonders of the Elk Valley. Charleston attorney W. E. R. Byrne, in his classic book Tale of the Elk, tells of his adventures with Squirrelly Bill and his sons. Carpenter was said to have enjoyed an uncanny knowledge and understanding of nature and its signs. ‘‘He no doubt has caught more fish and killed more game than any other man that ever lived in this section,’’ according to Carpenter’s obituary in the Braxton Central newspaper.

According to grandson Ernie Carpenter, Squirrelly Bill never wore shoes but kept to moccasins until the end. He practiced other old ways as well. His son, Shelt, was fond of saying of his father, that, ‘‘In the old days we did everything by hand-power and awkwardness.’’ Squirrelly Bill Carpenter is buried in Braxton County.

Written by Peter Silitch


  1. Milnes, Gerald. Play of a Fiddle. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

  2. Byrne, W.E.R. Tale of the Elk. Charleston: West Virginia Publishing Company, 1940, Reprint, Charleston: Quarrier Press, 1995.

  3. Milnes, Gerald & Michael Kline. Ernie Carpenter: Tales of the Elk River Country. Goldenseal, (Summer 1986).