Johnny Vardeman: Stories stir memories of fabled ranger Arthur Woody

Duncan Dobie’s book about U.S. Forest Ranger Arthur Woody has stirred memories of the man from people who knew him or had friends who knew him. Dobie’s book, “Arthur Woody and the Legend of the Barefoot Ranger,” tells numerous stories about the famous conservationist who did so much for preserving the wildlife and forests in North Georgia.

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Ranger Arthur Woody’s life is chronicled in the book “Arthur Woody and the Legend of the Barefoot Ranger” by Duncan Dobie. - photo by Times file

Jim Styles of Cumming remembers his Uncle Dewey Cline talking about whom he called “Big Foot,” or Ranger Arthur Woody. Woody also was known as the barefoot ranger, some called him “Kingfish,” others simply “Ranger.”

Cline worked with Woody, the U.S. Forest Service and Civilian Conservation Corps. Styles remembers his uncle wearing boots laced up to his knees for tromping through the woods and his love of fly fishing. He said he hadn’t thought about Woody for years until Dobie’s book about him came out.

Mary Louise Hulsey of Gainesville recalls numerous stories her late husband, John Burl, used to tell about Woody. John Burl knew the ranger well, starting while he was a student at what was then North Georgia College in Dahlonega. Students who wanted to fish or hunt in the nearby mountains would first have to seek out Woody for his permission. 

Woody, too, attended North Georgia College, but for only three days, according to legend. His formal education lasted only through elementary school, but he self-educated himself about the mountain forests and wildlife.

Mary Louise also remembers a story John Burl used to tell about Woody’s “government checks.” After Woody died, numerous uncashed checks were found on the mantelpiece in his home at Suches. She didn’t know if they were paychecks,  payments for land he acquired for the government or other expenses.

Woody wasn’t wealthy, but besides his Forest Service job, he did a lot of dealing in real estate. He spent much of his own money toward conservation projects in the mountains.

Mary Reese Myers’ late father, Ed Reese, worked for the Forest Service at the same time as Woody, who died in 1946. As a small child she remembers going to the mountains with her father and visiting with Woody. Her first fishing trip was with Woody and her father.

The Reeses got to know the Woody family and often ate with them. Mary remembers every time they went to the Woody home, daughter Mae would offer them biscuits she had made. The Woody home place was a regular stop for Forest Service workers and even strangers who came along needing a meal or a place to rest. Gov. Ed Rivers was a friend who visited often.

Mary and Woody’s daughter, Jean McNey, who lives in the Suches home place, continue to exchange Christmas cards every year. McNey, a retired educator, is 88 years old.

Rosemary Dodd, wife of the late Ed Dodd, creator of the outdoorsy comic strip Mark Trail, said Ed knew Woody well and used to talk about him a lot.

Arthur Woody was responsible for building Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, which he said he wanted large enough to hold his funeral. However, more than 1,500 people came when he died, and there weren’t enough seats for them all.


The first automobile to go through Woody Gap on what is now Ga. 60 north of Dahlonega carried Professor J.W. Boyd, Bear Joe Lunsford and Walter Woody, son of Arthur Woody, in September 1925.

Ranger Woody was a prime promoter of an improved road over the gap. The story goes that when he asked federal road authorities to build a road, they refused, saying they only had money to improve existing roads, not build new ones. So Woody and his friends carved somewhat of a rough road through the mountain gap, and asked federal authorities to “improve” it. And they did.

Before the road was built, even horses and wagons had trouble getting over the mountains, which were impassable in wet weather. Now, Ga. 60 and U.S. 19 run north out of Dahlonega, and Ga. 60 branches off to Suches.

Surveys on the Woody Gap road began early in the 1920s, but though the graded portion opened by the mid-1920s, it would be a while before a hard surface was completed.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. Contact him at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; or e-mail, vardeman1956@att.net.

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