On May 29, 1989, Wild Bill Howland rode his buffalo into Bridge's Bar to make good on a wager with then-owner Jerry Bridge.
Annette Becker was there that day. She remembers the Maple resident riding the buffalo through the door and turning him around in the limited space. The animal, named Harry L., didn’t like the steps, she said.
When the buffalo’s patience started wearing thin and he sent a stool sailing, Becker said she ducked for cover.
But that’s not her favorite Bill story. When Becker was 7, Howland drove up to her Maple home in a buckboard wagon pulled by mules. He spent hours taking Becker and her seven siblings for rides.
The community is coming together to support Howland, who is battling cancer, on Saturday, Feb. 8, in downtown Lake Nebagamon. The event will raise money to help offset his medical expenses.
Nicknamed Wild Bill by friends, he’s both the storyteller and the subject of tales.
“He’s got a heart as big as Harry L.,” said Shelly Harvey of Lake Nebagamon, and Bridge’s was like his second home.
Bar patrons were quick to offer their own Bill stories Wednesday, Feb. 5. Some weren’t fit for print. Others highlighted his eclectic personality and house.
“He just stands out,” said bar owner Traci Bridge Longa. “If you meet Bill, you remember him.”
Howland is a jack of all trades, his son Justin said. A landscaper and a mason, he sold firewood and had a petting zoo of sorts. He took Harry L. on a ride from Superior to the Mauston area to raise money for charity in 1991. And he’s a friend to many.
“When I think of Bill, I think of a storyteller,” Longa said. “He’s always telling me stories of my grandma and the bar.”
The benefit is a story of its own. Organizers began setting it up Jan. 29. A week later, they had collected long lists of donations from area businesses and individuals.
“I’ve worked on a lot of fundraisers, but I’ve never had a fundraiser where people are calling me, dropping things off,” Longa said. “The response has been amazing.”
Donors either know Howland or have heard of him.
“He’s a legend in Lake Nebagamon, very well-loved,” Harvey said.
Justin Howland, owner of Grizz Works, is carving his father’s story into a block of white pine, which will be permanently placed in the outdoor pavilion behind Bridge’s Bar. It includes Native American clan animals, a cowboy hat, medicine wheel and drum.
"He's always marched to the beat of his own drummer," Justin Howland said.
Bridge’s Bar, he said, is the right spot for the carving.
“He spent a lot of time there. It was a meeting place for all his friends,” Justin Howland said.
The benefit takes place from 3-8 p.m. Saturday at Bridge’s Bar and the Lake Nebagamon Auditorium. The cost is $10 for food and $10 to enter the chili cook-off. There will be a silent auction and a bonfire at Bridge’s. Organizers encouraged everyone who knows Howland to drop by.
Visit the Facebook event page or call Bridges at 715-374-3111 for more information.