For those of us who loved Woody as a father and grandfather it was hard to miss the article, “It’s all about the locals at Moab’s Woody’s World Famous Tavern.” To say that the article is a vast oversimplification from only one person’s perspective is not enough. There is a lovely and rich history that is being completely overlooked, full of passionate people with personalities that were bigger than life. It is a history that deserves to be retold.
When Woody and Annie Woodward started Woody’s Tavern, it was one of many bars in Moab. Among other things, Moab was home to a lusty crowd of cowboys and miners. It was a town of booms and busts, and when it boomed, well, boy howdy, you better celebrate and get rowdy! Real rowdy.
Charlie Steen had just hit it big, and the whole town was rich. And it got a little rowdy. The kind of rowdy you just don’t see anymore. Like Wild West kind of rowdy. Woody was fresh out of the Navy and fit right in. The one thing that rang true in that article is this: Woody WAS larger than life. Woody was a walking legend, and still walks today in the memories of those who knew and loved him.
He had a way of finding and taking in people that life had kicked in the teeth, and making them his friends. He was always willing to give them a hand (but never a handout!). As a World War II veteran himself, he held the men who had served this country in the highest esteem, and when the boys who went to the Vietnam War started coming home as changed and haunted men, he took them in too. In fact, he was honored to call them friends.
A lot of those changed men we came to know, and they scared us all. They were even more scary to anybody that didn’t know them, and they earned every bit of it. They were human, and had their own coping mechanisms for dealing with the memories of war. They were also good and honest men, willing to fight for higher causes than themselves.
Woody’s was a place to share drinks and good laughs with people from all walks of life. That bar survived some wild and tumultuous times, and was a product of its environment. There were house rules, and if you screwed up, you would be kicked out. With force, if necessary. We would be much more inclined to say that all those drugs and violent, scary people referred to in the article were a sign of the times rather than a symptom of the bar.
When he sold Woody’s Tavern, Woody was on his way to make his next fortune in life, with a woman that he married after the loss of Annie. Woody was well diversified, and ended up selling ALL of the businesses he had started in Moab with Annie, not just Woody’s. After the tragedy of having her murdered in that bar, it was a relief to let that particular business go. He had quite a few businesses going — enough to float any “financial issue” that may have loomed.
He seemed to prefer acting as his own bank. As we recall, all the sales of those aforementioned businesses were done with a preference for a buyer that would take out the loan through him so he could collect the interest on the loan himself. The idea of Woody standing in the rain looking for someone to buy his bar so he wouldn’t have to auction it off is laughable. It’s hard to tell where the legend ended and the man began, but we do know that the people and the stories that weave the fabric of the history of Woody’s all tell tales of wild and independent thinkers who continued to believe in a higher justice, and fight for it. Perhaps it was the generosity of their spirit, the strength of their character. Woody and Annie both had a way with words that kept you on the edge of your seat, a wicked sense of humor and a cutthroat business savvy that can only be developed from a life full of incredibly hard knocks. All those clever sayings and stickers behind the bar, the oldest layers of tarnished blood, sweat and tears, hours and hours of elbow grease, the oldest carvings under all the others in that aged wood bar and the hand prints embedded in the concrete pads underneath the vending machines from all those many moons ago — that’s the Woodward family history. The legacy that Woody and Annie created is what made Woody’s Tavern “world famous” before there was ever a name change.
Woody’s life story is a special, juicy kind of story, full of loss and heartache, and larger-than-life events, but he always, always, ALWAYS picked himself back up and kept on truckin’. His life story is one that is easy to exaggerate and twist, and get wrong. People have been banking on his story and our family name for years now.
Leslie Estes is one of two surviving daughters of Woody and Annie Woodward.
ByBy Leslie Estes and the remaining family of Woody and Annie Woodward