SIXTEEN — Bill McDonald was the kind of man that would push a flat-tired wheelbarrow almost 30 miles each way to town to get bags of food for his 70 dogs.
He was the kind of guy who just wanted to be left alone and always had a .44-caliber pistol in the back of his pants and a bowie knife strapped to his hip.
“He’s just a big old, dumb country boy,” said Wes Stidham of White Sulphur Springs, who had known McDonald since third grade. “He wanted people to leave him the hell alone, and he’ll leave you the hell alone.”
McDonald, 63, died of a single gunshot Saturday in the community of Sixteen, located about 30 miles southwest of White Sulphur Springs in Meagher County. Another man, Mike Eckberg, 61, was found at the scene with several stab wounds. He was taken to St. Vincent Healthcare and was in good condition Tuesday.
Meagher County sheriff’s deputies responded at 10 a.m. to a property along Sixteenmile Road. Stidham said the property was once McDonald’s before he sold it to the Eckbergs a few years ago with the stipulation that McDonald could live out the rest of his days in a trailer home on the same property.
The incident has rocked the small town of White Sulphur Springs, where most knew of the McDonald family. Bill McDonald lived his entire life out in Sixteen with his brother, Sam, and his mother, Lucille.
“They weren’t goofy, they were just different from everybody else,” Stidham said. “They stayed to themselves and never really bothered anybody.”
Stidham and his wife, Barb, went to school with McDonald. Even back then, his size intimidated some people.
That carried into his adult life, especially when he was packing his gun and knife, which prompted some to refer to him as “Crazy Bill.”
Wes Stidham said he never felt threatened.
“I went down to Sixteenmile lots of times in different outfits, but I never thought I’d be shot at,” Stidham said. “He’d meet you at the front gate and invite you in.
“I’ll miss the damn old turd-head. I liked him. I liked his upfront manner. If he said something, you could believe it.”
Stidham said things had begun looking up for Bill during the past few months. He had a girlfriend.
“He started cleaning himself up,” Barb Stidham said. “Who knows, it could have been the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Steve Lukenbill works at Van Oil in White Sulphur Springs, and often worked on McDonald’s truck.
“He’s a likable person. You never had any trouble with him,” Lukenbill said. “He was a good fella. This all has got people talking.”
While the McDonald family is well-known, the Eckberg family is new to the area. Stidham said they came to the area from Minnesota.
“We’ve met these people, too, and they seemed like nice people as well,” Barb Stidham said.
Police are continuing to investigate. Few details of the incident have been released. The Meagher County’s four-man team is being assisted by the Montana Department of Justice and Division of Criminal Investigation.
Others also are involved. About 70 of McDonald’s dogs are being rounded up and brought to the Lewis and Clark Humane Society.
The dogs, mostly Sheltland sheepdog/Pomeranian mixes, are in good condition for how many there are.
“This man obviously loved his dogs,” said Maggie Rousseau, a dispatcher with the Meagher County Sheriff’s Office.
Rosseau said the dogs will walk up to a person, but most shy away once a person bends down to pet them.
Most of the dogs were found outside McDonald’s mobile home. All of the dogs have fleas, and about four females have puppies.
The Humane Society is scheduled to pick up the dogs Wednesday. The animals are being held in a temporary pen near the property.
From there, dogs will be spayed, neutered and treated for fleas.
In the meantime, three dispatchers are working their best to track down the last few dogs.
“We set up traps for all of them,” Rousseau said. “Some people said some of the dogs are over the hillside, but no one has seen them since we’ve been here.”
The Meagher County Sheriff’s Office also is seeking materials or financial contributions to assist with the animals. The Sheriff’s Office can be contacted at 406-547-3397.
Contact Chelsea Krotzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1392.