While visiting Camp Bullwheel last summer, Bill McGraw lost his wallet. He had no idea that an anonymous good Samaritan would later find it and go to great lengths to return it. (R. Colyer)

Good things in a quiet way...

Out-of-state visitor receives miracle wallet return

ENNIS—Bill McGraw first visited Camp Bullwheel to visit an old friend. 

McGraw and Camp Bullwheel Director of Development Frank Bell had gone to high school together and bonded over a love of the outdoors. They stayed in touch for decades and McGraw organized a visit last summer to get a firsthand look at the work Bell and the rest of the camp staff are doing.

Camp Bullwheel is a nonprofit adaptive fishing outfitter that provides people with physical disabilities or catastrophic injuries to experience life on the river. With adaptive equipment from wheelchair accessible rafts to fishing rods that a quadriplegic can cast with just a breath, the staff make the impossible possible, taking people out onto the famous Madison River who would never otherwise have the opportunity to do so.

“They have the right attitude there,” says McGraw of the staff at Camp Bullwheel. “They’re getting better all the time.”

McGraw himself is the chairman of a private foundation in the Cleveland area, so he has longtime familiarity with businesses of this nature and knows what it takes to get them off the ground. He’d restored an Airstream trailer last summer and used it as an excuse to come out and visit Camp Bullwheel. Bell liked the vehicle so much he bought it.

“I had a great time fishing with Peter [Pauwels, Camp Bullwheel’s co-founder] and Frank and a couple of their clients and enjoyed interacting with everyone,” McGraw recalls. “I’m just impressed with what they’re trying—and succeeding—to do. In the meantime, Frank fell in love with the Airstream and he ended up buying it.”

After a day on the river, McGraw climbed out of the raft the group had been in and sat down to take off his waders. As he peeled them off, he noticed his wallet, which he’d tucked in the chest pocket, was gone.

“I looked everywhere, and of course it blended in with everything so I couldn’t find it,” he says. “Finally, I gave up and went back to Camp Bullwheel.”

He called the police, who took down the information and sent someone out to look, also to no avail. It wasn’t the first time McGraw has lost a wallet, so he figured he wouldn’t even bother going through much more effort. He finished his trip, returned to Cleveland a couple days later and began jumping through the necessary hoops, cancelling credit cards, getting a new driver’s license and writing off as gone the cash that he’d been carrying.

What happened next, nearly a week later, caught him completely unawares.

“I was completely surprised,” he says. He received a call from Rocket Shuttles, one of the local guiding services. Someone along the river had found his wallet and turned it in to the nearest guide shop. “I couldn’t believe it.”

After asking a few questions to make sure they had the right owner, Rocket Shuttles mailed McGraw his wallet. When he got it in the mail, he expected it to be empty.

“That wasn’t the case,” he laughs. “If this had happened in my city, my credit card would have been charged for a tank of gas, a case of beer and a carton of cigarettes before I even noticed it was gone. When I received the wallet in the mail the contents were untouched, including two crisply folded $100 bills.”

The whole experience, McGraw says, is a testament to the kind of people who live in the Madison Valley. From the police to the staff at Camp Bullwheel and the guides who eventually facilitated the return, they were almost more concerned about the whole ordeal than he was.

“The attitude of everyone involved was enlightened and of deep concern,” he says. “People just aren’t like that in the east. It’s a different ethic. People are trying to do good things there in a quiet way.”

To show his gratitude, McGraw made a $500 donation to Camp Bullwheel in Rocket Shuttles’ name, hoping to render some small measure of support to the nonprofit’s growth. Camp Bullwheel is heading into its second full season guiding on the Madison and is already full up on reservations for its entire 13-week run, heavily facilitated by volunteer work and donations like McGraw’s.

“I hope this experience on the Madison encourages the fishing community to use the services of Rocket Shuttles, and to consider giving significant support to Camp Bullwheel,” he wrote in a letter to the nonprofit. “Please commit to both this season.”

McGraw has plans to return to the Madison, hopefully for a longer stay, this summer. He’ll likely leave his wallet out of his waders, but he’ll return with an even deeper sense of confidence in the residents of Southwest Montana and the fishing community of the Madison Valley.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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