Born in Boone County, Missouri, in 1832, Woods moved with his family to Oregon, where he attended school. He prospected for gold and practiced law before entering politics. A founder of the Republican party in Oregon, he was named to the Idaho Territory Supreme Court in 1865 and ran successfully for governor of Oregon in 1866. When Woods failed to win renomination, Ulysses S. Grant named him governor of Utah in 1871. Woods saw the Nauvoo Legion as a threat to federal authority, and he also criticized the unusually broad jurisdiction of locally controlled probate courts. He urged the establishment of free public schools, comprehensive mining legislation, the abolition of polygamy, further railroad development, and federal funds to improve irrigation. He was not reappointed, however, and returned to practicing law. He died in Portland, Oregon, in 1890.