The Wild Man of Clay County
Some stories do not need embellishment, as the facts can be intriguing enough all by themselves. Such is the tale of the Wild Man of Clay County. It was 1908 and Henry Ford had just produced his Model T automobile in Michigan; President Taft was elected, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed and the Wild Man of Clay County was born. Orval was born to Sarah Elizabeth (Mitchell) Brown and husband John Logan Brown. He would live a life many envied–or at least were fascinated by.
Orval Brown often said that he was greatly influenced by Edgar Rice Burrough’s book “Tarzan of the Apes” and subsequently, the movie. Tarzan’s character was described as being extremely athletic, handsome, tall and tan with wavy, long black hair. He was brave, smart and loyal to those he cared about a great model for kids growing up in the Great Depression.
While growing up in Clay County, Orval seemed to have an aversion to clothing – befitting of any Tarzan admirer – and preferred the outdoor country life. Life on the family farm surely became boring for a wanderlust soul such as his and with just 17 years behind him and an 8th grade education, he left home for the open road making it as far as the Rio Grandeon foot he later claimed.
After returning home a few years later, Orval donned a loincloth and posed for photographs charging 25 cents for each photo. He later claimed that on some days he made as much as 30 dollars posing with locals and out of towners who came in search of the country Tarzan. Occasionally he worked the fairs and carnivals dressed only in his loincloth and flexing his muscles. Thirty dollars a day? Not bad for a self-made Wild Man.
Uncle Sam came calling and our Wild Man of Clay County served in the Army and then did a short stint in the Navy as well from 1941-1943. After an honorable Naval discharge, he returned home and it was there that his life took a violent and unexpected turn.
In the Beckley Post-Herald newspaper dated June 13, 1951, it stated that Orval Brown, age 53, was deemed insane in regards to the murder of his cousin and ordered to be committed to the old Weston State Hospital (now known as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Wilford Reedy, a first cousin to Orval, was killed. “He was comin’ at me with an axe, I had to shoot him. He was drunk, a regular outlaw,” he said. Regardless of his self-defense statement, he was convicted and sent to Weston to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum where he lived for 17 years.
After his discharge from the asylum in 1968, he returned to his home in Clay County. Eventually, his health began to decline and he passed away in 2005 at the ripe old age of 98 years. He had outlived all four of his siblings. The wild man who claimed to live a clean life free from sex, drugs and alcohol is buried in the Brown Cemetery in Indore just a few miles from where he once ran free, played in caves, swung from backyard trees and flexed his muscles. Sleep well, Mr. Wild Man.
Sherri Brake is a paranormal researcher, author and Haunted Heartland Tour owner. You may email her at SherriBrake@gmail.com or visit her website at www.HauntedHistory.net