wild man

Photo courtesy of Norton Arborgast, findagrave.com

I’m always looking for inspiration for my characters and in WV I don’t have to look far. Take, for example, the Wild Man of Clay County.

First, his name was Orval Elijah Brown–a most excellent name for any character. Second, he spun his penchant for growing a beard and wearing little more than a loin cloth into ready money during the Depression.

Born in 1908, Orval, grew up on a farm, was educated through the eighth grade (pretty good in the early twentieth century), and was an avid reader. While something of a free spirit, he was also dedicated to healthy living. He claimed to eschew sex, drugs, and alcohol and kept in excellent physical shape. As is obvious in the photos he posed for.

When word got out that there was a Tarzan-like man living in a cave in WV, visitors began to come. Folks paid a quarter to have their picture taken with him.

His posing career was cut short, though, when he was called up for service in 1930. He served in the US Army for three years and then did a stint in the Navy from 1941-1943. I assume he wore the requisite uniforms.

Pretty good story, right?

But it gets more interesting! In 1950, Orval killed his first cousin. He claimed self-defense, pled insanity, and spent 18 years in a state mental hospital. After his release he lived with his sister in Nicholas County for nearly 30 years. He spent his last ten years in a retirement home, finally passing away at the age of 97 in 2005.

Man, you just can’t make this stuff up.