Orval Brown, who made a living by billing himself as the “Wild Man of Clay County,” died Sunday at a retirement home in Walton. He was 97.
Brown grew up playing in caves and quit school after the eighth grade. When he was 12, he read Tarzan comic strips and grew obsessed with living wild among the beasts.
Five years later, he fled his parents’ farm, determined to walk to South America’s jungles to live like his hero. He made it just beyond the Rio Grande.
Back in Clay County, he was locally famous for donning a loincloth and striding through town.
Brown turned his love of the outdoors and physical fitness into a measure of celebrity during the Great Depression. He put up signs along mountain roads urging passersby to buy “Wild Man Fotos” at 25 cents each.
Many curious travelers stopped to have their picture taken with the bronzed, hairy man who flexed his muscles for the camera. Brown said he earned as much as $30 some days.
Brown served two years in the Army and three years in the Navy during World War II, and said he hoboed around the country after that. “I pretty well made it to 30 states,” he said.
In 1951, Brown was accused of killing his cousin, Wilford Reedy. “He was coming at me with an ax, so I shot him,” Brown said in a newspaper interview. “He was drunk, a regular outlaw.” Brown spent 17 years in Weston State Hospital and later lived in exile from Clay County.
In recent years, Brown has lived in different care facilities across Southern West Virginia. His niece, Sarah Bragg, said in 1996 that staff at a veterans’ hospital, along with other patients and Brown himself, enjoyed a scrapbook with pictures of him in his heyday.
Number of downloads: 0