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Olen Payne Wood – The Mystery Continues

I recently spoke to my cousin Kathy Wyler.  She told me that she had written a short story about the disappearance of our uncle Olen Payne Wood in the past.  She said that she would try to find me a copy.  She and her husband Phil Wyler have moved several times in the last couple of years and are now living in Abilene, Texas close to family members.  Kathy will be 91 on the 31st of March.  She was born in Africa of missionary parents.

Kathy wrote me a letter of about 5 pages that indicated she could not find the original story she had written but she described what she knew of Olen’s disappearance.  I will let her tell you what she told me:

Dear, dear Cuzin Charles:  Grandmother Wood’s story of Olen inspired me to write “A Family Resemblance”.  This will be highlights of things she told me:

One day we were going through her trunk.  (I was in lst grade in Loraine, Texas – about 7, I guess at the time; so you will imagine my story, to my way of thinking may sound like a fairy tale).  Grandma had bought a piece of land in Blanket, Texas from the Houghton family.  (At that time Olen, Jimmy, Zelma, Mayma and Bessie were still at home and moved with Grandma everywhere).

Lizzy Houghton was about 14; she and Olen fell in love.  Lizzy’s brother had a bunch of wild friends.  On the Houghton Place there was a very “nice” storm cellar.  “Tom” Houghton gambled and drank with Olen and friends down there.  Our family had always known this.  (Uncle Jimmy’s experience with Olen were probably a large part of this).

Since Grandpa Wood had died, I’ve often thought Grandma looked up to Olen to “head the family”.

About dusk one evening “Tom” Houghton and friends showed up with horse and wagon.  Bessie saw them down the road.  She grabbed the shotgun and ran to the attic, which had a window right over front porch (true story).

Wood siblings with Grandpa Anthony
Flora on your far left. Bessie standing behind Zelma. Grandpa Anthony holding James Oscar. Fletcher Pinckney standing behind William Henry and Olen Payne on your far right.

As it turned out, Houghton demanded Grandma give him the deed to her land (she had not paid it off yet in full).  Our precious angel Grandma Wood gave him the deed and promised to move.  (She didn’t know where Olen was that night).

Then “Tom” caught his little sister Lizzy with Olen kissing out in the barn.  He beat up Olen and told him if he touched his sister again, he would kill him.  That night Olen told Grandma he was having to leave for awhile and would write.  Of course we know he never did.

In the 1940’s when Zelma, Jeannie, Kathryn and Grandma Wood were living on the Hill in Abilene, Texas there was a bit of scary news paper article about some human bones found in a cave near Loraine.  Uncle Jimmy in California wanted to investigate but Grandma said “no”.

Lizzy Houghton and 2 daughters came to ACC to College.  They lived a few blocks from us.  They went to church with us.  Never spoke, recognized or visited.  Zelma never made any moves either.  Grandmother grieved silently.

Charles, some day, I hope, I’ll find my original.  I think this is quite actual.  I began the original with Grandmother’s trunk.  Olen had given Lizzy a little gold locket watch which Grandma gave me to play with.

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The Grahams’ of Cochran County – Chapter 19

CLEANING UP SOME STUFF.  I may be confusing some people when I talk about places that the Graham Family has lived.  As the title of this article indicates, most of the things I talk about happened in Cochran County unless otherwise noted.  I entered life on earth in this county.IMG_0851 (Edited)

To get a little more specific, I will talk about the Sessions Place or the Kennebrew Place or perhaps the Morton Farm.  Also you may be hearing statements such as the White House and House Behind the Café.  Then there will be George and Mary’s House.  These are all places I lived in Cochran County with the exception of the Sessions Place.  Bob was born there and then we moved to a farm close by that was the Kennebrew Place.  That is where I was born.

The picture you see above is one that shows the Graham siblings on the Sessions Place.  From your left to your right we see George; Bob being held by Marguerite; Beatrice and Leola.  In the front row from your left to your right is Katie and Mary.  You will notice that me and Janie were not born yet.IMG_0854

This next picture shows me present and accounted for.  I am the little tike in the front being held up.  The others in the picture are starting on your left: Belle Graham and dog; four of uncle Norman’s children; then starting in the back row: Marguerite (the tallest); Beatrice; George.  Leola is sort of in the middle with her hand on Bob’s head.  Charles (me) is next; Katie and the Mary.  This picture was taken at our grandparents house in Leveland.  Uncle Norman had died and we were probably there for his funeral.  We were living on the Kennebrew place at that time.

A short time later we move to the Morton Farm.  This place was about 5 miles out of town.  The next picture you see is of me and Bob in the little red wagon.  Janie was born on the Morton Farm.  That completes our family but not our adventures and growing up in Cochran County.01f5a4ebee072a4f43a76b75c741704be5e056390a_00001


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Who Killed Olen Payne Wood?

Wood siblings with Grandpa Anthony
Flora on your far left. Bessie standing behind Zelma. Grandpa Anthony holding James Oscar. Fletcher Pinckney standing behind William Henry and Olen Payne on your far right.

One of the burning questions in the Wood family (and Graham family) is what happened to Olen Payne Wood.  Olen was born in 1886 in Fayette County, Alabama to James Samuel and Vernettie Jane (Anthony) Wood.  He was their second child after their daughter Flora.  James had a lot of health issues and he felt that the climate in Texas might be more to his liking.  The 1900 census showed that the family was still in Alabama and Olen was 13 at that time.  There is a little discrepancy in this census in that the age was recorded as 13 but the year of birth looks like the recorder indicated a year of 1896.  A picture taken of the family after their move to Texas settles the age discrepancy.

Census 1900, Alabama, Precient 11 (Brown) Fayette County - Olen Payne Wood001This picture does not show Flora, Olen or Fletcher Pinckney.  My mother, Bessie Beatrice Wood is standing in the back.  James Oscar is sitting on your far left and his father, James Samuel Wood is next to him with Mayma being held by her mother.  Vernettie is next and on your right is Zelma.  In front is William Henry.  It was not too long after this picture was taken that James Wood died of the bloody flux.  (I think he had undiagnosed diabetes).

Olen Payne may have been missing at that point but I have not been able to determine that at this time.  Flora had married and I think Fletcher Pinckney was off to school.  One of my cousins told me recently that Olen had been given some money to pay on some land and was traveling to do that when he was robbed and killed.

Another theory that I have heard is that Olen had left with the money and was going to visit with a girlfriend before he took off.  The story goes that this girlfriend had two brothers who hated Olen.  The theory goes that he was killed by them and hidden in a cave or some other place.  This theory got some impetus when several years later there was a skeleton found in a cave not too far from where they were living at the time.  Simply robbery by itself would not have required hiding the body therefore the two mad brothers might fit that description better.

The author of this blog will appreciate any memories that family members may have about what happened to Olen Payne Wood.



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Zelma Wood Lawyer – Missionary – Author

My mother, Bessie Beatrice (Wood) Graham was my aunt Zelma’s older sister.  My mother used Aunt Zelma’s name frequently when trying to encourage me to continue on the straight and narrow.  This was not a rare event.  I will mention a few of the occasions when this occurred.

After graduating Morton High School, it was my intent to become a preacher.  This pleased my mother (and aunt Zelma).  There was some difficulty in staying in college because of finances and at age 17, I left college and went to Ruidoso, New Mexico to get my parents to sign so I could enlist in the army.  Mother was opposed to this and used aunt Zelma’s name in trying to discourage me from joining the military.  I just needed one signature, therefore my Dad obliged me.  Off to Fort Ord, California I went.

Four years later when I was discharged from the service and getting ready to enroll in college in the pre-med field, Mother invoked aunt Zelma’s name again.  She even asked me to read aunt Zelma’s book “I Married a Missionary” and loaned me her copy of the book.  She said aunt Zelma would be displeased if I did not continue in the previous field of preaching the Word of God.

I did read aunt Zelma’s book and must admit that I was a little disappointed.  She had a very good story to tell and yet she fictionalized portions of the book.  She changed names and did not have the name of Ray or Zelma Lawyer in the book. She use the name “Roberts” for the family name.  She did not talk about her oldest child, Jeanne who was about 3 years old when they left the states for Africa.  She did mention her second child, George, and indicated he was born shortly after they reached Cape Town.  Jeanne (Lawyer) Stinson, in her book, “I Dream of Jeanne” does set the record straight so to speak in the sense that George at age two did have a bad case of dysentery and died.  Zelma, on the other hand keeps him alive in her book after a frightening illness.

Aunt Zelma did have a severe depressive episode after returning home after her husband, Ray Lawyer died.  Perhaps she could not tell the true story because it was too painful to bare.  This was intimated when she was describing the incident that lead to Ray Lawyer’s (Mr. Roberts) death.  She deserves a lot of credit for what she accomplished in Africa and is worthy to have an endowed scholarship established in her name.  This scholarship has been initiated at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas and will be called The Ray and Zelma Lawyer Endowed Scholarship for missionary students.

Check out her book at Digital Commons @ ACU and look up “I Married a Missionary” by Zelma Wood Lawyer.  It is free.  It has a soul saving message.

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The Grahams’ of Cochran County – Chapter 18

It was hard growing up in the depression.  This pictures Charles and Bob in the little red wagon on the Kennebrew Place.  Dad was farming and barely eking out a living.  We were growing enough food to get by.  Andrew wanted something better for his family.  He kept moving closer to Morton.  It was not long after this picture was taken that the family moved to the “Morton Farm”.  Janie was born on the Morton Farm and unfortunately we lost our sister, Beatrice while living on the Morton Farm.

Andrew was also thinking about running for political office.  He thought he could do a better job getting us out of the depression that the current officials in office.  You may see a faint image of our dad near the cotton trailer in the background.


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Sweet Johnnie and Harding University – Part 2

Yesterday’s blog erroneously indicated that Johnnie worked in the cafeteria at Cathcart.  I knew better but for some reason I did not put the real name in the blog, which should have been Pattie Cobb Cafeteria.  In fact she stayed her semester in Pattie Cobb Dorm.  If you want to check out more about Pattie Cobb you might go to Liz Harrell’s blog of March 26, 2015 that describes some spooky things about Pattie Cobb.  Perhaps that is why I did not get the name right in the first place (

My daughter, Dorcas (also a graduate of Harding), pointed out to me that I should have told one of her mother’s favorite stories about mixing the eggs for breakfast.  Johnnie would tell the story of having a rather large pot that she was to fill with fresh eggs just cracked and dropped in the pot.  How to fish out one of those eggs that did not look so good among the other 50 eggs or so?  You didn’t.  Just go ahead and process the bunch.  The heat would kill the bacteria hopefully.  Does anybody know how to solve that problem?

Johnnie was a very disappointed young lady when she had to return to West Texas State College to finish her college education.  She just loved her roommate who was from Japan.  She had fallen deeply in love with Harding.  So much so that she insisted our children go to Harding or pay their own way somewhere else.  This strong advise has also applied to our grandchildren and it looks like our great grandchildren might get this same strong advise.

The Lord apparently directed that all of this happen because I had been praying since I was 16 that God send me the perfect mate.  I was home from the Korean War and not yet discharged when Steve Eckstein took me to Harding to look the place over.  That was in the summer of 1951.  Everything seemed ok but too restrictive for me.  Also the GI bill for the Korean War Veterans had not been passed yet because the war was still going on when I was rotated out.  I had to work my way through Junior College in Odessa where I could work as a Theater Projectionist and go to school at the same time.

My professor at Odessa College, Leonard Pack, suggested that I get my BS degree at West Texas State because Professor Whaley was the best in getting his students into medical school.  Go somewhere else and the professors might not be interested enough in his/her students to give them that extra push to get the medical school entrance exam score high enough to get admitted.

Fast forward to September 1953 when I arrived in Canyon, Texas and could not find a job as a theater projectionist due to the union situation.  I had to take up a job driving a taxi in Amarillo at night in  order to enroll.  Still no GI Bill.

I met Johnnie briefly in the Bible Chair during an introductory session where the Bible Professor had us all sitting in a circle.  I had just taken a memory course at Texas Tech and this helped a lot because the game was for the first in the circle to say their name.  The second one was to say the first person’s name and then their name.  You get the picture.  I was pretty close to the end of the line because I did not know what was going on.  By the time it got to me I was able to say the name of the 20 or so in front of me and my name as well.  I was surprised at that time that I remembered my name.  Johnnie told me years later that under her breath she asked someone “who is that old smarty”?

Unfortunately I could not make enough money driving the taxi and could not study well enough to keep my grades up so I left school and went back to Odessa and drove a truck for the Western Company.  They sent us out on jobs that took 36 hours to perform pumping acid down into the oil and gas wells (fracking).  During that time the government did get the GI Bill approved for the Korean War Veterans and I was able to return to West Texas State.

Stay tuned for the third installment.



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I did not know Johnnie when she went to Harding. She had graduated Shamrock High school in 1951. She decided on West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas. That was close and affordable. She had to work in the cafeteria to help pay her way.

There was a Church of Christ Bible Chair just off campus at WT. Students could study the Bible and get College credit. Johnnie had not attended church much while growing up because her dad’s family were Catholic and discouraged attendance at any other religious church. Her mother belonged to the Church of Christ and went there infrequently because of her husband and sister-in-laws resistance. Johnnie’s aunts snuck her into the Catholic Church and had her sprinkled as an infant. Johnnie was finding some newfound freedom at WT.

At the Bible Chair they would invite speakers from other churches and Christian Colleges. A speaker from Harding got a little aggressive in inviting the students to come to Harding. In addition one of the male students started courting Johnnie and she accepted baptism.

About 7 or 8 of the students decided to apply at Harding for the Spring Semester 1952. Johnnie was one of these students. Johnnie borrowed $250.00 from two aunts in Chicago. When the semester was over off she went to Harding. To help pay the tuition she got a job on Cathcart Cafeteria on campus. She had a blast. Her grade average plummeted.

Alas the money tree vanished when her Chicago aunts considered further investment unwise. Back to WT. Some of the students remained at Harding but about half returned to WT.

That is enough for today. Stay tuned.