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.

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


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.