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  • Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

    The Wonderful Boy
    Guy Fenley

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox

    His father a respected Uvalde County rancher, the quiet, good-looking Guy O. Fenley seemed like a typical teenager except for one thing – newspapers called him the “wonderful boy…with X-ray vision.”

    One night in 1896 Joel Fenley had been walking in one of his pastures with Guy tagging along.

    “Look at that stream of water,” the boy said excitedly to his father.

    The elder Fenley knew his property. They were nowhere near any water. But the boy insised he saw flowing water – underground.

    Back home, Fenley filled a wooden bucket with water, had his son go into another room and then placed the bucket under a wooden table. Dousing the lights, he led the boy back into the room and asked him to point to the spot on the table corresponding with the bucket below. The boy did.

    Soon after, Fenley asked his son to show him again where he had “seen” the underground water. Fenley hired a driller and he hit water at 167 feet.

    Word of the boy’s supposed visual acuity began to spread, but most folks had a hard time believing it. That doubt began to erode when people heard what happened on the Thomas Devine Ranch. After walking around for a couple of hours, Fenley excitedly said he had found flowing water about 175 feet down. The boy indicated several locations where he said water lay near the surface. Each spot produced a well.

    In January 1901, early during that year’s legislative session, Alpine Rep. Wigfall Van Sickle had a conversation with Uvalde Rep. John Nance Garner about the trouble he had been having trying to find water on his Big Bend ranch.

    The future vice president suggested that Van Sickle get in touch with one of his constituents, Joel Fenley. Word had it that Fenley’s son could see underground water.

    While that sounded far-fetched, both legislators knew that some people did seem able to find water with willow divining rods. Hoping that young Guy was one of those so-called “water witches,” Van Sickle invited the Fenleys to Alpine to see if the boy could help him.

    Van Sickle had already sunk $1,500 into a 607-foot dry hole on his Glass Mountains ranch. In short order, the boy identified two points where he said water would be found. Both resulted in a well. Guy reportedly also found water on the previously dry Big Bend ranches of two uncles.

    Not long after visiting Alpine, Fenley’s story broke nationally. First appearing as a letter from someone in Austin to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the story ran in the Galveston News Feb. 9, 1901.

    The article said Guy had recently been offered $500 to find water on F.K. Moore’s ranch in Edwards County. He refused taking any money for his services, but he found water on the place.

    An editor in Galveston had asked the newspaper’s Austin correspondent to check with Garner about the boy’s reputed gift. The journalist wired back: “He says it is not a fake. He knows the boy personally, and has seen him locate water underground. Whether he has ‘X-Ray’ eyes or not Mr. Garner does not presume to know, but he says the facts related are true.”

    Others have claimed x-ray vision over the years, but they have never successfully demonstrated their powers to scientists using standard experimental protocols. In the case of more high-profile climants, one common factor appears to be an association between their power and the receipt of something of value for their services. But no evidence has turned up that Fenley or his family ever tried to capitalize on “the wonderful boy’s” supposed ability.

    In the early 1900s, the media loved to perpetrate or at least circulate hoax stories, from tales of petrifieid giants to people with super powers. Most of those tended to be created of whole cloth, but Guy Fenley was a real person from a no-nonsense, well-thought-of Texas family. His relatives did not know how he did what he did, but they believed him.

    In the spring of 1901, a reporter for the San Antonio Express interviewed Joel Fenley.

    “I can no more explain it than anybody else,” the teenager’s father said. “I have thoroughly tested the matter and am convinced that the boy can see as he says. I am naturally adverse to anything connected to claims of supernatural power or of a superstitious nature and would not believe my son’s statements until he convinced me of its truth by many demonstrations.”

    Then the newsman asked Fenley if he could speak with his son privately. The father agreed.

    Describing the boy as “averse to talking about his visual endowments,” the journalist managed to get this quote:

    “I don’t know.… I can just see the water, just like you can see something in the street out there. That’s all I know about it. I just see it, that’s all.”

    When he grew up, Fenley took up ranching in Zavala County, where he later served as a county clerk. Whether his power continued or waned went unreported. He died in 1968 at 79.

    While mainstream researchers insist no real science lies behind the claims of those who say they can find water beneath the ground, more than a century after “the wonderful boy” made national headlines, Guy Fenley’s purported power remains unexplained.

    ©
    Mike Cox - "Texas Tales"
    June 9, 2011 column

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