Long before there was a Superman, the man of steel, faster than a speeding bullet and endowed with X-ray vision, there was a legend of the boy with X-ray eyes. Superman hailed from the fictional planet of Krypton. The boy with X-ray eyes was from Uvalde.
On a dark night in the late 1890s, a stockman named Joel C. Fenley walked for a spell through a pasture with his son, Guy, who was around 9. Staring at the ground, the boy said: Look at that stream of water.
Joel Fenley was confused. There was no water in the pasture. Guy told his father the water was in the ground. He said he could see a flowing stream underneath the soil and rock, about 200 feet down.
The elder Fenley decided to sink a well in the spot where Guy claimed there was a subterranean stream. At 187 feet, some accounts of the story say, Fenley tapped an abundant water source.
News of Guy’s successful prediction spread, but it seemed far-fetched. Folks were skeptical. In 1900, a Uvalde rancher named Thomas Devine paid the Fenleys a visit. He had spent thousands of dollars trying to locate a water source on his property, to no avail. He remembered the old rumor about Guy and asked Joel Fenley for help.
Devine took Guy out to his ranch one evening and let him look around. After two hours of walking, Guy spotted a large subterranean stream running in a southeasterly direction. Devine marked the spot, but the boy wasn’t finished. Guy followed the underground stream for more than a mile with Devine in tow, making more marks along the way. Every mark where Devine sunk a well yielded a plentiful water source.
News of Guy Fenley’s “vision” once again began to spread, but this time folks put more stock in it. He was offered $500 to locate a well on the F.K. Moore ranch in Edwards County and did so, but he refused compensation.
When Wigfall Van Sickle, a state representative from Alpine, complained to fellow legislator John Nance Garner of water problems on his Big Bend ranch near the Glass Mountains, Garner, the future vice president of the United States who was from Uvalde, recommended Guy Fenley. When Van Sickle invited Guy out to his ranch, Guy walked the property at night and put Van Sickle onto two water sources but, again, accepted no remuneration.
In no time—at age 14—Guy was an international celebrity. His nocturnal water-detecting feats were reported in newspapers around the country, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to the Illustrated Buffalo Express, and as far away as The Bruce Herald in New Zealand. Joel Fenley began receiving hundreds of letters from all over the country from folks soliciting Guy’s help. Guy continued to find water sources in South and West Texas, still refusing payment, and soon the oil industry came calling.
In a short report on December 14, 1901, The New York Times announced that “The Boy With X-Ray Eyes” had located a gusher in Beaumont and drastically expanded the boundaries of an existing oil field. Guy could see water and oil—as far down as 1,200 feet, according to Times—and the oil companies were suddenly knocking nonstop at his door.
And then Guy disappeared from the headlines. Over the years, it was rumored that Guy still located water now and again for friends and relatives, but these stories were never substantiated.
By this time Guy had married, taken up ranching in Zavala County and worked as a county clerk. He led a quiet life and kept things that way until he passed away in 1968, just shy of his 80th birthday.
British physicist Sir William Barrett and author Theodore Besterman published The Divining Rod: An Experimental and Psychological Investigation 1926 that included an account of Guy’s abilities. In it, Van Sickle verified Guy’s uncanny faculty and described him as “a modest, handsome blue-eyed boy,” little different than other boys his age, and noted that he was unable to explain the “wonderful power” and the “extra sense” that Guy seemed to possess.
In March of 2011, the Terrell County Memorial Museum News published a small piece on Guy, and editor Bill Smith received an unexpected call from Daune Reinier. Her great-grandfather was one of Guy’s brothers.
Reinier had stumbled across the museum site while researching her family name. She had heard stories about Guy from her grandmother, Florence Fenley, and in February she shared some of the sad details behind the legend and what apparently ended Guy’s water-detecting capacities.
Reinier confirmed family stories that stated Guy never accepted payment for the gifts his vision afforded him but said that, at some point, his father, Joel, had begun accepting fees unbeknownst to the boy. When Guy found out, there was a terrific row—and Guy was never able to divine underground water or oil sources again.
E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo.