Looking out over the rows of headstones at Wolf Valley Cemetery, 81-year-old Paul Muhle quietly explains, he knows, or knows of “most everybody out here.”
He wishes he knew more about them, wishes he'd paid more attention to the stories, the details and the history when those who lived through them were here to tell them.
“There's lots of history buried here. People who knew all these things about Wolf Valley are all gone,” Muhle said. “Maybe if we'd have asked more, we'd know things that would be helpful now.”
All that Wolf Valley is now is the cemetery, and the cinder block church that was built in the 1970s after the original log church burned. The church doors open for an occasional funeral, and always on the first Sunday in May, when descendants of those buried there come to decorate their ancestors' graves, meet for a brief business meeting, hold a church service and share a meal “on the grounds.” Then in the afternoon, gather again in the little chapel and sing the old hymns.
“Our cemetery is about full,” Muhle said. “The places that aren't filled are most likely reserved. We've worked hard, and I think, finally, all but one or maybe two of the graves have been identified.”
He points to the small ravine southwest of the little church and says the story is that in the late 1800s the Davidson family hired a man to move the old log church building up the hill. Nobody thought it could be done, not by 100 men and certainly not by one.
But it only took one man, and his one mule. He laid out “pipes and beams and got it across,” Muhle said.
According to a story by Robert H. Porter, printed in a September 1940 edition of the Brownwood Banner, Wolf Valley, which is some 3 miles north of May in northeast Brown County, got its name when a small group of horsemen, passing by, spied the carcass of a young cow or buffalo completely surrounded by about 30 hungry wolves.
Porter's article also points out, “Wolf Valley was settled almost exclusively by ex-Confederate soldiers, and the remains of 14 of them now rest in the Wolf Valley Cemetery.”
There's a Civil War connection to the valley and his ancestors, Muhle said. His great-grandfather, a Confederate soldier, died from dysentery in 1863, when Muhle's grandfather, George Lester, was just 9 years old.
“My grandfather always said he had to reach up to hold the plow handles,” Muhle said. “But he had to, he was the man of the place and there wasn't anyone else to plow.”
When his grandfather was 21, he and his mother, Mary Lyon Lester, headed west for Wolf Valley.
“That was 1877,” Muhle said.
Beside Mary Lyon Lester's marker, is the flat bronze war memorial marker for Pvt. Thomas J. Lester, of the Company G 20th Regiment, Texas Cavalry, Confederate States of America, Muhle's great-grandfather.
“He's not buried there,” Muhle said. “They didn't want him to be forgotten, and the family was here, so they put down that marker.”
Muhle said he grew up hearing the stories of the hard times, about the scarcity of water and the tough times they endured coming to this part of Texas. At the end of her life, Mary Lester dictated her story to one of the grandsons who had learned to write in shorthand.
“That grandson was Tom Taylor, and he wrote down 11 pages of his grandmother's story,” Muhle said. “Tom Taylor was one of the early presidents at Howard Payne.”
There's another story about his grandparents, buried side-by-side in the curbed plot. Muhle's grandmother's headstone has her name as Callie J. Lester, wife of George C. Lester.
“I found out – oh some time ago – that her family had dreams of going to California. They never got there,” Muhle said. “This is as far as they made it to. But they named my grandmother California Jane and called her Callie. I guess that way they had a little bit of California right here.”