Thursday, April 7, 2011

Babes in the Woods

Growing up I heard the telling of the tale the story of Joseph and George Cox.  It is well known throughout the Allegheny Mountains as The Lost Children of the Alleghenies. A small memorial is nestled in the dense forest of Spruce Hollow, Pennsylvania; not far from where I once lived and is common lore throughout the area and beyond.

I’ve never forgotten it, though it has been deca. . . er . . . a few years.   It came to me that I should share the tale.  It’s a sad story; but intriguing, nonetheless.

Blue Knob Mountain
On the morning of April 24, 1856, Samuel Cox had returned from an unsuccessful hunting trip to the little log cabin he had built for his wife, Susannah, and two small sons, Joseph, 5, and George, 6 in the dense woods of Spruce Hollow.  As they sat down for breakfast, he heard their dog barking off in the distance.  Thinking the dog a squirrel trapped in a tree he headed out with his gun to get meat for his family.

Samuel returned home about an hour and a half later from a different direction than he had left from.  He was met by his wife who was frantic because she couldn’t find the children and was certain something had happened to them.   It was a foggy morning and she was afraid the boys had followed their father into the woods. 

Samuel Cox immediately began searching for his sons.  He called for them over and over again but no voice was returned to him other than the echo of his own voice.  In desperation, Samuel sought out his neighbors to ask for their help in finding his two little boys.    The word was spread far and wide from mouth to mouth.  People stopped their labors, closed their shops and headed for the mountains . . . soon over 150 people were searching.  It was nearing dark and the search parties had looked through the fields, over the hills and in the ravines near the small cabin in the woods. Stormy weather was threatening. 

Samuel physically and emotionally exhausted begged for his friends and neighbors to continue looking.  They searched all through the night until nearly dawn.  Fires were kept burning all night long in hopes the children would see the light and go to it.  At daybreak they rested a few hours rest and then recommenced the hunt. 

Ten days later they still had found no trace of the children; on foot and horseback, people from as far away as 50 miles had joined in the search and the number of folks volunteering to help was nearly 1000 .

Only to add further anguish of the distraught parents, rumors and supposition that the Samuel and Susannah had murdered their own two little boys; going so far as to tear up the floorboards of their log cabin and ripping up their garden.  Of course, the children were not found there.

Five or six nights after the children were lost a woman who lived near the foot of the mountain said she distinctly heard a child crying in the woods late at night. A thorough search of the area was done but still the children were not found.  It is thought that the children had cried themselves to sleep and the searchers had passed them by in the dark. They were never heard to cry again.

A man came forward claiming to have the powers to using divining rod to find the lostlings.  He came to the home of the lost children with a forked peach-tree limb.  Taking a branch in each hand he held it up at arm's length in front of him and began to move forward in the direction the children had gone.  If he came to a spot where they had turned the stick would move in that direction.  He was certain that he could find the lost children. It was soon evident that he and his peach tree limb were a fraud.  He became lost himself and had it not been for those who were with him, he would have gone missing himself.

An old witch who lived in a nearby county, was known for her magic powers soon arrived at the mountain.  After performing a number of mysterious conjuring tricks, she said that she knew where the children were.  She said couldn’t find the children unless she was given money.  Her demand was met and she led a group of people into the woods.  They followed her for hours enduring the cold and rain.  They trudged over rugged hills, crossed swollen streams and tramped across sodden fields . . . places that had already been searched many times over.  On and on they followed her; all the while the crone assured them that soon they would find the boys.  It became obviously that the woman was hopelessly lost herself and didn’t have a clue as to where the children were.  

It was then, at the height of the rumors of infanticide and failures of the charlatans, that a young farmer named, Jacob Dibert, who lived 13 miles from the children's home began to have nightmares about the lost boys.

 In his nightmare, Jacob dreamt he was out searching for the children on his own.  He could not recognize the part of the forest he was in, but he came to a fallen tree.  Near the tree lay a dead deer.  Stepping over the deer, he followed a deer trail and soon found a small boy’s shoe.  Just beyond where he found the shoe there was a beech tree lying across a stream.  

Then, in his dream, he traveled over a ridge and entered a ravine through which flowed a small brook that came out of one of the mountain gorges. Following this brook a short distance he came to a birch-tree, the roots of which formed a semi-circle, and in this little circle, on the very margin of the stream lay the lost children, dead. Just at this point of his dream he awoke.  The vision was so vivid that he wasn’t sure if he had really been dreaming at all.

Jacob told his wife about the dream.  She had grown up in that part of the mountains and said there was a place like that in that area.   Jacob wasn’t superstitions and didn’t believe in omens.  He didn’t have any belief that what happened in dreams could be true.  They said nothing to anyone else.  The next night he dreamed the same dream over again.   He began to think that what he was dreaming might mean something.  He was afraid to tell his neighbors because he thought they would think he was crazy.

He was willing to venture out on his own to test the validity of the dream but he didn’t know the area.   So, they decided to tell Mrs. Dibert’s brother, Harrison Whysong, who was well acquainted with the area in which the boys had disappeared.  His brother-in-law was doubtful.  The place Jacob dreamt about was five or six miles away from the home of the children and he didn’t think that they could have traveled so far on their own. 

However, none of the searchers had looked for the children on the east side of the stream. No one thought that they could have crossed it without being drowned.

Harrison went along for fear that Jacob himself would get lost.  They began their search on May 8, 1856.Going in the direction indicated by Jacob; they soon passed the dead deer just as Jacob had envisioned it.  Further along on a mound of earth they found the little shoe which had been worn by the younger of the two children. They went over the ridge and into the ravine, down which the mountain stream flowed.  The woods opened up and they could see, in the distance, the tree with the broken top at the edge of the stream.  They approached the birch-tree and lying dead from exposure were the emaciated bodies of George and Joseph, just as Jacob had seen them in his dream.

Their bodies were wasted to mere skeletons.  Their little arms and legs had cuts and scratches from traveling through thorns and thickets.   Their clothing and shoes were in tatters.  Finally they had huddled together in the small bit of shelter they could find and eventually died from exposure to the elements and hunger. Physicians thought that they had been dead three or four days before they had been found.

The bodies of the boys were returned to the Cox home.  Church and school bells for miles around rang out the news that the boys had been found.  Joseph and George Cox, The Lost Children of the Alleghenies, were buried in Mount Union Cemetery.

In 1906, the people of Pavia contributed funds to erect a public monument at the spot where they brothers were found.  The monument is still there today- standing as a memorial to the nightmare of the young farmer, Jacob Dibert.

Jacob Dibert and his brother-in-law Harrison Whysong were remembered as heroes. Jacob's dreams became legend.

The epitaph on the headstone in Mount Union Cemetery marking the last resting place of little George and Joseph Cox.

"George S.,
Born March 30th, 1849,
Joseph C.,
Born Oct. 29th, 1850.

sons of Samuel and Susannah Cox. Wandered from home April 24, 1856, and were found dead in the woods, May 8th of the same year, by Jacob Dibert and Harrison Wysong."

Allison Kraus' touching song called Jacob's Dream is based on the story. She learned of the story through a relative of the Dibert family who is a fellow singer/songwriter.

Cher’s Cheesy Ham, Kielbasa and Potato Casserole

I try not to let food go to waste, so I often will take whatever scraps of leftover ingredientsp I have and whip up something new.  This is one of those yummy creations.

  • 1 Recipe Wondra Cheesy White Sauce (Recipe Follows)
  • 2 Pounds Potatoes (About 4 Large Sliced Thin)
  • 1 Large Onion Sliced Thin
  • ½ Pound Diced Ham
  • ½ Pound Kielbasa Sliced Thin
  • 8 Oz Mozzarella Cheese


Grease a large casserole (3 qt). Spread a third of the potatoes on the bottom. Put half the onion slices, then half the ham, then half the kielbasa. 
Add one third of the sauce. Repeat with another third of the potatoes, the rest of the onion, ham and sausage, and another third of the sauce. 
Top with remaining potatoes and sauce and cheese.

Cover casserole and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour and 15 mins until potatoes are tender. If desired (and if there's enough liquid in the casserole) uncover for last 15 mins of baking time.

Cheesy White Sauce

Gold Medal Wondra Flour, 13.5 oz 

Heat all ingredients  to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. CHEESE SAUCE: Add 1/2 teaspoon dry mustand and stir 1 cup shredded Chedder into hot sauce until melted.

Note:  You can use any roux or white sauce recipe you like.  Also, you can use pre-cooked (boiled, baked, etc.) for the potatoes and cut down the baking time by half.  

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