In the Arms of a Silver Birch
This is a true story about two young boys that were lost in the Allegheny mountains. I am a fan of Alison Krouse and my interest in this story was drawn from the words in her song titled 'Jacobs Dream'. I have filled in many blanks found in the old newspaper reports. It was a little difficult to write this story.
|These are articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use. I am not writing for prose or poetry, but just to tell a story. Neither do I try to be politically correct. I consider that an act of cowardice, trying to placate the uninformed, ignorant of history folks that are filled with ego and braggadocios, demanding that their perspective be the prevalent one.|
Spring in the Alleghenies often portends the arrival of intense beauty, and this Thursday in late April was no exception. Gazing down a western slope from the Blue Knob area in the north eastern corner of Bedford County would find you starring down between the slopes of a huge valley, ever widening until it encompasses a densely forested area known locally as Spruce Valley. Nestled in and among this dense forestation are several widely scattered homemade log cabins, loosely forming the town of Pavia. Neighbors know of each other, but the dense forest and the wide distance between homesteads makes contact minimal and is often unnecessary.
It was just this type of beauty, coupled with the opportunities for hunting, fishing and the fertile farm land that had led Samuel and Susannah Cox and their two young boys, to abandon a sparse and unproductive homestead in southern Indiana, to make the long, arduous trek to this very spot in the middle of southern Pennsylvania.
Weather pockets and the dense forest often block sunlight and the retaining moisture makes this area of the Alleghenies prone to the occasional fog banks often lasting large portions of the day, and make hunting and gathering a risky and unsuccessful venture. This particular mid April day, portions of the area around Pavia were engulfed in the familiar fog, but not to the point that Samuel Cox was unwilling to strike out hunting in an effort to provide a source of meat for his wife Savannah and their ever hungry sons. As he reaches the edge of a small cliff, Samuel takes a moment to rest atop a large rock formation and glances out over the ever widening wilderness in an effort to catch even the slightest glimpse of a ruffled grouse or a fox, maybe even a black bear or some white tail deer. As he veered out over the landscape in silence, save for the distant screeching of an Osprey searching for movement in a nearby lake, his mind wandered back to the decision to bring his family back to this area of the country.
Savannah and Samuel were married in Cambria county near Jamestown, but after the birth of their son George, they ventured West to a country setting, near Aurora, Indiana, thinking that farming might be noticeably easier in the more flat and sprawling land in that part of the Midwest, but just after the birth of their youngest son, Joseph, the widespread ravages of malaria in that part of the country were having a profound effect on every inhabitants life and fearing that prolonged exposure to these symptoms, Samuel made the call to return to the familiar rolling hills of the Alleghenies in mid-south Pennsylvania.
Samuel struck out earlier this morning with much enthusiasm, as he was going to be hunting for only the second time with his newly acquired . 50 caliber Hawkin 'plains rifle'. This new gun offered increased accuracy along with the abundant power needed for the larger game that Samuel was seeking this morning, and he had been especially cautious to carefully wrap the percussion caps in cheesecloth and to keep the powder horn dry by keeping it hung around his neck on the inside of his coat.
As the increasingly disheartened hunter rose from the rocky ridge, and knowing that he had a superior rifle and possessed keen hunting instincts, Samuel was getting discouraged that all prey had eluded him for the entire morning, and began to saunter slowly down thru the dense woods. In a halting and robotic gait, stiffened by the long hours in the near freezing temperatures, Samuel was anxious to be home from a mornings hunt that had taken him a long way up the eastern side of the Spruce Valley to a point just below Blue Knob. The lingering patches of often dense fog made it difficult to see his prey, and the large patches of still frozen ground at this elevation, had left him unable to track an animal for any length of time, and his dog Sport, little more than a brown and white spotted mongrel companion, was showing no interest in hunting this morning and was merely meandering about in Samuel's footsteps.
As he continued the descent towards his homestead, Samuel Cox was chagrined at the thoughts of returning home and presenting Susannah and the boys with an empty gunny sack, and it was weighing heavily on his mind. Normally a proud man with an upright stature, Samuel meekly continued his decent, hunched over from the weight of his new rifle and slumping in his disappointment at not having been able to provide for his family on this spring morning’s excursion. He continually stroked his scraggly jet black full length beard as he pondered his upcoming explanation to the family as to his lack of success this morning. His limber, homemade wide brimmed leather hat sat askew down the right side of his head from the many encounters with the wild underbrush, and the exposed, unkempt hair was full of small twigs, pollen and twinges of cobwebs. His weathered hands, calloused and knotted from the many years of hard manual labor, clutched his valued rifle, making sure that it did not become tangled with the thick underbrush during his descent down the mountain. At well over six feet tall, Samuel himself cast a narrow shadow, but as he ventured out of the thick forestation, the torn and floppy areas of both pockets, and the tattered cuffs at the bottom of his bib overalls, along with the outlines of his hat and rifle gave the appearance of butterflies dancing in and out of the darkness at the edges of a pair of dancing logs.
As Samuel drew within eyesight of the cabin, he saw that Sport had run on ahead of him and in his excitement at being home began barking loudly, drawing the pair of bare foot young boys out from the warmth inside and onto the cold wooden planks of their makeshift porch. He watched with a hint of concern, as his two young boys ran towards him in anticipation of a squirrels tail or some other furry memento of their fathers morning hunting excursion. His oldest son George, seven years of age, had long dark hair and deep grey eyes and had become his father's 'little man' while his younger brother Joseph , five years old had light curly hair and sparkling blue eyes and was able to charm his mother at will. George had traversed the length of the porch cleanly and jumped to the ground in anticipation of what his father might have to show him from the gunny sack, but Joseph had pulled up and let out a yelp, and was leaning up against the outer wall of the Cox cabin, near the door with his left foot turned upward in an attempt to remove the large splinter that he had just acquired. As Sport and George passed by on their way inside, Samuel paused to take a look at Joseph’s foot, and reaching for his pocket knife; he gently removed a rather long, rough splinter, then led his younger son inside to the warmth of the fire that was being used in preparation for the upcoming mid day meal.
Savannah Cox was bent in towards the low burning fire, stirring a small caldron of potato soup, her tattered and torn pale blue muslin dress exposed portions of her flannel petticoat as she carefully clutched her newly sewn cotton apron in an effort to not get any soot or burns on her most recent sewing creation. Strands of white were showing thru her disheveled raven hair that was parted in the middle and braided to a medium length. A thin cluster of curls caressed each ear as she tended to her chores.
Just a few days earlier, the entire family had just finished planting their home garden that would provide sufficient nourishment for the upcoming year, but staples were currently in short supply in the Cox household, and sensing her husband's disappointment at the outcome of the mornings hunt, Susannah gently skirted the issue of the empty gunny sack, and after putting Sport outside, silently finished setting the table with a freshly baked loaf of sour dough bread, small bowls of the potato soup and a few remnants of deer jerky that would provide her family with nourishment for the afternoons farming activities. The mood at the table was respectful, but mostly silent as Samuel quietly pondered his afternoons work in the fields tending to the pending crops of cabbage, spinach and peas as if hoping to augment his poor hunting quest with extra attention to their produce fields.
Staring meekly across the table at her worried husband, Susannah was quietly planning an afternoon of laundry, tending the strawberry plants in the garden behind the house and a search of the nearby bushes for the possibility of early blueberries, and had asked the boys to go with her and that they would also look at some new blossoms on a few of the cherry trees that she had seen earlier in the morning. Joseph and George sat at an angle to each other and playfully poked at each other's food, being told to calm down only when their activities would cause the dilapidated wooden table to become unsteady. Samuel promised to repair the split in the table leg soon, and having heard this comment often before, Savannah pursed her lips momentarily and did her best to present a smile.
Having just completed the mid day meal, Samuel began to add wood and stoke the fire and Savannah, having just finished gathering the remaining dishes from the table, was accumulating the shoulder bags they were going to use to gather any of the blueberries that might be found in the thickets surrounding the perimeter of their homestead. All of a sudden, Sport began barking loudly in a tone that Samuel recognized, so he quickly brought his suspenders to his shoulders and reaching for his rifle and powder horn, bolted towards the door saying that 'it's probably a squirrel or a fox, and we'll have it for supper.
Both boys jumped up from the table and asked to go with their father expecting to add to their growing collection of squirrel tails, as they were commonly given that unused portion after each hunt. Savannah quickly told the boys to sit back down at the table, but they were adamant about going along with their father and continued sitting on the floor and lacing up their worn high top leather shoes. Savannah, sensing that Samuel might be gone for a while and noticing that both boys not only had their shoes on but their coats as well, told them to stay home and play outside until their father returned.
Jonathan bolted towards the door and George was right behind him, nearly running him over in his excitement. Savannah, peering out the door, and noticing that the boys had run off in the direction of the garden, gently closed the cabin door and returned to her duties of setting the food from the evening meal near the fire and began to make preparations to dress the impending catch as the cabin began to return to the quiet that can only be found in a desolate homestead nestled in the hollow of a heavily wooded valley. She was content mulling around the kitchen area, thinking that her husband was again on the hunt and her boys were not underfoot, but carousing about the yard.
Within the hour, the sounds of Sport barking at his arrival home alerted Savannah that they might be having fresh meat for dinner that evening, and she quickly opened the door in anticipation of seeing her husband, two boys and a fresh killed critter that they might be enjoying later. Surprised at spotting only her husband, with another empty gunny sack, she promptly asked where the boys were, and alarmed at Savannah's inquiry, Samuel quickly replied that he thought they had stayed at the farm.
Both Samuel and Savannah , suddenly concerned, scurried wildly from corner to corner of their homestead in search of any evidence that the boys had simply strayed a little further than was generally permitted. A darkness was beginning to form in the bosom of Savannah Cox. The boys had been taught not to leave the farm without telling at least one of their parents, and silence was not what she wanted to hear. She continued to pierce the engulfing silence with her own loud calls, seeking a response from her boys, either boy, or any response. The sound of the silence was deafening as she began to comprehend the meaning of the hush in her midst.
It was from the depths of this silent solitude that both Savannah and Samuel would embark on a journey that would carry them thru what would become a torturous trip thru untold trepidation and terror.
Savannah quickly returned to the cabin for her shoes, and feeling the warmth of the cabin’s interior, took a quick moment to add logs to the fire so that it would remain warm for the unknown duration of their upcoming external venture. Her hands were visibly shaking as she donned her cap and attempted to insert first one foot, then the other into her shoes, her fingers trembling uncontrollably, making it difficult for her to lace up her shoes as her emotions were swinging wildly between her desire to scold the boys or welcome them back to her arms.
With increasing trepidation, the Cox's quickly exited the comforting warmth of the cabin and entered into the brisk coolness of the outdoors, and neither sensing nor seeing any hint of either boy, they began to head south, down the dirt road that would eventually lead to the town, hoping to fine George and Joseph meandering along the edges of the road looking for a small animal or critter to play with.
Stopping at each of the small homesteads and houses on the outskirts of town and any of the businesses with an open door , the distraught couple scoured the town of Pavia, searching for any hint of their children. Seeing their urgency and sensing their pain, each person they contacted, joined the search and the news spread like wildfire as concerned neighbors hastened by foot to the nearby valleys, ravines or hill sides to aid in the search. Businesses closed their doors while others mounted horses and rode from homestead to homestead spreading the news and enlisting all neighbors that they spoke to. A few began to ride to the small neighboring hamlets and boroughs.
As evening drew near, Samuel, glancing upward, noted that heavy clouds were fast approaching, and knowing that they would bring not only the darkness, but a stormy night and dropping temperatures ,he pleaded with his neighbors in an emotionally filled voice, to please continue looking for the boys. He was becoming gravely concerned about their ability to survive the impending dismal night in these mountains with no shelter or worse yet, protection from the abundance of wild creatures known to inhabit these forests. Sympathetic to the fathers concern, and wanting to abate his misery in any way they could, the neighbors continued to search thru out the evening and some had even climbed further up the hillsides and started fires in an effort to give the children something to be attracted to in the darkness and to keep themselves warm and from getting lost as well.
Friday morning arrived with little hint of optimism. The mountainside fires had gone out, but not the enthusiasm of the neighbors that gathered near the porch of the Cox household. No one in Spruce Valley was blessed with an abundance of food, but many women of Pavia were arriving with the sunrise carrying baskets of assorted edibles along with some prepared foods , as others appeared clutching their cooking aprons filled with cookies and other baked goods, knowing that there were going to be many hungry mouths to feed.
The sunrise brought little in the way of warmth, as strong winds swept down the entire length of the valley, bringing coolness from the upper ridges that dotted the landscape at the crest of the mountain, challenging the resolve of those determined to continue the search until the children were found. There were some with guarded optimism, as it had only been one night and the temperature had stayed well above freezing, giving some reason to think that the boys would be found in low spirits, but able to rebound with the all the vigor that accompanies youth.
As the day passed, the number of neighbors continued to grow, coming from Cedar Swamp, Red Ridge, Gypsy Hollow, Ciana Run, Folk Ridge and elsewhere, some as far away as Blue Knob, the highest point in Bedford county. They regrouped near the Cox cabin and once again, in a relatively organized manner, led by those familiar with the region, the valley and its ravines, were searched both up the eastern slope to the rocky crests and to the west to the point where they reached Bob's Creek, a tributary swollen beyond its banks by a recent period of intense rain at the upper edges of Spruce Hollow.
Much time was spent up and down the banks of Bob's Creek in the hopes that they might find some sign of the missing youngsters, yet many were fearful that if something was found that it might indicate they had met their demise at the hands of the swift moving water, But Friday came and went with no hint of either child, and as night fell, fires were built once again at some elevated positions in an attempt to attract the attention of the two boys, as others returned to the Cox cabin, disappointed that all their exertions had seemed in vain, to consume their first nourishment since earlier that morning.
The constant winds that had plagued the previous days searching had dissipated, leaving a solemn stillness surrounding the wilderness, and the quietness of the dark was constant save the occasional howl of a distant wolf.
Samuel and Savannah Cox had endured another long heartbroken and sleepless night, only to rise to another bleak and dreary morning with no news of their missing boys, but so persistent were their neighbors, that by nine o'clock in the morning it is estimated that almost one thousand good folks embarked on yet another foray into the valley and the mountainsides, with enough participants involved that it was possible to be in visual contact between those doing the searching.
The somber surroundings quieted by the diminished wind made conversation among those searching more understandable, but there was no news worth sharing this day and the search continued in solemn silence as they made their way up the valley sides, disheartened by the increasing lack of good news.
And again, as the day drew to a close, mountain top fires were built while the remaining searchers returned to the Cox cabin to be met by an ever increasing number of neighborhood ladies who were able to maintain the food allotment necessary to feed the increasing numbers of those searching. As disappointed as they were at the end of the day, at not finding the boys, the searchers were further disheartened by the gut wrenching sight of Samuel and Savannah Cox, sitting at the edge of their front porch, arm in arm, their eyes red and swollen, fighting back tears in an effort to hide their mounting parental pain.
Sunday morning unceremoniously arrived with more inclement weather, by way of lower temperatures and the encompassing fog that often occurs in these valleys. As the fog began to dissipate, it became clear that even in spite of the increasing possibility that the children might be lost forever, still more people, bypassing their church attendance, were arriving to help, and being inspired by the increase in help and the fact that it was The Lords Day, the Cox's decide to go out with the searchers this morning, with a special interest in taking some special cakes and pastries to those that had been enduring the mountain darkness and cold while attending the fires.
In the last few days, some rumors had been spread that perhaps this was not about lost children, but maybe about something worse. As unimaginable as it might seem, there were those, with no heart, that suspected the children were perhaps murdered in an effort to not only gain sympathy, but neighborhood financial contributions as well, as it was clear that the Cox family were struggling to make ends meet.
One such thinker was named Charley Ross. Charly Ross was a rotund and balding local busy body, equally known for his obvious ability to find food, and for his inability to find his way home after a night on the town. Seeing that the Cox cabin was not occupied this day, Charley led a small group of similar thinkers who had the boldness to not only dig up a few suspect areas of the family garden, but to remove some of the floor boards of the Cox cabin, in an effort to locate some evidence of foul play. By late afternoon, nothing had been found and they proceeded to disguise their garden exploits and were refastening the floor boards of the cabin when a small group of folks appeared looking for Samuel Cox to tell him of some great news.
Samuel, accompanied by Savannah, arrived home ahead of the rest of the searchers, only to discover the dastardly deeds of Charlie Ross, providing more insult to their misery, but were soon jubilant to hear the news that the new arrivals had brought some news very different from that they have been accustomed to hearing lately. One of the hunters in this new group shared that he had seen two sets of small footprints in an area just over ten miles from where they are now standing.
Even as darkness was quickly approaching, Samuel compiled a group of almost a hundred skilled hunters and gathering an assortment of torches and lanterns asked the visitor to lead him to the sightings that he had mentioned earlier. Knowing that it would be dark, not only during their travel, but on their arrival, it was Samuels feeling that even being in the vicinity of his children they might see the light or hear the men talking and be found in the early morning sunrise.
Monday's sunrise brought no such luck, and even though the newly acquainted hunter was sure that he had led them to the exact spot that he had seen the small foot prints, none were to be found, but undaunted in the face of this new development, Samuel began to organize the men into small groups sending them out in a radial pattern and asking them to stay in touch by verbal communication with each other, and to search until dark. Samuel stayed behind in the current location in anticipation of being more easily reached in the event that someone had news of his boys.
It was another excruciating day for a very tired and despondent father hoping for the best but experiencing the worst. Samuel spent the entire day walking in circles, listening for and trying to find some evidence, any evidence that might be some indication that his sons had been in this area. As the day continued, and spotting no evidence himself and hearing nothing from those continuing to search the perimeter, he was getting more and more discouraged and having a difficult time deciding whether to be upset with his new acquaintance for leading him on a wild good chase or to thank him for another opportunity to find his sons. The lack of sleep and the increasing stress was making it nearly impossible for Samuel Cox to make rational decisions.
As night grew near, Samuel started a small fire to help the remaining searchers locate the group and began to prepare for the nights return to his cabin. When all the searchers were accounted for, one of them quenched the small fire, and they began to start down the hillside for their return trip to Spruce Valley. Feeling the pain of his breaking heart and noting that his eyes were already swollen and that his feet were beginning to swell from his water soaked shoes, Samuel quietly asked another hunter to carry the lantern and lead the way home, as his overwhelming grief was making it harder and harder to maintain his grip on reality.
As they reached the Cox cabin, all were exhausted and disappointed to find that among all the shared news, none of it was good. The search had continued in and around Spruce Valley to no avail, and it was noted that some of the searchers were beginning to get disheartened and were returning home in significant numbers, but the mountain top fires were continuing to be displayed.
Another morning in the ongoing saga of Samuel and Savannah's painful journey appeared with little or no optimism. Daybreak found them still awake in their bed with each others tears on the other's bed clothing, having spent the entire night speechless in each other's arms, neither having words of comfort for the other, with soft and tender caresses being the last remaining form of communication between them.
As they lay motionless in each other's arms, they were each pondering what was presently going on in their life, and were selectively recalling their good memories and trying desperately to imagine a pleasant future, but it was becoming painfully apparent to them both that there was no present, but merely an ever evolving moment in time that separates the past from the future. Even when contemplating a pleasant future, it immediately becomes a thought in the past, provoking confusion among the memories.
Tuesday was just another day searching the contours of the peaks, plateaus and ravines of Spruce Valley, with fewer and fewer searchers participating with a diminishing enthusiasm, as would be expected as hope diminishes for a successful conclusion. Searchers were appearing at the Cox cabin earlier in the evening, and consuming the ever present wholesome offerings of the neighbor ladies, a few here and there would wander dejectedly out of site as they sought out the more relaxing atmosphere of their own homestead, seeking to sooth both their conscience and their body.
Just at the onslaught of the evening's darkness, a neighbor came running
from the lower west side of the hollow to tell Samuel that an elderly
neighbor lady named Ms. Bentamer had heard the mournful wail of what she
was certain was the cry of a small child near the foot of the mountain.
Mustering as much courage as possible Samuel had to tell Savannah one more time, that once again he had no news regarding the health or even the safety of their missing children. No good news, no good expectations, and no good reason to expect a good future, must all be taking an unfathomable toll on their psyche, depleting any emotional courage that either had left. How many of these wild goose chases could they survive and maintain any degree of sanity?
Whoever had made that soulful cry into the night near the base of Spruce Valley was never heard from again.
Another night with mountain top fires, another sunrise with no news, another gathering of the faithful, and another day of intense searching had once again produced nothing more but pain and misery for the Cox couple. In addition to the lack of hope and expectations, they were now enduring insulting insinuations of their own criminality, abuse, cruelty and an unending stories of farfetched possibilities such as the children had been abducted by a band of Gypsy's, or that the boys had been stolen by a secret religious sect and then transported to a far away institution to be indoctrinated according to their faith. Others were of the opinion that they had fallen into the swollen waters of Bob's Creek, having been drowned and never to be heard from again, while still others were certain that the boys were still alive and would be found soon.
Reviewing these opinions weighed heavily on the minds of both Samuel and Savannah Cox, but was providing no lasting solace and created few options for even temporary peace of mind, yet each were committed to being receptive to even the slimmest amount of hope.
As Believers, neither Samuel nor Savannah believed in any form of magic, sorcery, witchcraft or wizards, feeling that all came from their Creator, but many of the multitude of searchers were at least willing to give it a chance, and it was suggested that some one approach a black man living in Morrison's Cove that had a reputation of solving some past mysteries by the use of a forked tree branch, his favorite choice being a fresh cut limb from a peach tree.
Despite the trepidations of Savannah, Samuel gathered a few of the faithful searchers, and they went to Morrison's Cove to seek the help of this black 'magician'. After seeking direction from some of the locals, they eventually found this thin, diminutive man with a full head of light grey hair that appeared to have been recently trimmed and a long full beard that did not, seated on the open doorstep of a very dilapidated wooden shack. When asked, he answered that he indeed possessed some unique qualities that allowed him to find solutions to problems that others could not. He declined to reveal his name, but he said folks around here just called him 'Tipsy'. Tipsy initially declined the invitation to travel to be of assistance, because he did not want to get very far from his home, explaining that he had never been a slave, but was extremely concerned about being mistaken as one, by many of the notorious 'slave hunters' roaming central Pennsylvania at that time and did not want to subject himself to the possibility of being captured, but extensive pleading and explaining the situation he was in, by Samuel and those that had accompanied him, along with the assurance that they would keep his travel a secrete, 'Tipsy' agreed to accompany them to Spruce Valley.
It was when this gaunt gentleman arose from the sitting position, that it became clear why he was called 'Tipsy'. He was only about 5' - 4" tall and when he stood straight up, his right leg was about 1" shorter than his left leg, and his right foot was canted almost 45 degrees to the right as well, so that when he walked his body would tilt to the right with each right step that he took to move forward. His bib coveralls were dark grey with age and two sizes too big causing the bottom of his right pant leg to be tattered and worn from always being under foot.
His speech was slow, halting and deliberate and he spoke with a low voice, requiring those wanting to understand what he was saying, to step forward and lean in slightly. The first thing that he requested was a forked branch from a peach tree, with each of the branches about two feet in length, specifying that both branches be equal in length.
Despite his shy demeanor, Tipsy spoke will great confidence about his skills using this forked peach tree limb, and he described how he could find lost pets, locate sources of water and underground streams and other assorted feats. Those that were inclined to be believers in this sort of 'magic' were wide eyed and nodded in praise of his verbal presentation. Having been asked to display his talent for the benefit of locating the lost children, he took up the forked branch, holding it at arm's length with one branch in each hand and the stem pointed straight up. Then he began to turn in a circle until the vertical stem began to lean away from him indicating that this was the direction that would lead them to the children. As he started off in the direction indicated by the forked stem, 'Tipsy' explained that as long as the stem would point outward, they could follow in that direction, but if the stem turned inward towards him, he would have to restart the cycle of turning in a circle until the stem turned outward and then they would start again. After many of these 'start over' incidences, it quickly became apparent that 'Tipsy' and his peach sticks were a fraud when he suddenly straightened up, and after looking both to his right and then to his left, asked where he was.
Sadly, another day of disappointment and forlorn optimism, but once more hundreds and hundreds of searchers remained, enduring long stints in the woods on the mountain, determined to find the boys, only to descend from the mountain and eat the evening meal with tired bodies and long faces, yet determined to stay the course.
Friday mornings daylight actually arrived with the sun for a change, and with little wind the weather was somewhat better but still holding cool temperatures for this time of year. The increase in daylight only served to highlight the weariness and disappointment on the faces and the dirt and grime on the clothing of those that have stood with steadfast determination to solve this mounting mystery in the Allegheny mountains.
It seems the longer the search went on with declining enthusiasm, the more radical the propositions were for seeking alternative methods of discovery, and a group of those with interests in magic, sorcery and even witch craft had gathered and one among them had the courage to step forward and suggest that maybe someone should approach the old witch, known to live in nearby Somerset county, and was known to have conjuring power second only to that of the witch of Endor.
Samuel selected a small group of now familiar searchers and directed them to head west and go up into the northeast corner of neighboring Somerset county and fetch the witch with all the haste they could muster. She was known by the name BaRosa, but it was believed that she was Barbara, the first born daughter of Mary "Mollie" Derry, the famous sorceress of nearby Fayette county. While 'Mollie" Derry was often known for her feminine appearance, strong health and helpfulness as she was known to provid herbal cures and good advice, BaRosa had a growing reputation as a cantankerous old woman, keenly interested in spells and other means of punishing those that might not have had the same faith in her talents as she did. BaRosa wore long tattered clothing and used a shoulder high crooked staff to assist her in walking about the mountainous topography. The walnut walking stick had an offset knot at the top with a hole bored thru to insert a leather loop for her to insert her hand thru when walking to minimize the downward grip required to maintain control of the staff.
It was late in the afternoon when BaRosa arrived at the Cox cabin to find that while she was admired by the few that believed in sorcery, she was met with much skepticism by the multitude of the worn and disheveled neighbors, prompting her to display a few small 'magic' tricks, and then taking credit for a few strange happenings in Bedford County over the last few years. When Samuel interrupted her to request they get started on this new search, the witch of Somerset replied that she has had a clear vision of both George and Joseph far up in an adjacent valley, but they were both safe, having survived the weather by bedding under a heavy group of laurel on a gathered pile of leaves. She further stated that they had found nutrition from gathering chestnuts that littered the nearby ground, and if they could embark right away, she assured all that they would find the children by 10 o'clock the following morning, and admonished them for not calling on her sooner.
This rapidly raised the enthusiasm level of the remaining neighbors and they moved to form a search party, agreeing to follow the witch right away, but BaRosa remained motionless, raising her staff with her right hand, and extending her left, she stated that she would first have to be paid in advance for her help. An amount was determined and a quick passing of the hat netted the desired amount, and when the money was handed to her, she broke out in a broad smile, revealing a missing upper tooth and several teeth that had succumbed to irreversible decay. She removed her old stocking hat, made from worn burlap, inserted the money and coins, and placed it on her head making sure to pull it down far enough as to not have it loosen upon the upcoming journey. She presented an unsettling vision, that of an old lady in a long dark dress, sans petticoats, with long scraggily grey hair topped by a bag for a hat, an aged walking stick, men's high top shoes, and her creased and weathered face and cheeks with that smile that made her look like she had been formed in the image of a Halloween pumpkin.
Then, without so much as looking up, the sorceress tilted her staff forward and began her trek northwest and into the sunset. Several hundred of the faithful searchers, many armed with torches, some with blankets and still others carrying small bags of food in anticipation of finally affording the young boys some solace and comfort, followed her by forming a single line like forager ants headed on a pheromone trail behind their scout.
The evening drew to a close slowly, but it brought a misty rain and cooler temperatures, causing some searchers to become increasingly concerned about the health of the boys as they forged on thru the darkness. As dawn approached, many began yelling out in hopes of attracting the boys to their voice, but to no avail, and as the witching hour arrived they found themselves at the edge of a clearing , and as hard as they tried, no sign of either boy was to be found. However the sorceress continued with her optimism, proclaiming that she still had a vision, but that the boys were on the move, and again without looking up, pointed her staff to the north and trudged on, but with a noticeably slower pace.
The wandering continued throughout the day, and once more into the night, with not the slightest bit of evidence of the boys, and when one of the accompanying hunters pointed out that they had passed that particularly twisted beech tree earlier that morning, it became abundantly clear, that once more they had been led on a wild goose chase. Samuel was losing his ability to be patient, and angrily approached the witch intending to do harm, only to be stopped by concerned friends and those that were certain that she would put a curse on him should he succeed in doing her any harm. BaRosa then turned away from Samuel, and stating that she had been insulted, headed away from the group and started down the mountain, but before she was even out of sight it became clear that she had lost her bearing completely, and being unable to determine for herself the appropriate direction to take, she stumbled towards a fallen tree and sat down. Some among the disappointed crowd, took pity on the old hag and gathered around her and as a small group assisted her in getting back to the Cox cabin.
During the previous night that the wandering Witch was meandering about
the mountain, a man by the name of Jacob Dilbert was having difficulty
as well. Jacob lived some ten to twelve miles from the Cox cabin, and
being neither a hunter nor often in the search of social interludes, had
not participated in the search for the Cox children. Jacob knew of the
searching efforts, but unfamiliar with the mountains in that area, he
preferred to stay home and tend his rather large garden.
It was at his point in the dream that Jacob found himself awake, alarmed and afraid. Jacob was not a superstitious man and placed no faith in omens or dreams, as none of them had ever came to fruition in the past, but this one was leaving an indelible imprint on his intellectual mind. Turning to his wife, he began to slowly reveal the details of the dream and asked her if she had any idea about there being a place such as he was describing, and was startled to hear that she was certain that there was just such a place in the vicinity of the mountains that he had just described.
Jacob turned and sat at the edge of the bed and dressed his tall thin
frame in a worn flannel shirt, old coveralls, miss matched socks , and
without tying them, put on his work shoes and went straight to the garden
to get his mind off of the previous nights ordeal. Antoinette, Jacobs
wife, was much shorter and heavier than Jacob, and they made a curious
couple toiling side by side in the garden as they spent the day talking
back and forth about the dream and what it meant and what, if anything,
should be done about it. The discussion continued thru the evenings meal,
and not having arrived at any conclusion at that time, the couple retired
to the bed, intending to sleep off the day's work and confrontations.
This day brought even more distress and anxiety than the day before. Jacob desperately wanted to tell someone about his dream, perhaps a neighbor, but fearing that he might be thought to be crazy, he pondered the possibility of taking out on his own and searching for the boys himself to test the validity of his dream, but having little knowledge of the mountain or the forests, he feared that he might get lost himself. This day also passed working in the garden, weeding the plants and talking with Antoinette about taking action as a result of this reoccurring dream.
The third night brought the exact same dream where Jacob had once more came to the same hollow, saw the dead dear, spotted the small shoe, used the same log to cross what he now knew was Bob's Creek, passed over Blue Ridge, entered the small ravine, spotted the large Silver Birch and solemnly found the young boys. Jacob was now so sure that his dream was true, he was determined to visit his brother in law the following day and ask him for help in searching for the lost children.
Early the next morning Jacob started out to visit Antoinette's brother, Harrison Wysong, who lived about twelve miles away and was in the general vicinity of where the dreams had occurred. He detailed his dream to Harrison, but was met with scorn and the accusation that he was indeed crazy. His brother in law's response was that the children could not possibly have travelled that far away from home, and if they had, they would not be able to cross over to the west side of the swollen Bob's Creek.
Jacob continued pleading with Harrison, to no apparent avail, but after Jacob stated that he was so determined to prove his dream that he was going on alone, Harrison, knowing that his brother in law was so absent of knowledge of the mountain, and fearing that his sister would hold if her husband became lost, relented and agreed to travel with Jacob.
Not long into their travel, they were both startled to come across a dead deer, and traveling but a short distance they spotted a small boys shoe, and as the visions in the dream became more and more familiar, Jacobs pace began to quicken even though he had never been in this vicinity at any time in the past. Harrison was now trailing Jacob in the search as Jacob led the way towards the narrow spot in Bob's Creek where they simultaneously spotted the beech tree that had fallen across the creek. Harrison had now become convinced that Jacob's dream was real, and they both increased the speed at which they crossed Blue Ridge and entered the small ravine. Stopping momentarily, at the edge of the small stream, Jacob looked around and suddenly raised his arm and pointing to the top of a broken tree, telling Harrison that is the tree where we will find the boys.
They proceeded very slowly and solemnly now, and not knowing exactly what they were going to find filled them with apprehension and caution. Without speaking a word, they were both aware that if they found the boys the dream would be true, but it would not be a pleasing moment. It was only moments later that they simultaneously spotted the boys, laying at the base of the large birch tree.
It was an overwhelming moment for them both. The boys lay silent among the upraised roots formed in the shape of a pair of arms at the base of a large Silver Birch.
George had nestled in, back first, to the side of the larger root and
was holding Joseph between his outstretched legs. Both of the boys faces
were scratched and dirty as would be expected after their ordeal, and
a multitude of twigs, fragments of leaf and bark were imbedded in and
among the long and tangled strands of hair. Joseph's left shoe was missing
and the front of his swollen and bloody foot was protruding from an almost
non-existent sock, having been worn almost thru from the later part of
their journey. It appeared as though Joseph had died first, and George
had pulled him to his breast engulfing him lovingly with both arms in
an effort to warm and comfort his younger brother until he breathed his
last breath. George appeared to have passed on shortly after Joseph, as
his left arm was found dangling down the chest of the younger brother,
showing a very torn shirt sleeve and a multitude of scratches and abrasions
up the elbow. This, along with the many cuts and scratches on both of
Georges hands indicated that he had taken the brunt of the work in clearing
brush and making a path for the young pair of adventurers. George's head
was tilted forward onto his chest where it was noted that he had a large
cut at the upper rear of his scalp, and the wide trail of dried blood
that had made it's way down his neck and into the top of his shirt indicated
a wound that had taken quite some time to heal.
As Jacob and Harrison trudged their way towards the Cox cabin, on two occasions they encountered some hunters and by the time that Samantha and Samuel Cox learned of the fate of their children, hundreds of neighbors and searchers had already gathered at the site of the Silver Birch, none approaching within less than a few yards of the boys out of respect.
Out of concern for Samantha's fragility, Samuel had taken it upon himself to go tend to their boys alone. As he approached the location of the broken birch, those in attendance solemnly parted, giving Samuel an unencumbered path toward his boys, but as he closed in to the point where he could see his children he collapsed with grief and had to be helped to his feet and escorted to the foot of the tree where he stood trembling and weeping bitterly, unable to digest the horror of the vision before him. The crowd was silent, and a dry eye was not to be found, as two neighbors gently and deliberately helped Samuel separate and individually wrap his lifeless boys in cotton sheets that he had brought in anticipation of this unfortunate outcome. Gathering all that was left of his strength and resolve, Samuel put one boy to each shoulder, and supporting them in his arms, turned and breached the parting crowd once more and began the journey home where he was going to have to come face to face with his wife, Samantha.
On arrival at the cabin, Samuel once more parted a group of onlookers where he handed the wrapped and lifeless body of their youngest son Joseph into the arms of his wife Samantha. Then, each one holding one son, they turned and sat next to each other at the edge of the cabin porch facing each other for only a moment, peering into each other's soul through dry eyes as there were no more tears left to share.
Then turning westward, Samuel and Savannah Cox watched as the sun slowly inserted itself into the darkness.
I still miss them.