“Are you sure we’re on the right road?” Mike asked.
I had already lost count on the number of times he had asked the question since we had turned onto the narrow back road of northern Pennsylvania. The road twisted around the hilly farmland that I was quickly falling in love with; the crest of each hill provided a new and exciting view of the Potter County countryside. However, if we went any farther north, we would be in New York – our current location we was only a couple of miles from the border.
Crossing the border wasn’t on my list of concerns at the moment, I was quickly running out of road and I was convinced that Mike was correct and the directions I had been given were wrong. At first I was sure I was on the correct road, but we had yet to discover Potter County’s Lonesome Grave. Doubt was quickly replacing the excitement I had at the start of this leg of our journey.
This exploration of Potter County had its start a couple months earlier when Barb, a lady following the blog, had sent me an email asking what I knew about the Lonesome Grave that rests in Harrison Valley. I was aware of a number of Lonesome Graves scattered along the back roads and remote regions of Pennsylvania’s woods, but this one was new to me. She provided some directions that were to the general area of the grave, but was not sure of the exact spot, other than “it was in Harrison Valley.”
I was ready to give up on this search, prepared to return home and do more research into the location of the grave, when I noticed a young man planting trees along the road. I stopped and backed up to ask him for help.
“You’re really going to ask for directions?” Mike laughed. “I didn’t think you ever asked for directions.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” I jokingly replied.
“Are you sure we should ask him?” Mike questioned. “He looks busy.”
“Hopefully he has a minute or two to spare.”
The young man walked over as I came to stop. “What’s up?” he asked bluntly.
“Have you ever heard of the Lonesome Grave?” I asked. He gave me a blank stare. “I’m trying to locate it. I thought I was on the right road, but obviously I’m not.”
The young man continued to stare at me without speaking. Though Mike wasn’t talking, I could hear him thinking, “I told you this would be a bad idea, stopping to ask for directions.” I was beginning to agree with him as the young man just stood there staring at us.
“It is a grave of a young woman that sits all by itself along one of the roads in the area,” I offered, hoping that it might make a connection.
“Oh, you mean the Bed Frame Grave?”
“The Bed Frame Grave?” I asked.
“Yeah, it is a single grave along the road with a bed frame around it.”
I wasn’t sure what type of material made the fence that surrounded the grave, but seeing he had a revelation about a lone grave, I was hoping it was the same one I was searching for. “Yeah, that’s the one,” I agreed.
“Ummm…yeah…,” He looked around for a couple of minutes before he finally produced some direction that included the phrases: “Where the road goes right and dirt goes straight,” “Turn on the first road past the tin building in the middle of the field,” and “If you get to the old rusty tractor along the road on the right, you went too far.”
I thanked him for the directions and pulled out. Before we covered the hundred yards to the first intersection, Mike spoke the words that I was thinking: “Those were some interesting directions.” Yet the directions were spot on. In less than ten minutes I was standing at Potter County’s Lonesome Grave, which was surrounded by an old bed frame.
Walking over to the stone, I knelt to read the words. “Is it the right one?” Mike asked as he walked over to join me.
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s her grave.”
“So…who was she?” Mike asked as we stood there. I imagine this question has been asked many times before and will be asked many times again by those who pass the small plot.
The lady resting her is Sallie Jane Youker and the story that Barb had sent about the Lonesome Grave was: this was the grave of a lady who had died of mysterious circumstances. Her husband hid her death by burning their house down before fleeing out west. Many had searched for him, but he was never heard of or seen again.
Barb’s story was definitely interesting, but it was victim to being told and retold. The story she had heard had some elements of truth in it but it was factually wrong.
Sallie Jane was born July 23, 1823, the eldest of the five children of David and Emily Kibbe, early settlers in the area. Sallie married Jonas Youker and they had a son, David, named after her father. Note: The name on the stone is Sallie, but genealogical records do not have a Sallie as a daughter of David and Emily. However, they do have a Sarah married to a Jonas Youker. After digging a little deeper, I discovered that Sallie was a popular nickname for Sarah during the 1800s.
Sallie died May 11, 1861 at the age of thirty-seven. When her husband and son came down with smallpox, Sallie nursed them through it until she too showed the signs of the disease. While her family survived the plague, in her weakened state, Sallie became a victim of the disease.
While Jonas and David were still recovering, Sallie’s brother took action to stop the plague from being spread. He built a coffin and braving the chance of catching smallpox, placed his sister in it. He dug a hole and buried her in this lonely spot not far from the place she had called home. Her brother, still weary from burying his sister, sent word out to stay away from the Youker house. He would later set the home on fire to destroy the plague before it could be passed on to any of their neighbors.
Soon after the incident, Jonas and David left the area and would eventually settle in Michigan.
Silence filled the air as Mike and I paid my respects to Sallie. The mixture of forests and farmland made the location, no matter how remote, a beautiful place to eternally slumber. After I finished paying my respects to Sallie, we set out in silence, leaving her to peacefully sleep among the fields of northern Pennsylvania.
Note: While digging through a number of family trees online I discovered that Sallie’s story often includes two children. I’ve only mentioned David in this entry because he is the only child I can determine Jonas and Sallie having. If there was a second child, I was not able to find an identity for this second child. Jonas would get remarried and have other children, but I can find David as the only offspring of Jonas and Sallie.