The Lost Children of the Alleghenies

Grave of Joseph and Samuel Cox

The drive along Monument Road was a beautiful one as the forest was no longer shades of green, but filled with splashes of red, yellow and orange. When I arrived at the parking area, I was surprised how much colder it was in the remote hollow. I had on a jacket, but I really needed a winter coat. Despite the cold, I enjoyed the silence of the hollow that was broken only by the soft murmur of Ciana Run that paralleled the path.

I followed the mostly level, short path – roughly two hundred yards – to the monument. Near the marble monument is a wooden sign that tells visitors the story of Jacob Dibert and his strange dream that led to the discovery of George and Joseph Cox who had been missing for more than a week. Closer to the creek is a marble monument that the citizens of Pavia erected in 1906 for the fiftieth anniversary of the event. The marble marker had been knocked over a number of times by vandals and is now housed within a wire cage for protection.

An overwhelming sense of sadness filled the hollow as I read the wooden sign and walked over to the monument. As I stood there, my mind drifted back to another time when the region was still remote and wild.

The story of Joseph (age five) and George (age seven) Cox, who are often referred to as “The Lost Children of the Alleghenies,” begins on April 24, 1856 when Samuel Cox set out that morning in search of food for the family. The family lived near the top of Spruce Hollow, an area south of present-day Blue Knob State Park. Samuel had spent the day hunting and returned that afternoon to discover the two children were gone. Samuel thought they were at the house; his wife, Susannah, thought the children had gone with him. The two of them frantically searched the woods around their small cabin, venturing as far as they thought the boys could have possibly wandered. Their search was hindered by a light snow that morning which hid any trace of the boys.

Not finding them, Samuel and Susannah sought the help of their neighbors. Word of the situation soon spread throughout the region. Before the sun set that evening, approximately two hundred men had left their labors to help search for the missing children, but no trace of them was discovered by the volunteers. The second day found nearly one thousand people setting out to search for the children. All day the area around the cabin was searched. Areas that had been investigated the day before were checked again and newer areas further from the cabin searched for the first time.

On the third day of the search, the Cox family’s sorrow was turned to horror when they were accused by one of the searchers, a man by the name of Charlie Ross, of killing their children. The accusing party went as far as tearing up the floorboards of the cabin in hopes of finding the bodies. Not finding the bodies, their accuser quickly fled the area in fear of retribution and would not immediately return to the area.

Though the weather had been extremely cold, the searchers remained hopeful that the children were still alive. On the fifth or sixth day of the search, a woman claimed hearing the sounds of a child crying on the mountain. The probability she heard them is slim; by this time, with the snow and cold wind, the boys were probably already deceased. If she did hear them, it was probably the last noise they made as they cried themselves to sleep. Searchers moved into the area where she claimed to have heard them, but found no trace of the missing boys.

Though Samuel and Susannah were extremely religious, the searchers tried everything they could think of as they continued looking for the children. A man from the Morrison Cove area arrived with his dowsing rods to help in the search; though he often found water and could tell how deep it would be found, he was unable to find any trace of the children. A “witch” was brought in from Somerset County to help find the children, but her “powers” did not reveal the location of George and Joseph.

On the tenth night, things would change. Jacob Dibert, a farmer who lived near Claysburg – roughly thirteen miles away from the Cox Family homestead – had a strange dream. While Jacob most likely had heard news about the searches, he had not been involved with them.

In his dream, Jacob went out looking for the children on his own. In his wanderings, he found a dead deer and just beyond that he found a child’s shoe. Just beyond that he crossed a stream, Bob’s Creek, on a fallen beech tree. Crossing over the Blue Ridge, Jacob came out of a gorge and followed a small stream to a birch tree with the top broken off. It was among the roots of that birch tree that he discovered the children sleeping in their eternal slumber.

Jacob talked about the dream with his wife, who was from Pavia at the base of the Blue Knob, asking her if there was such a place in the area. Though she said there was, he made no attempt to follow the steps in his dream. After all, it was just a dream and none of his dreams had ever come true. For the next three nights, his dreams followed the same path until he reached the “sleeping” boys.

Finally, Jacob set out with his brother-in-law, Harrison Whysong to search for the boys. Harrison probably thought his brother-in-law was crazy for following his dream. The two of them would be searching in an area that had not been touched by the search parties; nobody had thought the children would cross the wide Bob’s Creek and if the children had gone into the creek, they would surely have drowned. Note: I went by the spelling on the sign at the site, but many references spell his name Wysong.

This did not stop Jacob who said that if no one would join him, he would search on his own. With great hesitation, Harrison agreed to accompany Jacob on his dream walk. On May 8, 1856, the two of them arrived at the Cox home and set off to search for the markers from Jacob’s vision. Imagine their surprise as they walked along and soon discovered the first clue: the remains of a dead deer. A short distance later, they found one of the boy’s shoes near Bob’s Creek. Nearby was a beech tree that crossed over Bob’s Creek. Jacob and Harrison used the beech tree to cross Bob’s Creek and continued to follow the directions Jacob’s dream had provided.

They crossed over the mountain and down into the hollow on the other side. Next, they crossed over Rhodes Run and started up the hollow, following Ciana Run. Just a short distance along the stream, they found the boys cuddled together in the roots of a birch tree.

The condition of the boys was shocking. Their clothes were in rags and their shoes were worn from wandering the mountain trying to find a way home. The children were mere skeletons of themselves, having starved to death. Physicians who had tended to the boys after their death had determined that they had died three days before they had been found — on the same night that Jacob had his first dream.

Sadly, had the thousands who searched for the boys crossed Bob’s Creek, the boys may have been discovered alive. The news of the boys being found soon spread up and down the hollows and church bells rang out the sad news. The boys’ bodies were returned home and would be buried together in one coffin in Mount Union Cemetery, in the area of Lovely, a small community near the base of Spruce Hollow. According to newspapers at the time, up to five thousand people attended the funeral of the boys. A number of people had donated money to Dibert and Whysong for finding the boys, but they turned the money over to provide a memorial stone for the boys.

Samuel and Susannah Cox would spend the remainder of their lives in Spruce Hollow. They would have more children whose descendants still thrive in the area today. When they passed many years later, Samuel and Susannah joined George and Joseph in the Mount Union Cemetery.

Jacob Dibert would serve the Union during the Civil War, enlisting on September 7, 1861. He served as a private in the 55th Regiment, Company K, which was comprised of volunteers from Bedford County. Jacob would rise to the rank of corporal on December 20, 1861, and would re-enlist on January 1, 1864. His regiment was placed at Point of Rocks, Maryland (although his place of death is listed as Point of Rocks, Virginia) to protect the town from raiders. It was here on October 24, 1864, he died of dysentery. He was buried there and would never again set foot on the soil he had farmed and loved so much.

Harrison Whysong would move to present-day Clearfield County where he died in 1876.

In 1906, on the fiftieth anniversary of the deaths of George and Joseph Cox, the people of Pavia erected a marble monument in memory of the children at the location where they were discovered.

I left the silent hollow and Blue Knob State Park and drove a short distance to where the two boys are buried. I paused for a moment at their grave to reflect upon their story before leaving them to their eternal slumber.

Note: Charles R. McCarthy records in The Lost Children of the Alleghenies and How They Were Found Through a Dream the story of Miss Cidney Griffith. In September of 1887, she spent the day visiting with her father at Portage. She left on foot heading home and soon became lost in the area known as Cedar Swamps. She spent two days wandering about the swamps and though search parties were formed, they could not find any trace of her. On the second night a stranger had a dream that was so vivid and detailed that it led him right to where she was huddled. Miss Griffith was found safe, though scared, and brought out of the swamp. The stranger was Isaac Dibert, Jacob’s son.

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