Phantoms of Powell Mountain

The view from the Route 19 Overlook, West Virginia

Back in the summer of 2018, when I was just beginning The Pennsylvania Rambler, I shared a journey into the mountains of West Virginia. This journey included a stop at the Route 19 Overlook, south of Birch River. In this entry, I mentioned the ghost of Powell Mountain. The headless ghost of Henry Young, who was shot and killed on Powell Mountain in September 1861, haunt the area where he had been buried. Note: The original article can be found here: Young’s Monument.

Since the original article was posted, I have received a couple emails about the Young’s Monument and the ghost of Powell Mountain, which I have been permitted to share with you.

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Adeline M. Writes:

While your story about the death of Henry Young is well written, you have a couple statements I would like to clarify.

1. Young was a Confederate soldier. He served as a private in Company D of the 36 Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army.

2. Young was scouting at the time he was killed, spying on the approaching Union Troops. He was part of a group of five men and when they were discovered, Henry stepped out onto the road and was willing to sacrifice himself so the others could escape.

3. Due to fear of retaliation if the body was moved, his cousin went alone a couple days after Young’s death and buried him where he fell. The reason he was buried there was because nobody else would go help retrieve the body.

4. Henry’s grave had no headstone for many, many years. Around 1900, a stone was finally placed for him. When his grave was moved in the 1960s, it was discovered he had been shot twice in the head, once in the front and once in the cheek.”

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Jeff D. was nice enough to send me the story he was told as a child about the ghost of Henry Young.

“My grandmother used to tell us to stay off Powell Mountain at night. Everyone knew the mountain was haunted by the ghost of a headless Civil War soldier who rides the lonely roads at night.

The rider is said to ride at midnight. The sound of chains tells of the rider’s approach. First the shadowy figure of a horse with its headless rider will appear, with his head resting in his lap. The figure rides past and disappears into the darkness.

One thing I never understood was why was he headless? Did he loose it when he was shot by the Union troops? Was he beheaded by the Union troops? That part of my grandmother’s story never made sense to me.”

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Dan W.’s grandfather told him a slightly different version of the story.

“When my grandfather was alive, he used to tell us ghost stories and one he liked to tell was the story of the Headless Ghost of Powell Mountain, or Young’s Monument as you called it. According to my grandfather, the horseman was seeking revenge for his death. The figure would chase people off the mountain, swinging his sword wildly in the air to claim another head for his collection.

Then he would laugh and go to bed, knowing we would not be sleeping that night.

Over the years, I have heard others say about their grandparents or great-grandparents seeing the ghost, but in all my trips over Powell’s Mountain, I’ve never spotted a headless figure at any time of the day or night. Maybe his ghost no longer rides or maybe my generation no longer has the connection of the ghosts of long ago?”

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The final email involving Powell Mountain comes from Josh R., who had a experience one evening while driving home from New River Gorge

“You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I had an experience one evening on Powell Mountain while driving home from the New River Gorge.

When I left the New River Gorge I knew I was going to be driving home in the dark. This was not the first time I made the trip home in the dark, but I knew the way. I had driven it so many times in the dark that I knew the road. Route 19 to Interstate 79 then home to Morgantown. A little over two hours without any issues.

I had just passed the sign saying the scenic overlook was ahead, when something big ran out onto the road in front of me. I swore loudly as I realized it was a horse that had wandered out onto the road.

There was no way I was going to avoid hitting it. I swerved sharply into the left-hand lane in an attempt to avoid hitting it. I hit the brakes hard and braced for impact as the horse continued to cross the road in front of me.

But I never hit it. I was staring right at it and it disappeared right before impact. Gone. Poof.

I was shaking as my car slid to a stop. There was no way I missed hitting it and I could not believe it just vanished.

There was a pull-through in the middle and I got out to check my vehicle. There was no sign that I had hit anything. No dents. No blood. Nothing. Getting back in the car, I turned so my headlights temporarily lit up the road. There was nothing there. No signs that I might have struck something. Just black marks where I had hit my brakes.

I was shaking the rest of the way home as I tried to make sense of it. I told a friend a couple days later and she asks if the horse had a rider. I said it was just a horse. No rider. She then tells me about the headless rider that haunts Powell Mountain.

I’m not sure what I saw that night. It scared me enough that I stopped driving that stretch of road at night. I make sure I leave New River Gorge so it’s still light when I drive through that area. I don’t care to see it again.

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