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The Lost Children of the Alleghenies

Dedication of the Cox Monument in 1906

In the spring of 1856 one of the saddest chapters in the history of Bedford County was written, after the two young sons of Samuel and Susanna Cox wandered away from home and into the mountains. The search for the two boys, aged five and seven, lasted for two weeks, and culminated in a gruesome discovery beneath a large tree on the shady banks of Gypsy Creek. And had it not been for a prophetic dream, the whereabouts of George and Joseph Cox might still remain a mystery.

The strange tale of the lost children of the Alleghenies began on the morning of April 24, 1856, when the boys followed their father into the woods. Samuel Cox, who had just finished breakfast inside the family's primitive log cabin in Spruce Hollow, grabbed his rifle after he heard his dog barking. The dog had managed to tree some small animal, and Samuel, desperate to put meat on the family table for dinner, bolted from the cabin. He was so eager to shoot the trapped animal that he failed to notice that George and Joseph had followed him outside.

Life had been hard for the Cox family. Samuel and Susanna had been married in Johnstown and left shortly after the birth of their first child, George. Filled with the pioneer spirit and desperate to make their own way in the world, they went to Indiana, which was largely wild and unsettled at the time. After a few hard years they returned to Pennsylvania and settled in Bedford County. Samuel Cox cleared a plot of ground in the howling wilderness of Spruce Hollow, in the extreme northwestern section of the county, near the intersection of the Cambria, Somerset and Blair county lines.

Wilderness stretched for hundreds of yards in every direction of the Cox cabin. At night, the cries of panthers and mountain lions pierced the mountain air; during the day, rattlesnakes sunned themselves on boulders and logs. It was a dangerous place, but Samuel viewed it as paradise. On the morning of April 24, guided by the barking of his dog, Samuel shot and killed the large squirrel that had been trapped up the tree. He decided to return to his cabin by taking a different path. It was a fateful decision he would live to regret; by taking a different route back to the cabin he missed the two young boys who were attempting to follow in their father's footsteps.

By nightfall a search party consisting of over a hundred men and boys began scouring the woods for the lost children. This in itself is remarkable, and demonstrates how neighbors looked out for one another back in those days. Even though the telephone had not been invented, and even though the nearest neighbors were a half mile away, every able-bodied man in the region dropped whatever they were doing and rushed to offer their assistance to the panicked family. By the time the search was over, more than 2,000 residents of Bedford, Cambria, Somerset and Blair counties had taken part.

Yet, in spite of the tenacity of the search party, very few clues were found. Many different theories were advanced. Some insisted that the two boys had been kidnapped by a band of gypsies, others believed a gang of bandits had sold the children into slavery. Still others pointed their fingers at the Cox family, accusing the parents of murdering their own children. The prevailing opinion, however, was that the children had been devoured by wild beasts.

As the search stretched into its second week, hope began to wane. But Samuel and Susanna refused to give up; they were willing to try anything that could lead them to George and Joseph. They employed the services of an old Negro who had a local reputation for being a voodoo witchdoctor. The old man claimed that he could find the lost boys using a divining rod made from the forked branch of a peach tree. When this failed, they turned to a woman in Somerset County who dabbled in the "black arts" and supposedly had certain supernatural powers. After two days the woman was sent back to Somerset County.

On the tenth night after the Cox children went missing a young man who lived fifteen miles away had a strange dream. This man was Jacob Dibert, who would later fight in the Civil War. Dibert dreamed that the two little boys were lying under a birch tree next to a mountain stream. Dibert had not taken part in the search and had little familiarity with the terrain, so he quickly forgot about his vision. But on the eleventh night he had the same dream. This time it was a little clearer and seemed more realistic. On the twelfth night the dream came again, and in the morning he told his wife about the disturbing vision.

Jacob Dibert

Dibert's wife, who had been born and raised in the wilds of Bedford County, thought she recognized part of the landscape described by her husband. She relayed the details of Jacob's dream to her brother, Harrison Whysong. He told the search party about his brother-in-law's prophetic vision, but they laughed.

On the fifteenth day Dibert and Whysong ventured into the wilderness alone. Whysong believed that the stream in Jacob's vision was located about seven miles from Spruce Hollow. In the dream there was a fallen log spanning a swollen creek, and the men found a log like the one in the dream spanning Bobb's Creek, which was swollen from the melted mountain snow. The men crossed over and found a path. Dibert said that soon they would encounter the carcass of a deer lying across the path. Sure enough, a few hundred yards along the trail they found the dead deer. They were getting close.

According to Jacob Dibert, the boys were asleep beneath the branches of a birch tree. In the dream, the tree was different than the others surrounding it. The trunk was bent and twisted, the top of the tree was split, as if it had once been struck by a bolt of lightning. Dibert and Whysong continued along the path until they spotted the tree from the young man's dream.

And there, beneath the branches, they found the lifeless bodies of George and Joseph Cox, who are still remembered to this day as the "lost children of the Alleghenies". The children had apparently died of starvation.

Jacob Dibert was given a cash reward for finding the lost children that had been offered by a group of concerned citizens from Bedford County, which he turned over to the grieving parents. It was this reward money that Susanna and Samuel Cox used to purchase the tombstone that marks the graves of George and Joseph at the old Mt. Union Cemetery, and to erect a stone monument at the site where the lost boys of the Alleghenies were found through the prophetic dream of Jacob Dibert.

George and Joseph's grave at Mt. Union Cemetery

The monument marking the spot where the children were found was made and erected by C. Benson Culp of Schellsburg and can still be seen today at Blue Knob State Park. The monument is simple and elegant in design and consists of a square shaft with a pyramidal top. Inscribed on the monument are the words:

The Lost Children of the Alleghenies Were Found Here May 8, 1856, by Jacob Dibert and Harrison Whysong. Joseph S. Cox, Aged Five Years, Six Months and Nine Days; George C. Cox, Aged Seven Years, One Month and Ten Days. Children of Samuel and Susanna Cox. Wandered from Home April 24, 1856. Dedicated May 8, 1906.

Original monument at Blue Knob State Park

As for the man who had the prophetic dream, he would die in Virginia at the age of 42 during the siege of Petersburg. Although a monument bearing his name can be found at Mount Zion Cemetery in Bedford County, his remains are buried in a mass grave near the Point of Rocks battlefield.

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