The Legend of David Ogle's Grave

The grave of David Ogle (photo by Gina Zeigler-Park)

In the woods behind Susquenita High School, at the foot of Cove Mountain, lies a burial plot which has been shrouded in mystery and steeped in legend since it was rediscovered in 1921. Behind a split-rail enclosure a visitor to this strange graveyard will encounter two markers-- one bearing a faded epitaph denoting the final resting place of David Ogle. The other gravemarker, a much smaller stone, is devoid of any inscription. It is the blankness of this time-worn tombstone which has fascinated the residents of Perry County for generations.

According to local legend, on a winter morning in December of 1827 an early settler of Cove named David Ogle, armed with an old flintlock rifle, followed bear tracks in the snow while hunting along the edge of Cove Mountain. When he finally managed to track down the bear, Ogle took aim and fired. Although the lead ball found its mark, the shot only managed to enrage the animal rather to mortally wound it, and the angry beast charged at the hunter. By all accounts, an epic wrestling match ensued.

With Ogle clutched in the wounded bear's death grip, he fumbled for his knife. And with his own life being squeezed out of him, he plunged the blade deep into the bear's neck.

After Ogle failed to return home to his cabin, his family went and searched for him. They eventually located two lifeless bodies in the blood-soaked snow, one human and one animal, still clutched in each other's arms. Ogle's family decided to bury both man and beast where they had fallen, and it has long been supposed that the smaller gravemarker belongs to the bear who had killed David Ogle.

This version of the story has been told, and re-told, since the days of the Civil War and has captured the imaginations of countless Perry Countians for well over a century. But is there any truth to this story, or is it merely one of Pennsylvania's more colorful legends?

Unfortunately, since there were no witnesses to this alleged battle to the death, all we can do is stitch together bits and pieces of facts from historical records, and hope to paint an accurate picture of David Ogle.

The Early Days of Cove 

David Ogle was born on August 26, 1768, in New Castle, Delaware. It is unclear when he arrived in Perry County, but when he arrived he found that the land along the foot of Cove Mountain was sparsely populated. Although the region had been settled since 1740, with the arrival of Scotch, Irish, German and English immigrants who set up homesteads in nearby Sherman's Valley, a wave of Shawnee massacres in 1763 forced most white settlers out of the area. Some of them would return a few years later, but many chose to remain in the safety of York and Lancaster counties. This left a great deal of unoccupied land in what is now Penn Township.

Those who chose to make Cove their home in spite of the "Indian troubles" include the Barnetts and Mayers, who owned several acres of land along Cove Creek. Thomas Barnett erected the first schoolhouse, at a spot near the present-day high school. Frederick Mayer was the teacher. The Mayer children, who lived on the Barnett farm (which is now the site of the Kinkora-Pythian Home), often played in the creek, and were told to run home immediately if they happened to see any Indians approaching. Some of the Mayer girls brought myrtle and planted it along the banks of Cove Creek; this myrtle is still growing today and can be seen by motorists traveling along Route 15 near the entrance to the Kinkora-Pythian Home.

The Barnetts also built a grist mill, tannery and a distillery, which later became the location of the Zimmerman and Smith farms. The Ogles purchased the farm directly below the Barnett property, while the Keels occupied a farm just west of the Ogles.

David Ogle was a cabinetmaker by trade, and also made doors and window frames for neighboring families. According to a biographical sketch appearing in the Perry County Times from January 26, 1939, David Ogle also made coffins and sandstone gravemarkers. This means there is a very good chance that most of the early Cove families-- the Barnetts, Weisers, Parkers, Gaileys, Whites, Keels, Smiths and Branyans-- relied on David Ogle's handiwork whenever they had the sad occasion to lay a loved one to rest.

A Family Destroyed

In 1793, David Ogle married Catharine Kiel, whose family emigrated to Perry County from Westphalia in northwest Germany. It is likely that the Kiel and Keel names which appear on early maps and records are of the same lineage. Of the seven children they produced, five died in infancy, while the oldest-- a daughter named Mary-- died at the age of 24.

At any rate, all of David and Catherine's children died before 1827, when David was reportedly killed by the bear at the foot of Cove Mountain. Catherine died in 1817, at the age of 45. Since David was the only maker of gravemarkers in Cove, it stands to reason that the names etched into the sandstone headstones of his wife and children were carved by his own hand. These graves are located at the Barnett family burial plot, hidden on a hill just behind the Cove Antique Barn.

It also stands to reason that, since David was preceded in death by his wife and all seven children, the story about his body being found by his own family cannot possibly be true.

Grave of Margaret Ogle (1800-1802) at the Barnett burial ground. (photo by Nathan Keel)

An Alternative (and Scandalous) Theory

Based on records proving that the Ogle farm was located directly below the Barnett farm, it would appear that the ground upon which David Ogle died was his own, and this raises the possibility that Ogle died of natural causes and was perhaps buried in sight of where his own home had stood. But what of the mystery grave?

Interestingly, out of Ogle's seven children, six are buried on the old Barnett farm alongside Catherine, while one daughter-- Rebecca-- is inexplicably buried fifteen miles away in Camp Hill.

Barnett burial ground (photo by Jennifer Harris)

Rebecca, born in or around 1805, passed away on November 27, 1820. This would have made her a girl of 12 or 13 when her mother died, leaving her to share the Ogle home with her father and a sister named Mary, who was six years her senior (Mary Ogle, the longest-lived of the Ogle children, would pass away in 1823). What situation might have caused Rebecca to have been sent away just a few short years after her mother's death? Could it have been a pregnancy? Might Rebecca have died during childbirth, leaving David Ogle the responsibility of single-handedly raising a grandson or grand-daughter?

During the early 19th century, wayward girls (as they were often called in those days) were often sent to county almshouses or special church-run facilities known as "Magdalene Laundries"-- so-named because the girls, in order to pay off their room and board, were required to work in the large commercial laundries which allowed the facilities to earn a profit. In Pennsylvania, the largest of these asylums was operated by the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia, which was founded in 1800 and overseen by Episcopal and Presbyterian clergy. At the time of Rebecca Ogle's death in 1820, Perry County had just been created from a portion of Cumberland County, which would have placed the Perry County almshouse in Loysville, more than 25 miles away. The Cumberland County Poorhouse, located on the grounds of the Claremont Estate in Carlisle, would not open until 1829.  Yet there surely would have been some other place for wayward girls to go in 1820, perhaps a church-run society or convent. Considering the great number of historic churches in and around Camp Hill and Mechanicsburg, this would seem like a plausible scenario.

If such was the case, this might help explain why the smaller stone next to the grave of David Ogle is uninscribed. Perhaps Rebecca died while giving birth to a child in Camp Hill, and the infant perished shortly thereafter, without having been given a name. Perhaps this unnamed infant was buried on Ogle's farm, rather than at the Barnett burial grounds, to spare the Ogle name from shame and embarrassment.

While the truth may never be known, this alternative theory, at least to me, seems more believable than the oft-repeated fable about a hunter and his prey being buried in the woods, side by side-- especially considering the fact that bears tend to be hibernating during the month of December. 


  1. Thanks for all your research ; your posts are always interesting


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