The Lost Children Of The Alleghenies

 The most renowned legend to come out of Old~Greenfield is the search for the Cox children: The Lost Children of the Alleghenies. Joseph and Susannah Cox had two sons: George, aged seven, and his brother, Joseph, aged five. The Cox family lived in Spruce Hollow, in present-day Lincoln Township. The morning of 23 April, 1856 was cold; snow from the preceeding winter still lay on the ground on the eastern slopes of the Allegheny Mountain. That morning, Joseph heard his dog barking and went out to see what was the matter. The boys must have wandered off about the same time. Susannah thought they had gone with their father, but when he returned to the cabin later that morning, the parents realized their sons were gone.

 The parents appealed to their neighbors to help them search in the surrounding forest for the two little boys and by that afternoon a search party of nearly two hundred was combing the woods. The serach went on into the night. During the next day, as word of the incident spread, almost a thousand people turned up at the Cox farmstead to help in the search. Their efforts were futile. The little boys were nowhere to be found and the weather was damp and cold. The chances for their survival in those conditions were slim.

 On the third day of the search, a rumor began to circulate among the searchers that the Joseph and Susannah had murdered their sons in order to obtain money from sypathetic donors. A group of the men who had been helping in the search turned their attention to the Cox house and tore up the floorboards and dug up the nearby garden patch thinking they would find the murdered children’s bodies hidden away there. The family’s friends were successful in putting a halt to that frenzy.

 The search continued for nearly a month. Everyone who came to help in the search had a theory about what had happened to the two little boys. The theories ranged from them having been eaten by wild animals to having been stolen by Gypsies. A colored man was brought over from the Morrisons Cove because it was claimed that he could divine things using a peach limb; that he could locate the children much like dousing for water. But his efforts were of no use. A woman who claimed to be versed in witchcraft was brought in from Somerset County. She stated that she could see the two boys lying safely underneath some laurel boughs and that for a fee she would lead the searchers to them. After wandering around through the woods the rest of the searchers realized she knew no more than they. Then Jacob Dibert began to dream a recurring dream about the boys.

 Jacob Dibert resided in a log cabin in Polecat Hollow near the Greenfield/ Freedom Township boundary. Around the 12th of May Jacob dreamt that he was out walking alone in the woods. He passed a dead deer and soon thereafter he found a small boy’s shoe. Nearby, he crossed over a stream that was swollen with the spring thaw by stepping over a fallen beech tree. He made his way over a ridge and down a ravine. At the base of the ravine he came upon another, small brook and followed it upstream only a short distance. There he saw a birch tree, with its top broken out, standing alongside the stream. There, curled up in its roots that formed a circle, were huddled the two boys. Jacob Dibert told his wife about the dream the following morning and she recognized some of the land features he spoke of as a place she grew up at before they were married – the Whysong farm. It was located some three or four miles from the Cox farmstead.

 The dream came back to Jacob Dibert over the following two nights, each time stronger than before. On the 15th of May, not being able to shake the feeling that his dream was somehow prophetic, Jacob headed off for the Whysong farm. Jacob’s brother-in-law, Harrison Whysong, was the only one home at the time, and not wanting to see his brother-in-law go alone, Harrison set out with Jacob into the woods. As the two men made their way through the woods, each of the things Jacob had dreamed showed up. They found the dead deer and then the little shoe. They crossed the stream over the fallen beech log and then climbed over the ridge and down into the ravine. As they made their way along the small stream they couldn’t hold themselves back when they spied the birch tree with its top broken off. Legend claims that Harrison ran forward and, in the process, tripped over the tree’s roots and into the lifeless bodies of the two boys who indeed lay there.

 The two boys’ bodies were scratched and their clothes were all torn. It was estimated that they had died only a few days before they were found by Dibert and Whysong. When they were found, the two boys were cradled in each other’s arms and George had placed his cap under his younger brother’s head as a little pillow. The tale of the Lost Children of the Alleghenies was popular throughout the region perhaps because it was an instance of the settler’s worst fear coming true.

Annie Oakley

 Not so well known is the legend of Annie Oakley’s proposed trip to visit the graves of her grandparents in Freedom Township. Annie Oakley, the famous gunslinging star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, was given the name of Phoebe Anne Moses at her birth. Her grandparents had settled in Paw Paw Hollow in present-day Freedom Township, and it was there that her grandparents were buried. Phoebe was born in Ohio, and may or may not have ever visited her relations in this region. Word was received by members of the Moses family then residing in Leamersville, in 1926, that "Annie Oakley" was going to be coming east to visit the grave-sites of her grandparents in Paw Paw Hollow. The people got all excited, thinking that their famous cousin was coming to pay homage to her grandparents, and plans were made for a big reception. Phoebe Anne became ill about a week before her trip was to get underway and she never did visit this area. But, it was indeed a good thing that she did not come; the family found out later that she probably had intended to deface the tombstones of her grandparents because she didn’t want any trace of the name "Moses" to exist.

The Underground Railroad

 Another of our legends is the tale that is told in Greenfield Township about how Claysburg was a stopping place for the Underground Railroad during the time of the Civil War. Blair County was known as a region sympathetic to the abolitionist movement during the period prior to and during the Civil War. In fact, Freedom Township is claimed to have been named, when it was formed in 1857, in honor of the movement advocating "freedom" for all people. Although there exist no public records to confirm the claims, a number of houses in the Claysburg area are believed to have been havens for blacks who were making their way northward to freedom during that turbulent period.

The Chicken Raiders

 One of the more colorful tales is that of the "Chicken Raiders. In early June of 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia was pushing northward. The people of this region became alarmed. Confederate Cavalry was claimed to have been sighted in the Morrisons Cove. On 14 June, 1863 the people decided it was time to organize a militia troop for their own defence. The troop that was formed over the next few days consisted of men who were either too old or too young, or who had been turned down for recruitment into the regular army. The troop was neither accepted by nor mustered into the regular state or federal armed forces. Therefore it was not given an official designation. Initially it took the name of the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia.

 The Pennsylvania Emergency Militia was led by Colonel Jacob Higgins. By the end of the week the troop had come to consist of three battalions of infantry raised primarily in Blair County. One battalion had been sent from nearby Johnstown in Cambria County.

 The McKee Gap was chosen as the most strategic point to fortify and defend; it afforded the most easily accessible route of ingress to the Altoona region. It would also be the most easily defended position because of its natural shape and size. On 23 June, Col. Higgins and his Pennsylvania Emergency Militia took possession of the McKee Gap and began to fortify the site. Entrenchments were dug into the hillside and obstructions were placed in the road that passed through the gap. Legend has it that wooden and stone platforms were constructed along the hillside and on the summits of Dunnings and Short Mountains on which cannon were placed. There exists no public records to either confirm or deny the claim that any cannon were available to the troops. Four to six pieces of artillery were requested from the regular army, but they were never delivered.

 On the 24th of June, 1863 a detachment was ordered south to the Loys Gap to fortify that pass also. On the 25th the force was further depleted by the removal of a detach-ment to fortify passes in the region of St Clairsville. Then on the 26th of June, Col. Higgins marched the remaining troops to the Sideling Hill region southeast of the town of Bedford.

 On the 1st of July, 1863, as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia met Meade’s Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania Emergency Militia was asked to consent to be mustered into the regular army for a tour of duty of at least six months. The majority of the men would not agree to that and so the troop was disbanded and the men returned to their homes.

 Because the militia had not been equipped properly, they had taken to stealing chickens from the neighboring farms, and therefore received the nickname of "Chicken Raiders".