History From America's Most Famous Valleys
STORIES OF THE REVOLUTION
With an account of the lost child of the Delaware: Wheaton and the Panther, &c.
Thanks to Willis Barshied Jr. for the donation.
Printed by Hoffman and White,
No. 71 State Street 1836.
THE LOST CHILD OF THE DELAWARE.
Robert Mason, the father of the child which is the subject of the following account, was what is termed on the Delaware, among the lumbermen, a stearsman. He had chosen a residence for himself and family, in a dreary region, far from any settlement, among the wild and broken mountains ; out of which arise the head waters of the east branch of the Delaware. At the time his child was lost, which was May the 10th, 1807, he was from home, on a piloting voyage down the Delaware.
A half mile, or thereabout, from his house was a small clearing, which he used as a pasture. To this pasture, a larger son of his had taken a horse in the afternoon ; when the sun was about two hours high. The woods intervened between the house and the pasture, so that the way, which was only an obscure path, could not be seen but a short distance; and besides, was intersected in several places, by the paths of cattle. The child, which was but about five years old, had attempted to follow its brother to this pasture, unperceived , but after going a little way wandered and became bewildered, as it still went on in a very dense and gloomy forest which lay along the base of a mountain, running in a southern direction. It was nearly sunset before its mother missed the child; when, looking round and not discovering it, became soon persuaded that it was lost. Alarm and distress at once marked her features sad actions. She flew here and there, filling the woods with her cries, calling the little fugative ; but no trace of its feet, nor sound of its voice could be seen or heard. The family had run everywhere around about the house and clearing, till near sundown in vain; when night came on which placed the life of the little wanderer in a perilous situation, on account of wild beasts and precipices ; which dangers were magnified in a roost terrifying manner in the prolific and frightened mind of the mother, She now sent her eldest boy to the nearest neighbor; which was a distance of a mile or two, to alarm them ; and from thence others went on to the next; when got together went to the house of the child's parents; and heard the story as it was. When this was done, two persons were dispatched that night, one to Walton, and one to Delhi, villages on the Delaware river; being each about fourteen miles distance, from where the child belonged. Their object in doing this was to request a general turnout, in search of the lost child ; which was no sooner done, than the news flew in all directions through those villages, when every citizen, feeling the workings of sympathy, soon were gathered round the messengers, to hear more particularly, the true state of the case. This understood, they were unanimous in the enterprize, although it was then about midnight. Each man took his gun and ammunition, as the woods abounded with wild animals-wolves, panthers and bears. They took also provisions, not knowing how long the hunt might be continued, before they should find the child, or be compelled to give it up. Being thus equipped, they started off on foot, and arrived at the place of destination about day-light, amounting in number to two hundred persons. Here they found the distressed mother, who had not slept a moment during the whole night. From her they learned the direction it had probably taken, in attempting to follow its brother and the horse to the pasture. They now concerted means the most effectual, to scour the immense wilderness, which lay between them on the one side of the road, and a mountain a mile or a mile and a half distant. From the house eastward, they ranged themselves along on the new road to as great a distance; as their numbers would allow, placing each man two and three rods apart. In this manner, about sunrise, they entered the gloomy woods ; occupying, in a line, nearly a mile and a half distance.
As they proceeded, every dark recess was strictly examined, the trees that were hollow, standing or fallen, were thumped upon-the bushy tops of hemlocks and other trees were not passed unnoticed-supposing it not impossible but the mangled limbs of the child, might be found hanging from the branches of some tree, carried thither by the teeth of the panther. The company had agreed not to fire a gun unless the child should be found but to proceed as silently as possible, This was strictly observed, while they pursued their way with ail the anxiety, so trying an occasion could inspire ; each one being anxious to have the honor, as well as the happiness, of finding the little wanderer. In this manner they penetrated to the foot of the mountain, but no trace of the child was discovered. They were now compelled to return to the wretched mother without her son; whose cries and moans were uttered in a most piteous manner, forcing tears from the eyes of the most stout hearted. Immediately the company arranged themselves anew, to search the woods on the other side of the road, till they should reach the top of a ridge, about the same distance from the house as the other, but not so high, and difficult of ascent. The same order and method of examining the woods, were observed in this attempt, as well as in the other. By this time all the women, for several miles, living between the house of the lost child and the two villages, had arrived there out of sympathy ; which added to the former company about thirty persons. These, however, did not accompany the others in scouring the woods, but remained about the neighborhood of the house, searching ever heap of old logs, pond hole, brook and spring, where it might hide itself, or have died with cold, for the weather, although it was in May, was chilly in the night, as on the mountains there was in many places, patches of snow.
On the side of the road which they were now about to commence searching, ran a blind path, which passed down into a dreary valley, and then ascended through a notch in the ridge, and so passed over to a small settlement, several miles distant on the other side. They had determined, after having examined the woods on one side of this path, to the very top of the ridge, to return down again on the other side to the place of starting, and then, if the child was not found to take new ground, and to continue the search till it should be found dead or alive.
They now proceeded, after having extended their line, to examine with all possible caution and diligence every place in those woods ; prying into gulphs and caves, hidden recesses, tops of trees, &c. as in the beginning. But no trace of the child was found in ail the distance, to the foot of the ridge, where they halted awhile to listen, then commenced ascending it; which in many places, they found very steep and difficult. They now frequently halted to listen, which was done through the whole line by a given token, previously agreed on, and going out each way from the centre, by the captain of the forces, for the sake of order, and to act in concert, hoping by this means, to catch the voice of the child in its wailings, if it was yet alive. During one of these halts it was imagined, by several that they heard its voice in the distance above them, when they again rushed forward, at the signal to march, scrambling as fast as possible up the slippery sides of the hill. But a minute or two now elapsed, when exactly in the course of a Mr. Barsley, the nearest neighbor of the woman, they came suddenly upon the poor little sufferer, laying with one side of its face in a puddle of snow water. But it was evident that it had not been in that condition but a very short time, or it must have died. It had according to its own account, afterwards given by itself, heard a great noise in the woods below, which frightened him, when he got up from where he had sat down, and tried to run, but from weakness and numbness fell down over a limb of a tree against which he stumbled, and from which he could not recover, but lay, in expectation of being killed, with its face in the water as stated above. The great noise which had alarmed him was the trampling of the men, who were looking for him. Immediately the signal gun was fired, by which it was known that the child was found, which was followed by a feu de joice, and the tremendous shouting of the whole line, "the child is found, the child is found ;" the sound of which reverberated, in joyful echoes along the cliffs of the ridge, and over the tops of the gloomy forest below.
Barsley the happy finder of the child caught it up in his arms and wiped away the water from its drooping head and lace, carrying it to a sunny place on an open spot on the side of the hill, where they stripped off its wet and torn clothes, and washed its body with spirits; then wrapped it in a dry warm flannel blanket; which had been prepared for the occasion, if happily they should find the object of their solicitude. It was almost insensible from cold, hunger, fright and weariness, but the spirits and warm blanket soon revived and brought it to its feeling, so that it was taken to its mother alive.
A Mr. McGary, now living in the town of Broome, Schoharie County, near Rightmyer's tavern, was the person who related the story to the author, and was present and had the pleasure, of carrying, and of presenting the little innocent to the convulsed embrace of its almost phreuzied mother, whose joy at the sight, and touch of her own hearts blood in that of her child, mocks the power of language to describe. Never shall I, said Mr. McGary, forget the ardor of the countenance of this mother, as she came running with the velocity of a spirit, to meet us, and to snatch the child to her bosom. She pressed it to her lips, turned round and round, shrieked and wept, and gazed upon it, while she kissed its pale lips and face, seeming not to know that the eyes of hundreds was upon her. Never, he repeated, shall I forget the interest, and happiness, the surrounding group manifested, who came running to behold, the extravagant happiness of the mother of the child. There were none who did not weep like children, at a sight of so much joy, expressed with such proper action, and unbounded gratitude to those who had been engaged in its recovery to her arms.
When the child was dressed and fed in a proper manner, and so
recovered as to be able to answer questions, he said he wanted to go with
brother to carry the horse to the pasture, but could not find it, when it
got dark. He then got on the top of a rock where he lay down all night, during
which he said he heard his mother call him. But it was supposed, that it was
not the voice of his mother that he heard, but of some wild animal, the panther,
in all probability; the screams of which resembles the cries of a woman in
distress. The child grew to be a man, and has often been heard to say, that
he well remembered the horrors of that dismal night.
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