The Lost Children

babes in the wood

The Lost Children

I have to confess that I have not read David Paulides’ Missing 411 series. Whenever I am ill-advised enough to read about persons who have gone missing from parks and wilderness areas, I panic in the time-honored tradition of those who meet elemental forces in the forests. I’ve spent plenty of time in deep woods, far from “civilization,” but the subject is inexplicably terrifying, not unlike the experience of panic itself.

Accounts of the pioneer settlement of the Western Reserve, tell of thick, dark forests and of travelers, gone astray in the woods, never seen again or forced to climb trees to escape ravening packs of wolves. The forest was not there for recreation or refreshment; it was a place to be feared. Today we look at several 19th-century cases of being lost in the woods and some puzzling mental states associated with those cases.

It was the easiest thing in the world even for grown people to get lost in early days. The sensations on such occasions are described as terrifying. The mind and senses become wild with bewilderment, see familiar objects under new and strange aspects, and refuse to recognize trees and paths known for years. Old settlers, lost, have been known to pass within a few yards of their own doors without recognizing a single familiar object.

The Lost Children.

The outcome of the story we have here related [about a child who wandered into the woods and was found dead of exposure] is sad indeed. We here relate from “Perrin’s History of Stark County” [History of Stark County with an outline sketch of Ohio, William Henry Perrin, 1881] a story of a search for lost children, not so sad, but which is told with such clearness of statement as to give it place among the best narratives of the kind extant.

About the year 1821 two small children, a brother and sister, the former six and the latter eight years of age, belonging to a family in the southern part of Portage county, became lost while after the cows. The children tried to drive the cattle to what they thought was home, but in reality was in a different direction; and, as the animals refused to go as desired, were abandoned by the children. Had they but followed the cows they would soon have reached home.

The cows went home, and the children wandered farther into the tangled wilderness. As night closed around, and the cows came home without the children, the parents became alarmed, and immediately surmised that they had become lost The county was new and thinly settled, but the parents hurried around and roused what few neighbors they could. Guns were fired, horns were blown, but no tidings came of the wanderers. The morning dawned, and quite a number of the neighbors assembled from far and near to begin the search in a systematic manner. A few traces of where the children had been were discovered, and a long line formed to pursue the march southward.

If slight but sure signs of the children should be discovered the horn was to be blown once, if good signs twice, and if the children themselves three times, when all the searchers were to gather together. The search was given in charge of a hunter who had the ability to track game by very slight signs. All day long the search was continued. During the afternoon the hunter saw a footprint made by one of the children. The horn sounded the news along the line. The track was near a large tree that had been cut for a bear, and after a few moments the hunter held up a bit of calico that had been torn from the dress of the little girl.

The horn again carried the tidings along the line. The excitement became intense, but none were permitted to leave the line. The parents were excluded from the line and left at home, for fear that when a few signs were discovered they in their eagerness would rush forward and obliterate them. For the same reason the line was ordered not to break until the horn was sounded three times in succession. The old hunter and a few competent assistants took the advance, and announced their success to others who were beating the bushes for a mile or more on each side.

Darkness again came and the search had to be abandoned, save continued soundings of the horns and reports of the guns. The line was taken up again in the morning, and continued with occasional successes until nearly night. The searchers passed southward through Lexington township, Starke county, into Washington of the same, advancing as far as section fourteen, very near where Mr. Tinsman lived.

Here the old hunter picked up a piece of spicewood that bore upon it the marks of teeth. One suggested that it had been bitten by a deer, but the old hunter proved that to be impossible, as on the limb were marks of upper teeth.

The horn again rang out the welcome note. The line moved on, and soon came to a ”slashing” of some five acres. Here the old hunter plainly saw marks of where the children had walked in. They had followed on an old deer-path that led to the centre of the slashing. This was a splendid retreat for the animals when they were attacked by swarms of flies, as the place was thickly covered with weeds and undergrowth.

“What was to be done?” was the question. The old hunter was told to enter, which he did, and as he passed along the path he saw an object bound off a log and rush towards him. It was the little girl, paying no heed to his questions, and seeming to fear him although she had run into his arms. He asked where her brother was, but she did not appear to understand him, and made an effort to leave and run off into the underbrush. The search was continued in the slashing by the hunter and his assistants, and in a few minutes the little boy was found fast asleep under the protecting side of a large log.

He was roused up, but was as wild as his sister. The horns rang out three times in succession, and the overjoyed settlers in a few minutes gathered together. The children were taken to Mr. Tinsman’s house, but refused to eat, and made continued efforts to rush out into the woods. A little nourishing food was poured down their throats, and then they were taken rapidly towards their home.

The parents heard the horns and shouts, and were overwhelmed with joy when their children were placed in their arms. The little boy and girl did not recognize them, but stared wildly around. They were put to bed, and were soon asleep. Early the next morning the little boy called out, “Where’s my little axe?” The little girl awoke and called for her calico dress, the one that had been torn in pieces in her rambles. The children were all right, and strange to say could not remember anything of having been lost. Other instances of a similar nature are, says the county historian, related.

When people are lost they become so bewildered that they often fail to recognize objects with which they are perfectly familiar. Mr. Perrin relates the case of a Mr. Johnson, who having become lost wandered about in a bewildered state, when he finally came to a stable in the yard of which was an old horse. The animal was poorer than Job’s turkey, and Mr. Johnson wondered why in the name of humanity the owner did not feed the poor creature and take better care of the yard. He moved on a little farther, saw a log-house and near it a woman, who when she saw him asked, “What have you there?” It then dawned upon the bewildered Mr. Johnson for the first time, that his own wife was talking to him, and that the horse and stable-yard he had seen were his own. These bewildered, dazed mental states find an illustration in the old story of a wight who, on discovering his house to be on fire, threw a looking-glass out of the window and carried a tea-kettle out into the yard.

Historical Collections of Ohio, Henry Howe, 1902, p. 850-1

Where do the disappeared go?  Through a portal in time? To some twilight St Martin’s Land? Are they taken by Bigfoot, abducted by Morlocks, or stolen by the Gentry?  Too few return to tell us and they offer little useful information save for vague memories of shoes and streams or the silence of scattered bones in a field that was already searched.

Do accounts like these historic stories with their bewildering mental lapses and loss of memory offer any clues to the mysterious disappearances David Paulides writes about?

Thoughts to chriswoodyard8 AT who is just a few yards behind you on the trail.

Be sure to check this bizarre story of a child’s disappearance (as well as the many other stories of mysterious vanishings at Strange Company.)

And, another lost children story–note the tiny shoe–here.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead; also on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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