The story of Ottie Powell, the lost little 4-year-old in Virginia's Blue Ridge and pictures of my hike to the site of where Ottie Cline Powell was found



Transposed by Andy Delbridge

Printed by The Publishing House of P.H. Church, Franklin Springs, Ga.
October 10, 1925

The Library of Virginia in Richmond has the only copy I know of this book. It is a very rare book today. It was little more than a 30-page pamphlet—a paperback approximately 3” by 6” and very thin. It is in the non-circulation group of books at the library. So, what you see below, is taken from my notes I wrote up while reading the book while sitting at the library. A majority of the words below are taken directly from Huffman’s book. -Andy Delbridge

[I looked for any copyright notice of this 1925 work and could not find any. I am assuming this old and rare book is now in the public domain. If this assumption is in error, please advise by emailing me below.]

Rev. E. M. Powell lived with his family on the Eastern Slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Amherst County, Va.

On November 9, 1891 a brown-eyed boy wearing Kentucky blue jeans went to the Tower Hill Schoolhouse. Being 4 years 11months and 25 days old, Ottie Cline Powell was the youngest student of Miss Nannie Gilbert and her single room school.

There was a 5-minute recess for girls, then for the boys. The teacher wanted the students to bring an arm full of wood to the school for the next morning’s fire.

The schoolhouse stood 7 miles east of the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There was a dense forest of chestnut, oak and pine.

To gather wood, the boys walked on the path leading behind the log schoolhouse. By the time Ottie got his wood, the other boys had already gone back to the schoolhouse. Ottie went in the wrong direction, trying to return.

On his way to school that morning, Ottie said good bye to his mother and stopped where his dad was working on husking corn. Ottie asked his dad if he could stay with him that day and help him instead of go to school. As a good parent, Rev. Powell told Ottie that he needed to go to school. He didn’t know it would be the last time he would see his little boy on these mortal shores.

The minister of the gospel had eight children at the time and Ottie was the youngest.

Mrs. Lillian Belle Powell would only live a litttle longer after Ottie disappeared. She had a breakdown over the taxation of nerves and body. Human tongue or thought cannot express the grief and sorrow on paper or words.

Mr. Powell dreamed the night before that he saw something like a hearse or a black wagon. He went to the wagon and went in. He saw an old man sitting back in the end of it. The man said this is my house. He saw in this wagon a little coffin one foot long with no top on it. A little light burning over it. The light was suspended in the air, a little blaze burning with nothing apparently keeping it suspended over the coffin. He awoke and told his wife of the dream. He could not go back to sleep that night.

At the school, all the children except one had returned to the Dancing Creek Schoolhouse from recess and began their studies at their desks. Twenty minutes had elapsed before the teacher realized Ottie was not in the school.

Huffman defends the teacher referring to all grades in the schoolhouse and the responsibility for both larger and small boys and girls.

Miss Gilbert looked outside but didn’t see Ottie. She sent some of the boys back to where they had picked up the wood. She sent the boys to the neighbors’ houses and to the Powell’s home. They returned each time unable to find Ottie.

All this time Little Ottie was making his way through Black Jacks and Bramble Briars towards the main Blue Ridge. Mr. Powell appeared on the scene with his near neighbors confident they would find him. They sought the flat-woods in a short time. The news was spreading and more neighbors arrived. By the time the sun began to go over the western hills the woods were alive with men and women, boys and girls searching. They found where he had worked and toiled at a little chestnut pole to get it loose from the vines that held it fast. Spending time freeing the chestnut pole accounts for him getting behind the other boys at recess. He had dragged his little burden of wood to the path or old road and held onto it for a distance of half a mile. The pole he dragged the wrong way was twelve feet long. The end of the pole had worn down to a feather edge by dragging it over rocks and sand. He thought he was going in the right direction but without the other boys, he had been turned around. It is surprising to know how Ottie held on to his pole so great a distance.

Suffering and agony he was undergoing from fright and cold and hunger, lost in rocks and cliffs, the darkness creeping down.

Mr. Henry Wood helped search. He told the author they searched until about 10pm. He thought of a faithful dog that he had at home that Ottie thought highly of and the dog was fond of Ottie. Mr. Wood put the dog on Ottie’s track where he dropped his load. The dog went towards the high peaks on the main ridge. The dog was gone so long, Mr. Wood thought he went hunting something else. Later Mr. Wood thought the dog went to Ottie that night because he was gone so long. Men were stationed around with lights to hear Ottie when he would cry out. The Blue Ridge was noted for black bears, panthers, wolves and wildcats, and other wild animals, which provided an unsafe environment for the little boy.

At midnight the cold rain started. The next morning the lofty peaks were white with ice and snow, but it cleared off. Mr. Wood and his two brothers and other strong men kept up the search.

Day after day passed and Ottie was not found. Hundreds of people formed themselves in a line 4 feet apart. There were 1500 searchers soon. Many assumed he had been kidnapped and held for a reward. Mr. Powell employed a detective, however, after two weeks, the detective gave up and returned to Richmond. Everyone gave up except Mr. Powell.

On Sunday, April 5th, four men crossed the mountains via the old bear trail. The bear path led from Amherst County to Rockbridge County. It crossed the high peaks known as the Bluff. They were N. M. Coleman and his brother and two other men named Lipscomb. Their dog had gone ahead and barking at something on top of the high peak. The men went to the top to see what the dog was barking at. These men just seemed to be led this way as they had no particular business to be travelling this rough trail this Sunday. They saw the little boy’s body and knew right away who he was. Two men stayed there and the other two went down to the schoolhouse. Mr. Powell and the community would be there at Sunday service. Mr. Powell had gone up the mountains the previous Sunday searching. He prayed that God would let him know where his child was dead or live. They had just finished singing the opening song of the service and the minister, Rev. Mr. Cline, said this day would be long remembered.

The two men called Mr. Powell to the door and told him they’d found his boy. Mr. Powell threw up his hands and thanked God to the top of his voice. This ended the service for the day.

A crowd of men started out to the high peak. They gathered around the lifeless little body. The strong crowd of men and boys wept and cried as they viewed the long sought for being of Ottie. They saw him lay there between that white oak and large rock. His brown hat yet on his head. His pants were full of holes where snags and thorn briers and sticks had caught him and torn them.

Puzzled then how the young boy climbed over such rocks, hedges, and cliffs to this lofty peak at altitude 3,350 feet, on the line of Rockbridge County and Amherst County. From the peak can be seen three county seats; Amherst, lexington, and Bedford City also the City of Lynchburg and Buena Vista. His body was unharmed except his feet had been bitten off. A physician was called from Big Island to see if it could be determined how long he lived after leaving the schoolhouse. The doctor looked at contents of his stomach and the last thing he ate were three chestnuts still undigested. He ate them at recess the evening he was lost, which confirmed that he died a few hours after he was lost.

It is thought by some who searched that after he found that he was lost, he dropped his pole of wood and ran with all his strength until he reached this point and just fell broken down and fatigued. He fell to sleep and froze to death before the next morning. It was seven miles from the schoolhouse.

On Monday, April 6th, 1892, Ottie’s funeral was preached and the body laid to rest in Tower Hill Graveyard.

The leaves had fallen from the trees,
The mountain caps were white
Where little Ottie lay down to sleep,
That chilly autumn night

His little body was tired and worn
From climbing that lofty peak,
A rock he had for his pillow,
Without mother to kiss him goodnight

Just how long he slumbered and slept
The Lord above only knows,
But when he opened his eyes
He was in the sweet home of the soul.

I had to see the spot where Ottie was found, so, on April 20th, 2010, nearly 120 years later, I trekked up Bluff Mountain from my campsite near the Panter Falls area and Lynchburg Resevoir, on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. The following pictures are from that hike.

The memorial on Bluff Mountain Peak where he body was found five months after he was last seen.

Much is wrong in the text of this memorial. First of all, the school was not called Tower Hill School. Tower Hill was called Bluff Mountain until the tower was built in 1917, and, after the removal of the tower, the name went back to its original name. Therefore in 1891 and 1892, the Tower Hill was and still is called Bluff Mountain. The date is also off by a year. His body was found in April, 1892, not 1891. It was November 1891 when he was lost.

Following the Appalachian Trail, 3 1/2 miles uphill from leaving my campsite on the Little Irish Forest Rd in the George Washington Nat'l Forest, the peak of Bluff Mt comes into view in the distance. Then, after another mile of steep ascent, I come upon the peak. There was a fire tower built here in 1917, and torn down in the 70's, when airplanes became widely used for spotting fires. The concrete foundations are all that's left of the tower. My back pack rests on steps to nowhere.

The memorial, coming from the south approaching the Bluff peak, is seen just to the right of the Appalachian Trail. The concrete tower foundations are seen in the distance on the peak. The views from the peak at 3385 feet are quite nice. The first view is towards the west, where, barely visible in the distance in this picture, across the Shenandoah Valley, the main spine of the Appalachian Mountains can be seen some miles away, which also denotes the border b/w West Virginia and Virginia, approximately 50 miles west. The last pic here shows the view eastward towards Virginia's piedmont.

Ottie's Grave in the shadows of the Blue Ridge
Photo courtesy of Daniel Mays

LINKS: One of my websites. This one dedicated to my many hikes and camping trips I have documented over time. My Valley Bridge Lyrics website on song lyrics I write. One is about Ottie, "Meet The Man Half Way." article on Ottie
This is a great website. It is the first and only place where I learned the general vicinity of the Powell Farm location and where the school house is generally located. It notes here that Ottie ended up 3.7 miles from the school house, the way the bird flies. The school is at 150 degrees (a little East of South) at a distance of 3.7 miles from the Bluff Mt. peak, along the Dancing Creek. If this is true, I don't know where the 7 mile distance came from. Seven miles is noted in Huffman's book of 1925 and on the memorial on the mountain top, which, we have already noted has errors. This memorial was erected in 1968 by Huffman from the proceeds of his book.

USA Today's 10 most haunted hikes in the U.S. Yes, Ottie is one of them.

more trail info reference Ottie

Thru hikers Companion on the 'net

Thruhikers Companion about the area

For those hikers of the grand Appalachian Trail, Bluff Mountain is 1394.1 miles from Katahdin and 784.2 miles north of Springer, slightly north of the James River in Virginia and near mile post 51.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
From best I can tell, the school house was about 3 miles north of where route 130 descends the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, along Dancing Creek. There are some lightly used roads in that area. If anyone knows the location of the former Ed Powell farm or the school house, please email me. I am interested in roughly tracing the same route as Little Ottie did. This area of the A.T. is maintained by the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club — NBATC maintains the 90.6 miles between Black Horse Gap and the Tye River. Correspondence should be sent to NBATC, P.O. Box 3012, Lynchburg,VA 24503.

Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club

Links to the different Appalachian Trail Clubs that maintain this great A.T.

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Updated November, 2010

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