Thursday, July 14, 2011

Henry Young Rides On

The following story is copied from Witches Ghosts and Signs, by Patrick W. Gainer.  It is another example of my efforts to further document and share the rich folklore and haunted history of the tri-state area:


This story is well known among the people who live in and around Birch River, a village at the foot of Powell Mountain in Nicholas County.  In recent years the road over the mountain has been relocated and modernized, and the ghost of the headless horseman is seen no more.

The story was told to me [author, Patrick Gainer] by Sylvia Cox, a student in my class at Glenville State College.

Out on the top of Powell Mountain in Nicholas County there is a lonely grave.  It is the final resting place of Henry Young, a young man who was killed by the "home guard" during the Civil War.  During the Civil War civilians sometimes organized into groups who called themselves the "Home Guard."  Their purpose was supposed to be to protect their homes against the ravages of enemy soldiers, but some of them were in reality nothing more than guerilla bands of outlaws.  It was such a group that murdered Henry Young.

A lonely road, now seldom used, winds down the hill from the grave.  Part way down the hill there is a huge rock, which in days of old made a fine camping spot for people who came from miles away to gather chestnuts in the fall.  First can be heard the clanking of chains which bound him, then as the shadowy outline of horse and rider come into view, one notices that the rider has no head.  Closer they come, and out of the night emerges the headless horseman, carrying his head in his lap.  He does not stop, and he bothers no one.  He does not even so much as move the head in his lap to right or left, but he passes on down the trail to emerge again the following night just at midnight.

A little research into this tale does confirm that a Henry Young of Powell's Mountain was shot and killed at this location.  Henry Young, son of Bazel and Agnes Nancy Pierson Young, was born 20 January 1827 in Nicholas County.  On 27 September 1847, Henry married Lucinda James.  A daughter, Sarah Jane, was born on October 12, 1859.

Henry Young was shot and killed by Federal soldiers on September 8, 1861 on Powell's Mountain, about five miles from the Braxton County Line.  He was buried several days later near where he was slain.  It is said that the citizens waited several days because they were afraid of an ambush by Federal soldiers if the body was retrieved.  A story passed down from the Young family states that it was a member of the Young family, a cousin named David Young, who actually buried the body where it lay, as he had no help to get it to the cemetery.  This interview with David Young's descendants also shed some additional information as to what happened that day.

Henry Young and four other young men were sent out to scout how many men Gen. Rosencrans was bringing.  Young went on ahead, and was overtaken by the Union soldiers.  He stepped out from behind a tree, sacrificing himself, so that the other four men would hear the shots, and be able to retreat in time.

For 36 years, Young's grave had no marker.  Then, in 1897, family members decided to erect a fitting monument.  In 1963, Carl Wilson partook in the excavation of the Young grave, finding that Young had indeed been shot in the front of his head, and through the cheek.  Road construction, completed in 1970, had called for the reburial of Henry Young.  There is now a state Historical Highways Marker to commemorate Young's sacrifice.

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  1. My Grandmother was a little girl when she saw the Civil War ghost ... he rode down the hillside straight for her and then disappeared at the foot of the hill where an old petrified tree used to lay. Before Grandma died she went back to that location and the petrified tree was gone ... she often told that story and I remember her turning white as a ghost ~ no pun intended.

    1. Thank you for posting this wonderful story! It's unfortunate that it seems like it was a negative/scary experience for your grandmother, though.

  2. I would like to visit the re-burial place. Will you send me a location please.
    Rev Marshall Lillie, Chaplain, Cushing/Taylor's Battery