Monday, November 6, 2017

The Strange Case of Drusilla Myers: A History Mystery

What happened to Drusilla Myers, a little girl growing up in Webster County, West Virginia, at the start of the Civil War? Was she the woman found years later and miles away in Gilmer County?

Drusilla was born around 1857 in Pocahontas county, Virginia, one of seven children born to Nancy (Leonard) and Cutlip Myers. Cutlip was born in Germany in 1810, and was quite a few years older than his wife who was born in 1827. The family seems to have moved around a bit, possibly following coal or timber work in the Pocahontas, Nicholas and Webster county areas of what is now West Virginia. When the South seceded from the Union to start the Civil War, the Myers family cast their sympathies with their home state which at the time was still Virginia, and supported the Confederate cause.

Drusilla, who was between four and eight years old, was living with her family in Webster county on Laurel Creek near the community of Bolair at the time the war was just beginning. One day she went to visit some nearby neighbors, possibly sent thereby her mother on an errand.  Some time later her parents sent her brother Jacob (called Jake) to fetch her.

Jake obliged, but on the way back and just a short distance from home he ran into a friend who invited to come and stay for a few days. Drusilla told her brother that she could get home by herself from there, and he left with his friend. Jake didn’t return home for several days; it was not uncommon in those days for people to make long visits without much planning or forethought; my husband often went to stay with friends and neighbors when he was a boy and would stay for several days or even weeks at a time. Those were surely different times from today! Drusilla’s parents probably heard through someone else where Jake was and assumed that Drusilla was with him. Can you imagine the panic that must have ensued when they learned the truth? I am sure a frantic search was mounted, and that the whole community turned out to help.

But it was to no avail. Drusilla was never seen again. It seemed as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up. No one remembered seeing her and there was not one trace of her clothing, no sign that anyone could find that might explain what had happened to her. The mountains were steep, largely unpopulated places, teeming with wildlife. No place for a little girl alone, and searching for her must have been a difficult task. 

Drusilla disappeared, it seemed. Vanished without a trace.



But did she?  Or did she turn up, years later and miles away, unable to recognize her own name?

Drusilla had a sister named Mary who married a William Hall of Wirt county, and there the couple made their home. Mr. Hall was a laborer who traveled to many places in search of work and it was in those travels that he heard the story of a woman living near Glenville, in Gilmer county, who claimed she had been kidnapped as a child. He went to visit this woman and heard a strange tale.

She told him that when she was just a little girl she was walking along a road near where she lived, and a man came up in a wagon. He offered her a ride, and she accepted. Then suddenly he grabbed a blanket and threw it over her, and began driving the wagon much faster. There was another girl in the wagon and she supposed the man had kidnapped that girl too. The name Drusilla Myers meant nothing to this woman, so Hall left without her.

So who was this mysterious woman? And was Drusilla the other girl in the wagon? I thought this was where the story ended, and indeed in Comstock’s West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia that is the end of the trail. But as I was searching online for information about this story and the Myers family, I came upon this article from the Virginia Democrat, dated July 14, 1873:

“In 1863, a little girl about 7 years old, a daughter of Cutlip Myers, of Laurel Creek, was sent on an errand to a neighbor's house. She arrived at her destination safely, and was on her return home when she was picked up by a Yankee soldier named Devees. It afterwards appeared that Devees, who was a married man, but had no children, was struck with the rustic beauty of the little wanderer, and he determined to carry her to his home in one of the river counties of Ohio. Avoiding all the settlements he accomplished his journey through Webster without being seen, and carried the child to his wife.

Mr. Myers and his family waited with all the patience they could bring to bear, and the child not returning, they scoured the woods and mountain paths in search of her. The neighbors were summoned, and days and nights were spent in searching for [any] trace of the lost one, but without avail, and it was finally concluded that she had been carried off and destroyed by boar, wolf, panther, or another of the wild animals which were then frequently seen in the mountain country. Her father, stricken by the loss of his youngest and prettiest child, sickened and died.

The war passed. Years flew by; and in 1871 the Myers family heard that a man named Devees had stolen a child from Webster county, and then had her living at his home in Burning Springs. A brother of the girl immediately mounted his horse and went there. He found the family and recognized his sister, but she seemed to be satisfied with her home, and refused to regard as true the story her brother told her. In despair the poor fellow returned home, and nothing more was heard of the matter until a few weeks ago, when the news came that some time ago Devees and his wife had quarreled and separated, and that Devees (whose conscience began to trouble him) had given a man named Dolan $20 to take the girl back to Webster.

Dolan, it appears, after the departure of Devees, failed to perform as he had promised, but was detaining the girl, (*he had now ascertained for a certainty all about her parentage against her will). And when we left Webster a party of men were about to start to where Dolan lives, and bring her home. She is now 17 years of age, and is said to be a very beautiful girl. Her name is Lucinda Myers. That is the story, just as we heard it.”

So there you have it, the possible solution to a long-ago mystery. Cutlip Myers died in 1869, jus one year after the birth of his youngest child; his wife Nancy continued to live in Bolair until her death in 1903, outliving her husband by over 30 years. As for Drusilla, I found no more mention of her, although if she did keep the name Lucinda, there might be yet another trail to follow.

Sources:

Comstock, Jim. Drusilla Kidnapping. West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, vol 7 DIS-FIR, page 1386. 1976, Richwood, WV.

Rootsweb, Ancestors of Munza & deVaux Families





Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Nance said...

Fascinating! And some good detective work Sue! An interesting post.

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