By Ned Lodwick –
Perry Township was an out of the way place in 1804. Most of the area was still virgin forest. Roaming the forests were bears, wolves, cougars, and the occasional Indian. Pioneers had begun to scratch out existence homesteads but it was still a wilderness.
In this harsh environment Ebenezer Osborne, his wife, and two young daughters were beginning their new life. A small house was built and a few small fields were cleared. A lot of work still needed to be done but it looked like the family may just have a successful and happy life in the new state of Ohio.
The Osborne’s daughters, Matilda age seven and Lydia age eleven, were a great help to their parents. They did a variety of daily chores. One of their chores was to bring the milk cow to the barn each evening. On the afternoon of July 13, 1804 the girls went to the ‘big meadow’ but did not see the cow. Lydia told her younger sister to stay in the meadow and went into the forest in search of the cow.
A few hours later the sound of the cow bell around the cow’s neck was heard by Matilda. The cow came into the meadow and headed straight to the Osborne homestead. Lydia was nowhere to be seen so as it was dusk Matilda followed the cow home.
Alarmed by his daughter’s disappearance Ebenezer Osborne immediately went in search of her but to no avail. The alarm of a lost child spread through the neighborhood overnight and by morning dozens of men were searching. Bells were rung, horns blown, guns fired and the brush scoured and beaten all in vain.
The second day men from around the county joined the search. Nearly a thousand men came to the aid of the Osbornes including Cornelius Washburn the famous frontiersman and his hunting dog. The search went on for weeks. The entirety of Perry Township was walked and walked again. Lydia was not found.
Washburn found traces of the lost girl. He found places where she slept and picked berries. On the fiftieth day he found her footprints on the banks of the East Fork of the Little Miami. Following upstream a small ‘house’ was found near a blackberry patch. It was built of sticks and the roof was made of moss. There was a small door and inside was a bed made of moss and leaves and decorated with wild flowers. It was obvious to all who saw it that it was the work of a child. It had been inhabited for several days but not for the last three or four. It got the name of ‘Lydia’s Camp’.
At first it was thought that the girl must be near but after another great search she was again not found. What were found were horse tracks. Two miles from ‘Lydia’s Camp’ her bonnet was found hanging on a bush. Eight miles farther north was found an Indian camp.
It was then assumed that Lydia had become hopelessly lost while searching for the cow then was found and taken out of the area by Indians. The searchers were disheartened and the men returned to their homes. Lydia was gone.
Though others stopped looking, Lydia’s father never stopped the search for his little girl. He continued the search until he died of what friends said was a broken heart.
Lydia’s mother remarried a year later and her new husband took up the search. Her stepfather may have been even more determined to find her than her father had been. Finally 30 years later he found her in the Oklahoma Indian Territory.
She said she had been found by some wandering Indians who traded her to Delawares. She was taken into the tribe and eventually married and now had several children. She thanked her stepfather for searching for her and wished to be mentioned to her mother and sister but had no wish to return to Ohio. Lydia had been found.