Indiana County Ghost Stories Part III

“Yank” Brown

Somewhere between Armagh and Blairsville, along the route of the old turnpike, which more or less parallels U.S. Route 22, there was said to be a cave containing kegs of gold and silver and more than a bushel of watches hidden there by robbers.  The loot has never been found.

Our story goes back to the early 1800s, when John Brown settled west of Armagh along the old Huntingdon, Cambria and Indiana Turnpike.  Both the map prepared by David Peelor in 1855 and the 1871 “Atlas of Indiana County” locate the resident of “J. Brown” along the turnpike about 300 rods west of New Washington (now Clyde) in West Wheatfield Township.  In the atlas, another “J. Brown” house is about 450 rods northwest of the first site and 100 or more rods north of the turnpike.

A story about John Brown was written by Frances Strong Helman, in part:

Not far from the old stone pike, now Route 22, southwest of Armagh, Indiana County, are the ruins of a cave…John “Yank” Brown’s cave.

Way back in the distant past, John arrived form New England and became known to his neighbors as “Yank.” He established a tavern along the pike, and the gory details of what happened there were well-kept secrets.  Travelers going down the pike who were believed to have money were not seen on the road after they had time to pass “Yank’s” tavern.  It was whispered around that the abandoned well was probably the last resting place of one peddler.

An over-hanging rock is still pointed out as a shelter used by the rascal’s family when things got too wild indoors…

He had an interest in horses too.  He stole them…

Brown managed to involve those who knew his secrets in such a way that they had no desire to turn informer.  When Yank was dying one of his cronies was present, and it seemed the visitor greatly feared the sick man would babble.  He is said to have leaned over Brown and whispered, “Die game, Yank! Die game!”

It was rumored that the old scamp had hidden money in the cave, and at least two groups of people have dug in the cave but found nothing. There are still people in the county who were told in the years gone by that “the treasures were stacked shoulder high” in the cave.  All the digging in the cave has caused earth slides and it is no longer safe to enter.

Years and years ago, on dark still nights, those walking along the pike or traveling by horse and  buggy, declared they heard the thudding hooves of Brown’s stolen horses as they were driven by “ghostly Yank” toward the cave…

Helman’s story, based on folklore, has been supplemented by historical research done by Clarence Stephenson.  John Brown first comes to historical notice in the early newspapers of Indiana County when he was arrested March 17, 1853, on a charge of stealing two horses. The person making the charge was Robert Stoops of Canoe Township, who was himself indicted at the same time on a horse-theft charge.

Brown was released on $1,000 bail. At the June term of court, he was defended by Augustus Drum, and the charges were dismissed. Stoops, however, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to the Western Penitentiary.

In 1856, the operations of an extensive horse-stealing ring were revealed.  One of the members, John Rutter, was jailed in Pittsburgh.  There he was visited by Constable Joseph R. Smith of Indiana, and Rutter gave him the names of others of the gang.  Four members lived in Indiana County, three “on the mountains,” three in Blair County, four in Tioga County, one in Luzerne County, eight in Chemung County, NY.

Rutter confessed that in 1851 three men made proposals to him to enter a horse-stealing gang that members, disguised as drovers, spotted out horses to be stolen.  He thought about 150 horses in all had been stolen.  The gang also did counterfeiting and stole goods and merchandise.

John and Lewis Brown were arrested in Westmoreland County and released on $1,000 bail each. Lewis Brown forfeited his bail and fled to Chemung County, NY, where he was again arrested. Rutter, who had turned state’s witness, was taken to Elmira, NY, to testify against Brown. During the night, the hotel where Rutter was kept was fired upon.

In March 1856, John Brown Jr. and John R. Harper were placed in Indiana County Jail on horse-stealing charges, but Harper promptly escaped.  Afterward, a coroners’ jury exhumed the body of Louisa Harper (his wife?) on suspicion of foul play.  The verdict was that she had died November 20, 1855, at the residence of John Brown Jr., Wheatfield Township, as the result of a drug.

Published by


Through a broad range of activities, The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County seeks to promote a greater appreciation of the Indiana community's rich heritage and a better understanding of life today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s