Culture

Tales from the Trail: Little Ottie and the AT

A little boy lost in 1891 keeps AT thru-hikers up at night in Virginia.

Location: George Washington National Forest in Virginia

Trail: Bluff Mountain Trail

At the summit of Bluff Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, there sits a small plaque. It reads:

This is the exact spot Little Ottie Cline Powell’s body was found April 5, 1891 after straying away from Tower Hill School House November 9th.
A distance of 7 miles
Age 4 years, 11 months

Just shy of 5 years old, Ottie went out that day with his classmates to gather wood for the classroom stove but wandered off and never returned.

While Little Ottie’s story may not be known by all who pass his memorial, his spirit persists according to thru-hikers’ logs at the popular Punchbowl Mountain shelter that sits a little under 2 miles from the plaque.

Punchbowl shelter on the Appalachian Trail
The Punchbowl shelter on the Appalachian Trail.

One hiker wrote their experience of waking in the night in 2009 to see Ottie in the corner of the shelter. “You might think I dreamed this,” the entry reads, “but when I woke this morning, the clothes in my pack had been taken out and neatly folded into little squares. Also, there was a small pile of dried-out chestnuts on my pile of clothes.”

In an entry from 2005, a hiker recalls being awakened by whimpering noises. “When I turned on my light,” the hiker details, “he was there at the picnic table.” The hiker goes on to say that, “I called out ‘Ottie!’ but he just kept crying and wandered off to the pond and out of flashlight range.”

Former park ranger Andrea Lankford’s book, Haunted Hikes, notes that the log also holds “tales of a little brat of a ghost who disturbs the sleep of weary backpackers by poking them in the ribs during the night.”

Whether distressed, mischievous, or helpful, the youthful spirit of Ottie Cline Powell gets his fair share of attention from AT thru-hikers and trail runners making their way from Saddle Gap to Punchbowl Mountain: It has become a tradition to leave toys for Little Ottie at his marker.

Toy left on Ottie Powell's marker