|View of the Juniata Narrows from the|
Fishing Access area between Lewistown
When I think of train robberies, the thoughts that run through my head are those robberies that occurred in the wild, wild west. Thoughts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (whose real name was Harry Alonzo Longabaugh born in Monte Claire, here in Pennsylvania) pop into my head. Yet in 1909 there was a train robbery in the Juniata Narrows between Lewistown and Mifflintown.
Old No. 39 of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was known to carry valuables. It soon had a reputation and caught the attention of robbers. The robbery of 1909 was choosen with great care. On one side was Blue Mountain and on the other was the Juniata River. This was an ideal place for a robbery; it was halfway between the two towns and it would take time for any sort of help to arrive.
And the amazing part of it was one man held up the freight train.
At 1:30 am on August 31, 1909. a loud explosion rocked the engine. Thinking something was wrong with the engine itself, the engineers brought the train to a halt. Just ahead of them they discovered one man standing on the train tracks wearing a large black hat and a baggy burlap bag with holes cut into it for his eyes. The explosions that had rocked the engine had been caused by sticks of dynamite that the lone robber had placed on the tracks; the explosions had knocked off the cowcatcher and the train's headlight. The robber held a pistol in each hand and still carried sticks of dynamite in his pockets.
He ordered the men to fill burlap bags with money and after they stalled for a couple minutes, he fired a number of warning shots. One of those shots hit the conductor, Isaac Poffenberger, in the hand. Once they had a number of bags filled, the robber ordered the conductor and two others to carry the bags up the side of Blue Mountain. The robber forced the trio to make a number of trips up the mountainside; after the last trip, he forced them back down to the train. Somewhere along the way, the robber disappeared and the train was allowed to proceed to Lewistown where it was reported.
Once word got out that there had been a robbery, local police and Pinkerton detectives were at the scene to track down the robber. Near the top of the mountain, the majority of the loot was recovered. Roughly $65.00 worth of pennies were not recovered. About forty-five years later a group of hunters found 3,700 pennies in a rotting stump. There are close to 2,800 pennies still missing somewhere on Blue Mountain.
The robber was never captured, though it is believed that James Lawler, a local bandit and troublemaker, was responsible for the robbery. Lawler had been in the area for the three days before the robbery talking with people from the railroad and disappeared after the robbery occurred. It is believed that he died in the mountains west of Lewistown.
Local legends claims that a black figure has been seen roaming the mountainside in search of the missing treasure.
A few years back, I joined a coworker who lived in the area to investigate the mountain. Granted Blue Mountain is so large and vast, with much of it still being as wild as it had been in 1909, that finding any treasure on the mountainside is a one in a billion chance. Even with it narrowed down greatly to where my friend thought the treasure may be buried, we found ourselves on a steep mountainside with thousands of places a person might have hidden the treasure. We roamed the mountainside between the railroad tracks and Route 333 for an hour or so, spooking a handful of deer. Needless to say, we didn't find anything on the mountainside that morning.
Unlike other lost treasures, this one was well reported after the robbery happened. Somewhere on Blue Mountain, in the Juniata Narrows, is hidden a sack full of pennies that may be worth a small fortune today.