From The Passenger Pigeon in Pennsylvania
By John C. French
Wild Pigeon Hunter a Kidnapper
Dying Confession Clears Mystery of Forty Years
A kidnapping mystery which had all Northern Tier County residents talking forty years ago, has been solved by a story now related by Reuben Daniels, of Sweden, Pa., who tells how he secured under promise of secrecy during the life-time of his informant, a death-bed confession from John Nesbit, that he was responsible for the disappearance of little Henry Schall, the then three years old son of Mr. And Mrs. John Schall, of Denton Hill, near Coudersport, Pa.
Daniels learned the story several years ago. Nesbit temporarily improved in health, but unknown to Daniels, died four years ago. When Daniels learned of this, he came to the home of Schall, now living at Bradford, and told his story, a romantic tale which rivals the fabrication of the most imaginative novelist. Circumstnaces recalled by the father of the kidnapped child and others familiar with the story, help to bear out the facts of Nesbit’s confession.
It was on October 17, 1878, that the community of Coudersport was shocked to learn that Henry Schall, a bright, pretty little fellow, was missing from his home. The kind hearted neighbors searched for days through the wilds which then constituted the greater part of Potter County.
Finally they gave up hope, being convinced that the child had wandered away from home and became a victim of wild animals. Bears and panthers and even wolves were then not uncommon within a short distance from the Schall home.
The only persons who did not give up hope were the father and mother of the missing lad, the latter maintaining up until her death at Bradford, a few years ago, that her son would be heard from some time.
The circumstances of Nesbit’s confession according to Daniels are substantially this:
He was approached early in 1878, by a New York man, who had been hunting wild pigeons in the vicinity of the Schall home in June of that year. This man, who was very wealthy, had been attracted by the unusual resemblance of the Schall child to his own son, who had died a short time before. He came to Schall with an offer to adopt the son, give him a good education and make a good place for him in the world. The parent-love was too great and the offer was refused.
The sportsman approached Nesbit, he declared, at Elkland, a point 60 miles from there, offering him $500 if he would spirit the lad away. Nesbit was tempted as he owed a neighbor $500 and was unable to pay it, and finally consented to commit the terrible crime. He declared that he had since seen Schall, then grown to manhood and believing himself to be the son of the New York man, whose fortune he had inherited.
Daniels is searching through his effects to try to find a record
of the name Nesbit gave him and Schall is preparing to leave for New York
to try to locate his son. Schall corroborates the story of the sportsman
insofar as the offer of adoption is concerned. He says that he connected
the occurrence with the disappearance of his son, but being poor and unable
to pay his expenses to New York at a time when the nearest railroad was
forty miles away and travel was a luxury, was unable to follow up the clue.
– Milton, Pa.