A Look Back in History by Richard H. Shaner Mountain Mary and Jarett Yoder: Honoring those who sacrifice their lives for the American way of life

Historical depiction of the Aug. 27, 1776 Battle of Long Island where local legend Mountain Maryís husband, Theodore Ben,z was enslaved and later died of starvation at the hands of British troops.
Historical depiction of the Aug. 27, 1776 Battle of Long Island where local legend Mountain Maryís husband, Theodore Ben,z was enslaved and later died of starvation at the hands of British troops.

Most recently, I was pleased to read in the newspaper that a portion of Route 662 is to be renamed the Jarett Yoder Memorial Highway, in honor of this heroic Oley Valley graduate who lost his life fighting in Afghanistan for our National Guard, flying a helicopter. One of several patrioticcitizens, who served in wars to preserve our American freedom and ideals that brave soldiers have defended, ever since Mountain Mary had lost her beloved husband, Theodore Benz, in the American Revolution, having immigrated here in Colonial times to the Oley Valley from the German Rhine Valley.

As an Oley Valley teacher-historian, I am disturbed about the many lives lost in war actions, especially those students I was privileged to teach who lived in the peaceful Oley Valley. Those who gave their lives in order that others could know the contentment which God intended is a very, very, noble sacrifice in face of the contemporary terrorists, individuals whose self-importance is greatly exaggerated.

I have personally known several members of the historic Yoder family in the Oley Valley and have always been impressed with their Christian fellowship, so the death of Jarett Yoder did grieve me a lot. So much that in my mind’s eye, I compared him to the tragic loss of Maria Young’s (Mountain Mary) husband, Theodore Benz, who upon immigrating to America from the Rhine Valley of Europe joined with several Oley Valley patriots.

However, Benz lost his life fighting the British in the 1776 Battle of Long Island, having just been married to Maria by the patriotic minister Melchior Muhlenberg, whom they had just met on their ocean voyage to the New World. Invigorated in the majestic realm of the exciting new world principles, Theodore Benzjoined Captain Hiester’s Reading volunteers along with Jacob Yoder, John DeTurk, Samuel Bertolet and Samuel Guldin to serve in the American Revolution, alongside other patriots.


Unfortunately, Theodore was imprisoned by the British troops on the Battleship Jersey, where he died of starvation after the Battle of Long Island. However, the land he had acquired for a farm near Hill church had a log house, in which Mountain Mary would live out her remaining years. Maria Young became a recluse living in a pioneer log cabin in the hills of Pike Township where “Berg Maria” (Mountain Mary) became a gifted healer of the sick and afflicted spending her life in seclusion.

A Christian Revolutionary War widow, she had the gift of God to cure humans with herbs, but denied the privilege of growing old with her patriotic husband, Theodore. So Mountain Mary became a fabled Saint of the Oley Valley, forewarning that killing and war was not Christian! Poor Theodore was imprisoned and languished on the British ship, Jersey, until he died of starvation. Thereby, resembling Jarett Yoder, who gave his life for the freedom of the American way of life, shot down in a helicopter in far away Afghanistan.

It is only fitting that he too did not die in vain and so I am certainly in favor of naming a portion of 662 in his honor and that Jarett Yoder stands as a hero and for the Christian values of the Oley Valley, as well as Mountain Mary’s husband, who had traversed all the way to America during Colonial times for religious freedom and Christianity!

Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.

Editor’s Note:

Governor Tom Corbett approvedSen. Judy Schwank’s proposal to rename Route 662 in Ruscombmanor Township as the “Chief Warrant Officer-2 Jarett M. Yoder Highway,” according to Schawnk in an email newsletter.

“The 26-year-old officer died this past April in Afghanistan when his Apache helicopter crashed in Nangarhar Province,” she writes. “When Officer Yoder died, he was serving his second deployment since enlisting in the National Guard in 2005, which is the year he graduated from Oley Valley High School.Since his tragic passing, he has been bestowed, posthumously, with the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and NATO Medal for his service in Afghanistan. He also received the Combat Infantryman Badge, Combat Action Badge, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one bronze star, and the Iraq Campaign Medal with one bronze star.”

A dedication ceremony will be announced for the installation of signs designating 662 as the “Chief Warrant Officer-2 Jarett M. Yoder Highway.”