Against All Odds: 8-Year-Old Katherine Van Alst Emerges Unscathed After 6 Days in the Wilderness


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Katherine van Alst was an 8-year-old girl from Kansas City, Missouri, who, in June 1946, visited the mountains of Devil’s Den State Park for the first time with her parents and siblings.

Devil’s Den State Park, located in the state of Arkansas, covers about 10 square kilometers and is a popular destination for families and hikers.

Katherine disappeared on Sunday, June 16, 1946, while wandering near the campsite with her brothers and got lost in the dense forest.

Katherine van Alst Zeitungsartikelbild

Newspaper image of Katherine van Alst after being found | © Google News Archive

Search teams combed the forest for days, attempting to gain the attention of the girl with loud calls. As hope for Katherine’s survival began to diminish, on the 6th day of the search, Saturday, June 22, 1946, a voice responded to the calls.

Search teams find young Katherine van Alst

“Here I am.” The 8-year-old girl emerged from a cave with a pale smile. Considering the circumstances, she was eerily calm and – aside from some insect bites – completely unharmed. This was recounted by Porter Chadwick, a student at the University of Arkansas and part of the search team. He was the one who found Katherine.

The 8-year-old was found about 48 km away from the campsite where she disappeared. The cave where Katherine spent 3 nights was located near a mountain peak in the vicinity of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

During her rescue, the girl was still wearing the same swimsuit she had on when she disappeared. She had wandered off the trails of Devil’s Den State Park for days. According to Katherine, during the last 3 days leading up to her rescue inside the cave near Fayetteville, she must have walked an impressive average of 16 km per day during the first 3 days of her unintended adventure.

Others did not escape the horror

The newspaper Pittsburgh Press, which existed from 1884 to 1992, reported on June 24, 1946, shortly after the discovery of young Katherine, about the case. The article mentioned that even before the 8-year-old girl’s disappearance, some individuals had gotten lost in the rugged area. Unlike Katherine, these individuals were found dead. According to the Pittsburgh Press, they had died of “exhaustion, hunger, and terror.”

One of these individuals was a woman who got lost in Devil’s Den State Park two years prior. She wandered for 17 days through the expanses of the park before her body was found. Sadly, she passed away just 50 meters away from a road that could have saved her. The vegetation was so dense that she couldn’t recognize the road.

Katherine van Alst Wald des Devil's Den State Parks

In the dense forest of Devil’s Den State Park, the 8-year-old girl got lost | © Alejandro Forero Cuervo / CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Even in today’s time, visitors still go missing in Devil’s Den State Park

In August 2017, another missing person case in Devil’s Den State Park made local headlines. The 33-year-old Rodney Letterman disappeared without a trace while hiking with a friend. Rodney’s friend briefly went back to their truck to get Rodney’s medication. During this time, the 33-year-old was waiting on the hiking trail. When Rodney’s hiking partner returned from the truck, Rodney Letterman was gone and has not been seen since.

News program reporting on Rodney Letterman’s disappearance

Knowing all of this, it’s even more astonishing that young Katherine van Alst survived nearly unharmed for 6 days in the wilderness of Arkansas. Considering she lived in a large city, one would assume she wasn’t particularly familiar with life and survival in the desolate wilderness. When asked in the hospital, Katherine said, “When they hadn’t found me in the first day or two, I knew I would die. But I still wasn’t scared.”

So, she knew relatively early that her chances of survival weren’t good. Not being afraid in such a hopeless situation is extraordinary, not only for a child but also for an adult.

Further details about Katherine van Alst’s odyssey have not been disclosed, and thus, it can never be fully explained how the 8-year-old girl managed to survive the 6 days so unscathed.

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