Presentation on theme: "A History of Caving in the United States. Saltpeter and Guano Mining Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, caves were mined for saltpeter for use in making."— Presentation transcript:
A History of Caving in the United States
Saltpeter and Guano Mining Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, caves were mined for saltpeter for use in making gunpowder. The process was dangerous and many plants exploded due to crude methods and tools. Grounds around some caves are still charged with gunpowder ingredients that can still be ignited. Bat guano is another resource that was mined for making gunpowder. A 2006 survey lists 845 caves in the U.S. that have been mined for saltpeter or guano, including 25 caves in Texas. Listed Texas caves include Longhorn Cavern, Bracken Bat Cave, Devils Sinkhole, Punkin Cave and Beck Bat Cave.
Saltpeter leaching vats from the 1800s that were used in Mammoth Cave.
Cavers measuring Gray bat guano in Moles Cave, Missouri.
One extra large pile of bat poop.
A guano mining ramp. This ramp probably dates to the 1940s or 1950s. A cart was pulled up the wooden ramp and sacks were filled from underneath.
Domestic Uses of Caves Before refrigeration was available, caves in cooler climates were often used as storage for perishable food items. Caves have been used to farm produce such as celery, rhubarb and mushrooms, and to store apples, watermelons and potatoes. Caves were sometimes used as barns for livestock. Some cheese-manufacturing plants were also built in caves. After electricity became available, the cooler air in some caves was piped into homes to be used as air- conditioning.
Mushroom beds inside a cave in 1928.
Beer, Wine and Moonshine Throughout the 1800s and into the twentieth century caves were often used by breweries to cool and store beer. Some brewers also opened beer gardens in their caves. Caves were also used for wineries and wine cellars. Later, as government began to license and tax manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, many producers began to hide their activities in caves and run their operations at night, which is when the term moonshine came into use.
The William J. Lemp Brewing Company of St. Louis used a cave for the storage of beer. The cave also housed a beer garden This rare postcard, dated 1921, features three images of the underground facilities.
Outlaws and Other Villains Throughout history, caves have been used as hideouts for outlaws. Two famous outlaws known to use caves for cover were Jesse James and Cole Younger. Caves were also used for such illegal activities as counterfeiting money. One such counterfeiter by the name of Sturdevant had his operation setup in a cave throughout the 1830s. In the early parts of the twentieth century, the Ku Klux Klan used caves as “temples”.
Entrance to Younger’s Cave. The cave was named for the Younger Gang, who frequented the cave in the 1870s.
Entrance to Counterfeiter’s Cave where counterfeiters and other outlaws made their headquarters in the 1830s.
Slavery and the Underground Railroad Because of slavery and their degraded legal and social status, African Americans frequently turned to caves as hiding places both before and during the Civil War. Runaway slaves used caves as they tried to hide from slave patrols. Enslaved persons also hid their own personal property in caves. African Americans sometimes spent many years in caves, some staying hidden until after emancipation in The use of caves as hidden shelter spawned folktales such as the repeated story of African American children, born and raised in a cave and hidden from daylight, who later became blind after they left the cave’s darkness.
Caves in Washington County, Ohio. The cave on the left was a rendezvous point for fugitives.
Onyx Mining and Treasure Hunting From the late nineteenth century through the early part of the twentieth century, caves were often mined for onyx, also known as marble. Ultimately proved to be unviable as most cave onyx is commercially unusable. Led to disastrous financial failures and irreparable damage to beautifully decorated caves. Onyx mining history is an important indication of society’s attitude toward caves in this time period. Caves were considered useless unless they provided commercial value. Folklore and legend led to extensive hunting of other treasures such as gold, silver and uranium ore. The rumors only produced worthless efforts that inevitably caused extensive damage to caves.
Scar left by onyx miners in the early 1900s. Later cave explorers added insult to injury by putting graffiti on the caves formations and walls.
Mark Twain Cave In the winter of a man named Jack Sims discovered a cave near Hannibal, Missouri while hunting when his dog chased a panther into a small opening on the side of a hill. In the 1840s, a Dr. Joseph McDowell purchased the cave to use as a laboratory where he performed gruesome medical experiments on the body of one of his deceased children. The author Mark Twain, as a young Samuel Clemens, played in McDowell’s Cave during these times and later wrote about the cave and McDowell’s experiments in the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The cave is also known to have been used as a hideout by Jesse James, as well as slaves searching for freedom. The cave was later renamed Mark Twain Cave and opened as a show cave in It is the oldest show cave operation west of the Mississippi River.
From the writings of Mark Twain: “The cave was an uncanny place, for it contained a corpse - the corpse of a young girl of fourteen. It was in a glass cylinder enclosed in a copper one which was suspended from a rail which bridged a narrow passage. The body was preserved in alcohol, and it was said that loafers and rowdies used to drag it up by the hair and look at the dead face. The girl was the daughter of a St. Louis surgeon of extraordinary ability and wide celebrity. He was an eccentric man and did many strange things. He put the poor thing in that forlorn place himself.”
An early photograph taken inside Mark Twain Cave.
A sketch of Mark Twain found inside of Mark Twain Cave.
A map of Mark Twain Cave.
A supposed hideout of Jesse James inside Mark Twain Cave.
Cave Picnics and Parties Other common activities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were cave picnics and parties. Inside many caves where parties were held, the organizers built dance halls, bars, theaters and skating rinks, and the caves were often well lit for guests to freely explore the caves. Some of this caving led to major discoveries, but since there was no code of caving ethics and destructive activities were not frowned upon during this period, the caves saw considerable damage. It became popular to take home “a piece of the cave” as a souvenir. Much of the disfigurement that we see today in both wild caves and show caves dates to this period.
An 1895 poster announcing a picnic at Saltpeter Cave, now Meramec Caverns in Missouri.
An early postcard of a dining hall in Mammoth Cave.
Photograph of a dinner held in Mammoth Cave in 1908.
Show Caves Caves have long been developed as show caves. In the United States this started with Mammoth Cave in The 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were significant decades for show cave development in America. Even during the Great Depression, show cave development was a common way to make extra money. There are now more than 200 show caves in the United States. Show caves are far more expensive to develop, promote, operate and maintain today than ever before. The travel habits of the American public have changed too. Most travelers are not willing to go out of their way for a show cave that may only provide an hour’s worth of entertainment.
An early photograph of a show cave tour from 1928.
Photographs from 1906 of interior views in the Caverns of Luray, in Luray, VA.
Exit of Corkscrew into main cave at Mammoth Cave in 1896.
Civil Defense During the Cold War, civil defense agencies researched using caves for fallout shelters. Fortunately, no one rushed out to convert caves into actual fallout shelters, which could have resulted in irreparable damage to many caves. However, many caves did receive official designation with metal fallout shelter signs posted near their entrances and many were stocked with civil defense supplies, which can still be found in some caves today.
Civil defense supplies still found in Grand Canyon Caverns in Arizona. Some of the boxes are labeled “survival supplies” and “medical kit”, and the drums are labeled “sanitation kit”.
Changing Attitudes The twentieth century saw the dawn of a new kind of interest and appreciation for caves. Some of this came about because of the emergence of the show cave industry. Show cave owners did not use and abuse the resource. They exhibited the resource, calling attention to the natural beauty and mystique of caves. It was realized that caves were millions of years old, and rather than being inexhaustible and indestructible, they were fragile and finite. The exhibition of show caves generated many new questions about caves, and the industry proved that caves have educational value as natural history museums. It was during these times that organized caving groups began to take form, and members of many scientific fields first began to seriously study caves.
The NSS and Texas Grottos The NSS (National Speleological Society) was organized in 1941 as the first nationwide organization dedicated to the study, conservation, exploration and knowledge of caves. There are now more than 250 local chapters, or grottos, throughout the country. One of the first grottos formed in Texas was the Dallas- Fort Worth Grotto. With its various early iterations, the DFW Grotto is the second longest-lived caving organization in Texas, following only the University of Texas Grotto.
Timeline of the DFW Grotto A caving group was founded that would become known simply as the Dallas Group The group became an NSS grotto called the Dallas Speleological Society The name was changed to the Dallas Grotto The grotto was practically non-existent, having stopped all activity The grotto was reborn with only one member from the original grotto Cavers in Fort Worth were considering starting their own grotto, but instead chose to merge with the Dallas Grotto to form the Dallas-Fort Worth Grotto that still exists today.
The Texas Caver Publication In 1955, just as Texas caving groups were beginning to seek recognition from the NSS as a Region, members of the Balcones and UT groups produced the first issue of what has become perhaps the longest-running caving publication in the nation: The Texas Caver. The first issue was published 55 years ago and it came at a time when there was much activity in Texas caving. The various Texas cavers were about to unite under the NSS as the Texas Region, the incredible Caverns of Sonora were discovered only weeks before, and there was much optimism for the future of Texas caving. Until 1995 the Texas Caver was the only means of mass communication for Texas cavers.
Cover art from the Texas Caver from 1955 and 1956.
Human Isolation Study In 1972, Michel Siffre, a Frenchman, made headlines as he settled into Midnight Cave near Del Rio, Texas for a six-month experiment in human isolation, living without a clock calendar or sun. His objective was to learn how the human mind and body might react when released from the 24-hour cycle to which surface dwellers are bound. Sleeping and eating only when his body told him to, his goal was to discover how the natural rhythms of human life would be affected by living “beyond time”. During the six months in isolation there were two periods where he experienced a 48-hour cycle of 36 hours of continuous wakefulness, followed by 12 hours of sleep. He was unable to tell the difference between these long days and the days that lasted just 24 hours, and when he emerged from the cave, his estimate of the date was two months short of the actual date.
Michel Siffre’s tent glows in Midnight Cave.
The Original Adventure In 1972, William Crowther and his wife Pat were both avid cavers who explored and mapped portions of the Mammoth and Flint Ridge cave systems in Kentucky for the Cave Research Foundation. Will was also a computer programmer working on the original routers used in creating the ARPANET. He also regularly played the original Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. In 1975, Will wrote a simulation computer game based on both his caving adventures and fantasy role-playing. The game was the first-ever interactive text-based game called Adventure. The game was later enhanced and marketed in 1981 under the name The Original Adventure.
Adventure Reality The “Colossal Cave” mentioned by Crowther’s Adventure game is a reference to an actual cave within the Mammoth Cave system. However, the game is actually an accurate reproduction of nearby Bedquilt Cave. The game is filled with caver jargon and references to actual cave features. Like the real cave, the simulation was a map on about four levels of depth. And the game’s language was filled with references to caving, such as ‘domes’, ‘crawls’ and ‘slab rooms’. One caver was so familiar with the game’s map that she was able to flawlessly lead a group of cavers out of the mazy cave on her very first visit to Bedquilt Cave.
A player who earned all the points and found all the treasures in The Original Adventure would get a secret code from the game. When sent to the game vendor, the secret code entitled the player to a Certificate of Wizardness.
A map of the game.
More game maps.
And another game map.
A Collector’s Hobby With an extensive history of caving in the United States, a related activity that has more recently gained popularity is the collecting of cave history and memorabilia. Many items are still available for collection, including show cave brochures, post cards, early caving related books, magazines, maps, souvenir items and many other caving items. And with the Internet, there seems to be an endless number of resources available to help collectors.
Vintage cave postcards.
Show cave brochures.
Magazines and NSS publications.
Other cave related items.
Test Questions How many Texas caves are listed as saltpeter/guano caves? What produce was most successfully raised in caves? What was the name of the counterfeiter that had his operation in a cave? What people went blind from living in caves? Who played in McDowell’s Cave? How many show caves are there in the U.S.? What year was the NSS organized? What was ARPANET?