Volume II, No. 4, Summer 1975
THE HUMAN STORY
Compiled and edited by Stephen Hough with an introduction by Nelle
Photography by Stephen Hough and David Massey
Drawings by Nancy Honssinger
From the time earliest man first entered the Ozarks area up to the present day the many caves and sink holes here intrigued him. The caves' importance and appeal has remained basically for the same reasons even though our civilization is nothing like that of the early Indians. All through the thousands of years and still today, caves have provided man with protection, a source of some of his material wants and a source of mystery and wonder.
Perhaps protection was most evident use of caves with ancient Indians. But throughout the years man has used caves for protection from the weather or enemies. Though modern man rarely lives in caves, even today there could hardly be a fisherman, hiker or hunter who has not taken refuge in one when caught out in a storm. Besides protecting him from physical harm, caves have protected his belongings. Because of their inaccessibility and defensive positions, they have also provided concealment from human enemies from marauding tribes to modern lawmen.
An easy access into the riches of the earth, caves have always been a source of some of man's material needs. The fresh cool springs flowing from many caves often determined locations of homes and villages during Indian and early pioneer days. Caves have been a path to man's mineral needs beginning with clay and stone to saltpeter, iron, lead and other minerals. Today, because of early man's habitation, they are a source of a different kind of richness--the artifacts left by vanished civilizations.
The deep, dark, inaccessible parts of the world that can be glimpsed in caves have always created mystery and excitement in the minds of imaginative and adventurous people. For the Indians they were ideal for tribal and religious ceremonies and for burial places. Discovering unknown places and unlocking the secrets of the earth has always fascinated man. Today the hidden depths of some caves remain the only area left unexplored in the Ozarks. The wonder of discovering knowledge perhaps the most exciting of all--is being experienced by individuals and groups on field trips underground. The wonder and mystery of caves, of least importance to ancient man, is perhaps the most important use of caves to modern man, though his needs may revert to the first primitive need--for survival in case of atomic disaster.
Caves hold many secrets which challenge modern man. Perhaps the most dramatic use of caves now is the archeological research being done in them, for untouched caves hold the best sources of knowledge for learning of the early Indian civilizations of the Ozarks.
There is ample evidence that various Indian families and small groups of different archeological periods inhabited the caves in the Ozarks during all seasons from as long ago as ten thousand years. The habitation was intermittent, seemingly for short periods, such as over the winter or as a temporary hunting campsite.
The ideal cave was in a bluff with a rock overhang that protected the area below. It would have a spring in it located near the confluence of two streams for easy travel access and greater water supply. The mouth would face the south for protection against winter winds and receiving the most warmth from the low winter sun. It would overlook a valley or open area which would provide good hunting practically on the "door step."
The Bluff Dwellers who lived in northwestern Arkansas about the beginning of Christian times used caves for the center of their activities. Preserved in the dry mouth of some caves are stone and bone tools, pottery and impressions of perishable articles like woven mats from which we can re-create their culture. They lived in the mouth, protecting themselves from the wind and cold by mud plastered skins or mats. Blocking off some of the recesses and holes, they used the cave for storing their food. They also buried their dead there, usually in the twilight zone.
Caves with Indian artifacts often have extra dirt piled in the mouth. Over the hundreds of years between sporadic habitation these south-facing caves could have been filled with dust from the prevailing southern wind, covering up evidences of earlier tenants. But since the dirt is piled so regularly, some think the Indians carried it in, either to cover the dead or to cover up their trash instead of cleaning it out. Whatever the reason, digging deeper often results in finding new ash beds, which are remains of fires with tools, pottery and other artifacts of long gone peoples close by.
At the time of the advent of the white man the Osage Indians controlled the Ozark area. Until the eastern tribes were deported west and challenged the Osage territory, the tall, graceful and powerful Osage Indians reigned supreme.
There were never great numbers of Indians in the Ozarks. At the treaty of 1808 when the Osage sold their land on the Ozarks plateau and moved to Kansas and Oklahoma, there were only seventeen villages.
The Osage probably did not use caves except for campsites while on hunting trips, because they lived in rounded lodges built of poles covered with hides. Their villages were in open areas like the Springfield plain and the prairie where Lebanon is located. However, they did make some use of sinkholes in their ceremonies.
The Wyota Village, located for centuries on the site of present day Lebanon right beside modern 1-44, was probably located there because of the nearby sinkhole. They believed their ancestors were sent by Grandfather the Sun to care for the Sacred One--the earth. They called the sink "The Hollow of the Sacred One's 'Hand." According to their legend, there was a narrow doorway which lead into a huge dark cavern. Therefore, their village was near this sink which is like a huge bowl where they held their tribal ceremonies with pomp and dignity as befitted such descendents of the sun.
Young Osage men also did their courting there. The young maiden would go to the sinkhole and sit quietly. If he chose her, the young man would sit by her. summer's evening. If he chose her, the young man would come sit beside her.
Today part of Lebanon is in a huge shallow sink about two miles across. Its lowest point is this smaller sink which was the ceremonial place of Wyota Village. There is no entrance now to the fabled cavern of Indian legend though generations of children have dreamed of being the one to discover it. Today the Sacred One's hand is filled with old foundations, beer cans and excess highway fill.
One of J.W. Davis' hobbies is searching for Indian artifacts. He finds many of his points and stones while in open fields near a cave after they have been freshly plowed. He searches hidden crevices and sifts through loose dirt in the mouths of dry caves. When asked if he ever found anything really valuable, he said, "No, the Indians in the Ozarks were poor. I've just found points and stones cut for different purposes. Some are for scraping skins, breaking bones open for the marrow inside, some for knives, tomahawks and points for arrows. I find lots of bones where they buried, mostly arm and leg bones. I've found hundreds of human teeth, sometimes five or six in a shaker of dirt, also dog, and coyote teeth and bear. Some had holes drilled in them like they used them for ornaments."
Though the early pioneers did not use caves as much as the Indians, caves still had an influence in their lives. They often built near caves for the convenience of the spring water and for storage of milk and other perishable foods. Some easily accessible caves were used for sheltering stock and machinery.
Pioneers discovered evidence of the Ozarks mineral wealth in caves. It was evident at once that there were supplies of lead, iron, zinc, and coal in various areas of the Ozarks. Today the eastern section has extensive lead and iron mining operations. Fallen sinks and caves have exposed stones man needs like granite and limestone. An organic product often mined is bat guano. It is obvious from the many caves called Saltpeter Cave that this mineral was in demand from early days to make gunpowder.
Most early people did not have any desire to explore caves. Except when searching for mineral wealth, the early white man's use of the cave, like the Indians', stopped at the twilight zone.
But legends grew and were passed down. The dark unknown was there tempting later adventurous youths who with coal oil or gas lanterns could explore farther and longer than earlier ones could with a burning torch.
At the turn of the century caves became favorite gathering places for picnics and Fourth of July gatherings. The whole community would gather, bringing covered baskets of chicken, potato salad, ripe tomatoes, pickles, pies and lemonade. Enjoying the cool breath from the cave, the ladies put out their dinners on the clothes spread on the rocks or grass. They added cold water from the spring to the sweetened lemon juice brought in a fruit jar. Everybody ate. The children played in the river while the young people explored the recesses of the cave. Sometimes they were gone for hours, until just as the worried men set out to look for them, they would appear dirty, tired but exhilerated at having discovered still a different passage deep inside the earth.
When the automobile carried people to farther away, local caves lost their appeal. At that time caves were developed for tourists, drawing people from everywhere to the tours. Commercial caves like Meramec, Bridle Cave and Marvel Cave to name only a few still give visitors the sense of mystery and wonder caves have held for all the ages past.
Perhaps the most prevalent of the many stories and legends about caves used as hideouts is the legend of Jesse James. There have been true tales of outlaws and hunted men hiding temporarily in caves, but it is highly unlikely Jesse james ever did. He had too many friends in the Ozarks who opened their homes to him.
Moonshiners, however, did use caves during prohibition days to good advantage for two reasons. The obvious one was to keep away from revenue officials. But even before they needed to be secretive, men made whiskey in caves during the winter. The 52°F. temperature was not too cold for fermenting, and there was a handy supply of running water to cool the distilling coils.
In recent years the wonder and mystery of caves Has intrigued scientists to find the answers to some of our ecological and geological riddles. With growing concern about out ecology and increasing knowledge about our global ecological interdependence, it is logical that some of the answers must lie under the surface. Students and researchers from elementary school through graduate study and private scientific organizations are studying caves to unlock their story for the benefit of all humanity.
Caves have stood for millenniums undisturbed. Compared to their existence, man's contact with them has been brief. But in that short time humans have managed to influence their ecological story just as the caves themselves have had a part in the human story.
The late Dr. Sam Bradford always had a story to tell. He used to tell us some of his favorites whenever we went to see him. He volunteered this story about a pioneer family and their use of a cave.
Now this is a story about a family that moved here, one of the first pioneers. I've got my story because I got a piece here and a piece there and pretty soon it all fit together.
A family that had moved here long, way back, when Lebanon was just a tiny little town, came in with two horses and a cow and some tools and household necessities. They went way back in the hills and settled, or squatted as they used to say then, on a piece of land and began to farm. Well, there came a terrible winter, and finally those boys showed up in town riding two horses, with blanket rolls, no saddles just blankets, strapped onto the horses and they had some money. Nobody hardly knew them except they knew who they were. They were the family that had gone out in the hills. Now the townsfolk wondered what the boys were doing in town so the question was asked.
"Well, no place else to go." This rose the people's curiosity so they dragged the story as to what happened out of the two.
"Well, Ma was sick. She was awful sick, and we ran out of grub and there wasn't any medicine, and it was so cold, that all we could do was just huddle."
All the heat they had seemed to be a fireplace. Those fireplaces were very inefficient. You have to poke it and warm on one side then turn around and warm the other side. The mother being sick, you see was in a bed and they had a terrible time keeping her warm.
And one of the older boys said, "Pa went to town and never come back, so we know he got into trouble somehow. We found Pa. He was froze to death in a cave. He looked awful peaceful, like he went to sleep." And he was frozen there in that cave entrance and when they got back their mother was dead. They didn't have any way to dig a grave in that very hard frosted ground so they carried their mother and put her beside their father and walled up the cave with stone for their burial.
"Where are you boys going?"
"Can't you stay? Why don't you stay on the place?"
"It ain't home. Ma ain't there, Pa ain't there. It ain't home."
"Well, what did you do with the cow?"
"Had to eat her a long time ago. Nothing left but the two horses."
"Where are you going?"
"Don't know. Someplace."
The boys left the very same day and were never heard about again.
The cave where the bodies were buried is still there and some of the stones covering it are still in place.
* * *Ralph Amos told this story which happened in a cave on his farm.
This story has been handed down from generation to generation since the Civil War days and that's how I know it. I have never heard the exact date of this happening, probably in the latter days of the Civil War, but I have been shown the exact place of this incident.
Two young men by the names of Depue and Ferguson left their army duties and came home. They had to hide out during the day and at night they went down to the Depue home. Their hiding place was a small cave. It was a large flat sand rock with a cut-back under it about fifteen feet off the ground. They built a barrier across the front for protection. I think they chose this particular spot rather than some of the large caves in the area because it was more comfortable and easier to defend. The authorities were searching for them constantly and this cave wasn't known as well as the others.
The men would spend the day in their hideout and the night in the house with the family. The Union Army had sent out scouts to find and punish the deserters. The punishment back then was facing a firing squad. Finally the scouts located the deserters' hideout, but because of its protective position, they did not try to capture them during the daytime. The plan was to take them when they came out of the cave at night.
There were footpaths along the limestone bluff where the cave was that the deserters had to take to reach their families at the west end of the bluffs. The scouts positioned themselves along the path to trap them one night. The men came out after dark and followed the footpath to the house. Ferguson was in front of Depue and when they discovered their plight, it was almost too late for action. Ferguson was caught. Depue retreated along the winding footpath which he knew well. By luck or previous arrangement a neighbor's boat was on Depue's side of the river. He crossed the river so the scouts couldn't follow and hid in a barn.
The scouts had an idea of the direction he might take, so they followed. They camped on the opposite side of the swollen river. Depue watched them very closely the whole night through, being very anxious for his friend.
The next morning, he guessed right on this, Ferguson faced the firing squad at dawn. There were ten guns and every man got one shot. That way no one knew who killed the victim. It was still dark enough that the two neighbor boys who saw it could see the blaze from the guns. The scouts then gave the boys permission to bury him.
They laid him out on an old oak door and buried him there in a shallow grave. There's nothing there but stones and two marks on the trees. There's very few people know where it is.
The scouts had an idea where Depue was, but they never captured him. He lived there for some years.
Part of the stone wall still stands in the cave where they hid out.
* * *This is one of the stories and legends about caves from Myrtle Hough.
West of our home on Parks Creek across that big hill on the west there's a cave known as the Journegan Cave and that's where we had our picnics when we were children. This is a high dry cave and along the north and northeast side of that cave there is a huge stone that looks just like a man lying there facing with his back in the opening, facing in the wall of the cave. My father always had so much fun. He said, "Now you just touch that and you'll hear a groan."
I never did hear the groan, but the other children'd touch it and step back saying they heard something. I think they just imagined something, but there was a legend there that someone had disobeyed the great spirit and was turned to stone. It was an Indian legend that had been passed down from generation to generation.
WHITE MAN SPEAK WITH FORKED TONGUE
Tale by Ruth Ellen Massey
It was the first winter your granny and me lived here. We'd jist bought the farm that spring and were still gittin' settled in when winter hit early that year in October. The first snow fell the thirteenth, and after that it seemed like it'd never quit stormin'. I remember the exact day 'cause that same day my ole sow had thirteen pigs, and I told your granny we were in fer a long spell of trouble. Well, them hogs were really havin' a hard time jist survivin'. It got colder'n an old maid in December and I still didn't have no barn for 'em. Then I remembered the caves. If I started feedin' the hogs in the caves, they'd stay there where it was warm. I thought I had ever thin' figgered out, but I sure was wrong.
I'd heerd stories 'bout them caves on the river. That was why I'd got this farm so cheap. Waldo Jones, the man I got it from, tried to tell me, but I'm as stubborn as a mule when I set my mind to a thing. River bottom land is hard to come by, so your granny and me, we never paid no mind to them stories 'bout Osage Indian ghosts haintin' the caves. But we soon found out different.
The first week ever thin' went good. I started pattin' myself on the back 'cause them hogs had looked so poorly before. Then one night I heerd a commotion, hogs squealin' and no tellin' what all, and the next mornin' the whole kit and caboodle was up to the house, half-froze.
I called Major, my ole dog, to come hep drive 'em back. He was jist a young pup them, but he was down right smart and sceered o' nothin'. He was granddaddy of my ole dog here, a far sight better'n, too. I never had to holler at him. He jist knew what I wanted without me havin' to tell him.
Well, we started drivin' them hogs back to the caves, but they jist wouldn't go. We couldn't get 'em anywheres near them caves. Ever time we'd get close, them hogs would turn and tear back to the house. I didn't have time to see what was spookin' 'em that day 'cause I had to do somethin' to keep 'em from freezin'. I finally made a windbreak by pilin' up snow, but I had to get 'em back to the cave 'fore too long. It was jist too cold to leave 'em be.
So the next day I saddled up ole Redwings. Now, she was a horse. Seemed like nothin' would bother her. She was so steady you could shoot a cannon off her. She had spirit, but was as gentle as a kitten with kids. She weren't a thing like that yeller mare you have now. I didn't even have to use a bridle on her--jist a halter. Well, we started off with ole Major right at Redwings' heels. It was slow goin' 'cause it had snowed agin over night and there were drifts up to Redwings' belly.
But we finally made it. I tied Redwings to a pawpaw tree at the mouth of the cave and went in. First, I couldn't see nothin'. It was darker than a stack of black cats back there. I finally got my lantern lit, and still couldn't see nary a thin' that would o' spooked them hogs. I didn't quite know what I was lookin' fer, but I figgered it must o' bin a coyotey or bobcat that had sceered 'em.
I started to leave when I seen a white rock. I picked it up thinkin' it would make a play-pretty for your Aunt Rachel who was jist a young'un then. But when I picked it up, all hell broke loose. Ole Redwings spooked. She broke the halter and headed home fast as greased lightnin.
Well, I was fit to be tied. Here I was a-foot 'bout a mile from home with belly-deep drifts to wade through, and it was a brand new halter Redwings broke to boot! But then I noticed ole Major. He looked like he seen a ghost. His hackles were standin' nigh on a foot high and I never heerd such growlin' Well, I cut out o' there--and fast. I didn't want to tangle with no wolf or bobcat or whatever with only a lantern fer pertection.
I was 'most home when I remembered the rock I'd picked up. I still had it in my hand and was so put out I started to throw it away when, to my surprize, I seen it was a human skull!
Then and there all the stories I'd ever heerd 'bout Indians here on the river came back to my mind. I talked it over with some of the old-timers and they all said that there cave was the burial ground of one of the biggest tribes of Osage Indians that used to roam around here, and the ghost of one of the chiefs was supposed to haint the cave. That was all well and good, but my hogs were still freezin'. I had to do somethin' to get that there ghost out o' my cave.
Then I got to studyin' on it and remembered that Indians believed that they had to have all their bones in the right place for buryin' So when a couple o' archeological fellers from the college heerd 'bout me findin' an Indian skull and come down here, sure nuff, they showed me where a small bone in the skeleton's hand was missin'!
Well, I jist didn't know what to do I'm afeered I thought so much that one day after dinner I put a fork in my over-hall pocket in place o' my corncob pipe. Your granny ran my overhalls through the wringer and plum ruined the fork. She was 'bout to throw it in the ditch when it struck me that that fork was twisted to jist the exact shape of that missin' bone.
So I hurried back to the cave and buried that there fork in with the rest of the Indian skeleton. Next day the hogs moved back in, and I never had no more trouble with that Osage Indian chief, thanks to that twisted fork.
And that's why we call this here branch o' the Gasconade River the Osage Fork.
The next two stories also come from Myrtle Hough. The second is her father's version of a lost violin player.
There's a cave on the Lambeth farm where they've been digging for treasure. My father was a travelling salesman. He was coming along there one time and across the river there was a lovely little valley and he took his horses out to let them graze while he ate his lunch. While doing this he heard someone coming. He wondered who they were, so he hid behind some bushes. They pulled up and took a big load of stuff into this cave. Now my father thought it was bars of gold, but I was telling my son and he said there was a still in there. He had been there with his geiger counter and found where they'd made whiskey by finding the metal barrel loops. My father still thought it was bars of gold.* * *I had seven brothers and any spare time they had, they wanted to go to the caves. My father was always warning them about this Howell Cave. He told us when he was a young man and I always wondered if he was one in the bunch--he never said he was, but a group of young men went in one Saturday or Sunday and one of them in the group had a violin. And they kept going and this fellow that had the violin would stop and play to hear the sound --the echoes. But he got lost from the rest of them and for nine days they searched for him and he played that violin. As he became weaker and weaker the violin strains became lower. But sometimes they would be under the music, sometimes at the side, sometimes they'd be at the top, but they never did find him. So my father always warned the boys when they'd start that this was true. He'd urge them to be sure and take things so they would guide themselves out. Of course, they didn't have string. They just had coal oil lanterns then. I remember them taking corn stalks in. When they'd come to an opening, they'd lay the stalk down pointing the way to go.
They hunted for this boy for nine days. They would hear him from all sides. Of course, they didn't have any means to drill down and work like we do today. They'd just hunt for him but never finding him.
And then one time when the boys went to the cave they found a rock with a man's hat on it that was nearly decayed. They searched for the violin but it was so many years past that it would have been gone. They wondered if it wasn't this man's hat.
The boy was lost about 1850 or earlier. My father was a daring fellow and I just wonder since he urged the boys to be so careful, if he wasn't in the group when the boy was lost.
Emmitt Massey shared with us a story of a cave that people had been in and out of many times before it was ever discovered there had been moonshine made there. Back during prohibition there were a lot of stills in operation. Sometimes they were known about but the owner of this cave didn't know there had been MOONSHINERS in his cave until his neighbor threw a birthday dinner and Emmitt along with his friends discovered it while walking down the river path to the party.
In my younger years I was always prowling around the cave. That is, me and my friends would be down to the caves and mess around in them. There are two caves in particular along the river that we had been in before many times. The lower of the two caves was the one we found moonshiners in.
Me and the boys were on our way along the river to a birthday dinner when we stepped inside the lower cave and found some fruit jars in plain sight. Well, naturally we had to investigate, so we went on back in the cave to the small opening that opened up into another good sized room. We crawled through and there was a barrel setting there just full of fresh mash.
Now them moonshiners, they went to a lot of trouble to keep from being found. The only way they could get a barrel into that back room was by taking it apart outside and crawling through with the pieces, and then putting it back together inside the room. There were several places where fires had been built and some old mash had been dumped out right there in the room. I don't suppose they worried too much about their smoke being seen when distilling the mash. The wood they used for fire was probably oak or hickory which didn't make a lot of smoke and there's openings all up and down the bluff that the smoke could get away.
Well, you take a bunch of kids, they're always up to something. We saw that mash and then one of us found a can of kerosene they used to start fires with. Naturally we just poured that kerosene into that barrel of mash. Then in a day or two after that birthday dinner a bunch of us went back near the cave and we found where they'd dumped that mash outside the cave near the river. Now I don't know whether we ruined the whiskey or not, but I bet it had a heck of a kick to it. And I don't know who made it. I can remember back after that when we'd see those moonshiners go down through the field to the cave.
Moonshining wasn't as bad for caves as one might think. Ail those sour mash dumpings sometimes had some unexpected side effects. Besides adding to the food source for many cave inhabitants, they also helped get rid of some undesirable cave life.
There is a cave a few miles from Stoutland that was commonly called Rattlesnake Cave. It is a large cave that used to have so many rattlesnakes in it that anyone that dared to venture into it ran the risk of getting bitten no matter what precautions one took. Moonshiners were always looking for a place where no one would dream of finding them. What better place could there be than a cave full of rattlesnakes?
This cave was perfect. Not only would no one venture there to search for them, but there was
plenty of cold running water to cool the distilled alcohol and also, the cave's temperature was
ideal for fermenting the mash. The moonshiners were safe. In fact, they were even safer than they
knew, for after they began operating the rattlesnakes disappeared] Some think the mash killed
them, others think that the commotion scared them off, but I think they just simply left in disgust
when their home was turned into a souse house. That shows just how much smarter snakes are
Gene Chambers was outside his house waiting for us by his pickup as we drove up.
"Get in and I'll take you yonder to the cave," he said pointing across the river bottom field. We could see through the bare trees lining the river to the bluff on the other side. About a half mile away we could make out the huge inverted V that was the cave opening.
Facing backward as we sat on a bale of hay, we rode in the pickup in the opposite direction from the cave. Gene started up the hill out of the bottom. "We have to go around the road to the bridge," he explained.
After about four miles of twisting through the hills and going through a couple of gates, we found ourselves bumping along a very narrow trail squeezed between the bluff and the river. Tree branches slapped at us, the four-wheel pickup tilted dangerously toward the river and once the wheel hit a log hidden under the leaves knocking us sideways at least two feet closer to the river bank. With all four wheels pulling, Gene made a run up the short steep hill to the cave's mouth with us hanging on and ducking as best we could.
"Lots of people get stuck on that road," he explained after he turned his truck around in the spacious, level--but muddy-mouth of the cave. "I've never had no trouble myself to speak of. One night when I come over here gigging there was so many cars in here there wasn't no room to turn around. There was nothing to do but back out. Not a one of them would even try it, it being night and all, but I got my flashlight in one hand--we had no back up lights then--leaned out the open door, steered with the other hand and backed her the whole way back to the gate. I've had lots of experiences like that."
"How long have you owned this cave?"
"We've owned this cave, me and Dad together for a long time. He bought it in about the year of nineteen and nine--no before that. It's been in the family from that time on. It belongs to me now since my parents passed away."
"I'll bet you' re glad you have the cave on your farm, aren't you?"
"Oh yeah. I enjoy owning it. I go to town every once in a while and people will say, 'I was in your cave Sunday.'
But the trouble with caves in this country is there is no way getting to them. If I'd had any inlet to this cave I'd been a millionaire a long time ago. There's lots of ways I could have made this paid off. But you can't get nobody in here and you can't do nothing about it the way she's located way over here. I've just let her set here and used it for nothing in my lifetime. I don't guess I'll ever use it for anything, for I can' t."
"Did you have to dig out the trail here to the cave yourself?"
"Yeah. There was just a path here along the bluff. We dug it out with mules and an old road grader. I don't know how many different times and days we went sweeping up here with them ole mules and that ole grader. Before that you couldn't get nothing in here without coming a-foot or down the river. Now, even though the road is grown up some, you can drive machinery and a pickup clean up to the mouth and back in the cave to where it gets dark, like we're doing now."
"How did the cave get its name?"
"This is known as Bat Cave. It's well loaded with bats and the manure from them bats is the best fertilizer in the world. In the period of time before Dad bought this place there was a bunch of men that had a contract to buy that stuff out of here.
"They crawled up on them ledges and raked her down. And I suppose they wheelbarrowed it down to the mouth and sent it on a boat down the river 'cause there wasn't no road up there then. They couldn't haul it down in a wagon. They had to go down the river or carry it in a bucket or sack down a path. There was a path you could walk on foot. That was all, and you were lucky if you didn't fall into the river on such a narrow path.
They worked at it for a month off and on, taking that bat manure out of there. It hadn't been bothered then for no telling when, never maybe, and it was really loaded back in there. They got a lot of it. They carted it out of here and took it down the river to that gate where a wagon could come. That was before nineteen and ten 'cause that's when I was born."
"Did you ever get any of the manure out yourself?"
"I go back in the cave once in a while and I'm thinking of doing it again this spring. Just around the corner there and up on a shelf is where a lot of the bats live. The manure falls off that shelf back on the ground. I can back the pickup right up there pretty close to it--and I have many a time--and haul it out to put on the garden. You can't buy fertilizer at the store as good as that is. No use trying it.
Me and Dad hauled it out of here on our tractor with a rear end scoop. We hauled five loads out of here one spring and put on our garden. We didn't notice so much difference that year, but the next year--I mean that garden fairly went wild. Now it really went."
"Are there less bats here than there used to be?"
"Well, I wouldn't be surprised. I suppose people interferring with them they've got kinda backward. They've got further back in the cave on us anyway. I've come over here many a time of a night and if you turned a light on you just about had it. They'd hit you right in the face. Shut your light off and let them calm back down. They do come out of here and come clear over to the house in the summertime. I've had them get in the house. We had an idle flue over there and they built a nest in there and just filled that flue full. We didn't know they was in there. They got to coming out that flue into the house. And ever night or so we'd have another bat. We'd get him out, and next night or two we'd have another or two. Come to find out they was a-nesting in there in that ole dark flue. Had to clean it out. And they'd come from here. They're aggravating. It just scared our women to death when they got in our house.
"Except for the bat manure, was the cave used commercially in any other way?"
"I remember there was a couple of men in Conway that made a contract with Dad to grow mushrooms. They made several beds of mushrooms back there away from the light. Hot beds, you know. They planted and worked them all summer. When they started in we only had a path up through here. The road we just come up the river on was made then with a pair of mules. Me and them two men made that road. They worked all summer on this road and the mushrooms and never did get nowhere with them. The mushrooms wouldn't grow. It was too cold in here was their trouble--what made them have to quit.
"You see right over there just around the bend in the dark is where they made them hot beds. They'd be eight to ten feet long, just like us old farmers used to make sweet potato beds to raise plants to set out. But they just didn't do any good."
"This sure is a big cave."
"This is the only cave on my farm. I think it's one of the biggest in this county--the biggest I know of anyway. I've had as high as five or six automobiles in here at one time with room to turn around."
"Did you ever use it to store machinery?''
"Some. I run out of a machine shed over at the house so I got to using this old lad for backing my machinery in. It wasn't a very good shed because see, there's water dripping. It's too wet. If you wanted to lose your paint on a brand new piece of machinery, leave it over here one winter and you didn't have no paint. So I got to taking my best stuff to the house and eventually built me a shed up there, but I left an old cultivator right over there and an old corn planter here. I come over here one day and they was a-setting right down there in the river--just a tongue of that planter sticking out. A bunch of kids pushed it over in there. So I hired a man with a log wench to pack his wench up here and pull that old planter back out of there. A little while later I come back over here and the old cultivator was a-setting in the river. Well, I could pull it out myself. So I just tied it on behind the tractor and its on over the hill by the house now. Except my binder. It's setting right over there in the water. I had it setting here right in front of the cave. And kids, you know, they got to playing and they rolled that thing off over that hill there and I can't get it out of the river with nothing I got. I expect the wheels are broke too, one of them is off. It's past using. There's no more use for it now anyway for people quit them. It's a good old binder and it'll just set there and rot down. It's been there fifteen years I guess."
"I don't object to nobody coming over here. The only thing I object to is the way they treated my machinery when we had it over here--push it off in the river. And that old binder they'd shoot it full cf holes and break sprockets off of it with rocks and stuff like that. I had to quit using the lad over here for machinery and it wasn't a fit place no how. It was too damp."
"When you were a kid did you ever go back in the cave?"
"I used to put in a lot of time here in my younger days picnicking around. People'd come here and want to go back in there and see that old lad. I took them back a few times. But I'm not much of a hand to go back there where you have to lay down and crawl. But a lot of guys did. I ain't a-going to do it. I don't care what kind of lights they got or what they ain't got, I ain't going to lay down and crawl back in one of these things. I just got so far and I quit.
"I used to be over here at least once a week when I was a boy up till I was married--spent practically every Sunday over here with a bunch. This neighborhood was full of young folks and we'd picnic around over here. But time as you get as old as I am, the old rocking chair's got you down and you don't do none of that picnicking. You set right there in that ole rocking chair and go to sleep."
"Is the cave used for anything now?"
"About all the cave's used for now is when a few people come over here picnicking around. You can see by them tracks around in there that there's been someone over here not too long back. I hear them over here once in a while in the summertime. It'd be a bunch of young lads, I suppose. I'll see a fire. But, you can hear them from over at the house and it sounds like a cyclone. They're just having a picnic over here. And a few fishermen come down here in the winter gigging.
"If I could use this or had it where I could use it for stock, why it'd be worth its weight in gold to me in the wintertime for protection for stock. But you see, the river's in the way. I can't use it."
"Aren't caves useful for stock in the winter?"
"Yeah. It's just a comfortable temperature for them. And they come here in the summer to get rid of flies. When I was grading this road back in here we got stuck up. So I went back to the house to get my pair of mules. They wasn't used to coming in here and they wasn't no way in the world I could beat them in this cave. They was afraid of it. They wouldn't pull twenty-five pounds on my truck. I went up here to the neighbor's and got another pair and put four mules on and they all four done the same thing. Wouldn't pull nothing, Well, I took them all off and I got ahead of my mules and led them right into this cave. I just stopped and let them stand about ten or fifteen minutes. That cool air just felt so good to them and they seen they wasn't going to get hurt so their excitement got over with. I drove them down there and hooked on to the pickup and they like to tore it in two bringing it into this cave. I mean they brought it in here right now, too. And from that day on as long as I had that pair of mules I could start up that road and ford the river and they'd just start walking faster. The further, the faster. They'd come a-trotting right in here and the minute they got in here, you could throw them lines down and get off and they'd stay there all day and never move a muscle. Just stand there. Comfortable--no flies on and there wouldn't be a one get on them anymore--just cool in here. But I had a time first time getting them in here to learn them mules.
"Yes sir, lads, this here cave has seen a lot of action, yet has stood here just a-setting most of the time."
Interviews by Sarah Seay, Rita Saeger, Gary Weaver, Jay Hillig and Stephen Hough.
We would like to thank George Kastler, naturalist at Bennett Spring State Park, for his continued help on the Ozark Caves series.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.