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THE CAVES OF CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY KANSAS
THE CAVES OF CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY KANSAS
*First – let’s define CAVE – according to Webster: a swelling, arch, cavity – a hollow place inside the earth, usually an opening as in a hillside extending back horizontally;
So, “Mother Nature” has seen fit to give us a crack, cranny, or overhang in every rock
formation throughout Chautauqua (CQ) County– which all too often is referred to as a cave.
Historically CQ County has five caves that have appeared in
various printed publications:
*the Caney River Monster Cave – near the community of Cascade
*Outlaw Cave – between Elgin and Chautauqua Springs
*Robbers Cave – 10 miles east of Cedar Vale
*Eagles Camp Cave – west of Elgin
*Moonshine Cave – south of Sedan
But, the question is – Do or have these caves ever existed?
Many stories about the CQ County caves are pure fabrication!
* * * * *
Fake News is nothing new – back in the 1870’sand 1880’s a traveling salesman by the name of Joseph Mulhattan was perhaps the most famous hoaxer in America. He was not a reporter, yet he repeatedly released farfetched tales as news stories to many newspapers of the day. Among his many tales are:
*the body of George Washington has been exhumed and on display;
*a small girl had ties a bunch of ballons around her waist and carried away into the air;
*a hugh meteor fell in Texas, killing several head of cattle,
and is visibly imbedded in the earth.
*He also has a tale of a fantastic cave story about a huge cavern discovered near Glasglow Junction, Kentucky.
CQ County’s earliest version of the “Big Cave” story was in 1886 (during the same period of Joseph Mulhattan’s run of news story fabrications. Mulhattan may never released this CQ County cave story – but it is highly suspected that imitators of Mulhattan may have realesed the CQ story – simple as tale for entertainment. And readers of such articles may have never realized what they were reading was pure fantasy.
As these stories were told and retold – many tales were combined and took on the mystic of reality.
In November of 1992 , members of the Kansas Speleological Society spent a weekend in CQ County searching for and documenting several county caves. Their hopes were to reveal the truth about the county’s mammoth cave (in reality the cave never revealed itself).
In 1993, the Kansas Geogological Survey published the book “Caves in Kansas” – it contained the following paragraph – “Thirteen of the 156 caves in Chautauqua County formed in Plattsmouth Limestone. Most are small crawl ways and shelter caves. The four longest caves have estimated lengths of, 120, 150, 400, and 600 feet. However, attempts at surveying the caves have all been foiled by high water levels.”
(*The above research was done by Steve Zimmerman –
a member of the Chautauqua County Historical Society)
CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY’S MOST TALKED ABOUT CAVES
CQ Caves And Their Misrepresented Descriptions
*The Caney River Monster Cave – (west of the community of Cascade) Other than being an entertaining story that incorporates real places and people from the era, and vicinity – this cave is thought to be a fabrication issued to newspapers (no newspaper from the CQ area ever printed the story as a news release) by possibly a local person familiar
with Joseph Mulhattan’s glorified stories.
But when making a search of the supposed area of the cave – two old timers from the area of Caney, Kansas stated that as kids growing up in the area – they heard tales of a nearby cave – but was never able to find its actual location. However, when trying to search their suspected area – the local land owner informed me that he was told that a small area cave had existed, but it was flooded when a watershed lake was built back in the “60’s”.
*Outlaw Cave (between Elgin and Chautauqua Springs) The only written reference to this cave was found in an article by Glen Defenbough, on page 862 of the History of Chautauqua County. He mentions that while a Senior at Wayside High School (1928-1929) an article by the Kansas State Historical Society gave specific instructions on how to reach the cave. When he visited the cave, he found it not far from the county road and hidden behind trees and brushy undergrowth. The cave had a small crawl way entrance that opened up into a larger cavern. There he found signs of old warmth or cooking fires – and the cavern had a stream that ran at its rear.
Glen commented he didn’t think any outlaws would have ever sought refuge there from lawmen on their trail – but suspected it had been used by Indians from time to time.
When questioning area residents – no one knew of the whereabouts of the cave – but had heard tales from their elders that a cave did exist somewhere in this vicinity.
*Robbers Cave – aka “Big Cave” (10 miles east of Cedar Vale – located between Hewins and Elgin – south of the county road) Unverified rumors have said it was used as a hideout by two men who robbed a bank in Sedan in the late 1800’s – and by the Darnell cousins as a hideout after they shot and killed Sheriff Wilson of Sedan in 1899. A complete counterfeiter’s set of tools was to have been found in the cave in 1899 and appeared to have been there for many years (reports later stated the printing tools were stolen from Oklahoma’s 101 Ranch who used them to print their own script money for their ranch hands.). The opening is only about three feet high (Would outlaws crawl back into a cave, leave their horses tied outside, and hide out in a cave with no other means of escape if confronted by the law?), but opens up into a larger room. (The cave is said to be located northwest of Elgin on Road 11 above the old railroad bed – most definitely it is not! )
This cave is suspected as being a fabricated story and commingled with stories of another area cave and cave from adjacent eastern states. No local newspaper articles tell of the cave’s historic importance. However, three area residents tell that as youngsters their families visited a fairly large caverned cave – all three gave the same vicinity as its location – and all three stated that the land owner (of the day) on which the cave was located, had its entrance dynamited to close it from unwelcome trespassers.
*Eagles Camp Cave (west of Elgin ) – There is currently no hiding in this cave, as it is highly visible from Road 11 just east of the Caney River, and perched above the old Santa Fe Railroad bed. *Furthermore, just to its south the electric company has set an electric pole that carries the electric lines through the area. Area history (and legend) points to this cave being a lookout point for outlaws who monitored the stage coach route below. It is also said to be where a small gang of horse thieves camped (with their stolen horses secured in a rock/timber reinforced corral below). However, their horse stealing careers were cut short by the efficiency of the area’s Anti-Horse Thief Association – who hung them all. (*This cave has regularly been referred to mistakenly as Robber’s Cave or Eagle’s Nest.)
*The area’ true “Robber’s Cave” is located 5 miles north of Wilburton, Oklahoma, on State Highway 2
*There is no evidence of a local area “Eagle’s Nest” Cave, the true Eagle’s Nest Cave is located at Weeki Wachee Gardens, Flordia (and is an underwater cavern). However, there is an “Eagles Nest Lodge and Campground near “Robbers Cave State Park” located near Wilburton, Oklahoma. History recalls this area as being the secluded hide-away of several infamous outlaws (which includes the members of the James / Younger Gang and the notable Belle Starr).
*Moonshine Cave (south of Sedan – west of Highway 99 and south of Highway 166) is a real cave so isolated and camouflaged by Mother Nature it prevents its cavernous interior from the ease of discovery by passersby. And yes, history does tell of its use a place where area moonshine was stored (before being transported and sold) or cooked – maybe both. No records reveal that this cave was ever raided by local law officers or revenuers.
– Jim Chase