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Tom Chaney: Early Visitors to the Horse Cave

Of Writers And Their Books: Early Visitors to the Horse Cave. Tom gives brief descriptions of three early accounts of visits to Horse Cave. This column first appeared 11 September 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Ice Cold Thriller

By Tom Chaney

Early Visitors to the Horse Cave

Last week I printed a letter from Masten Dashiel a union soldier describing his trip from Camp Wood in Munfordville to the Woodland tavern under a flag of truce for the return of the bodies of two confederate officers slain in the battle of Mill Springs near Somerset.

The unit's trip to Horse Cave proceeded from the north down what was known as the Munfordville-Glasgow road to its junction with the Bearwallow Road. That junction was approximately where the Short Cut Road joins Kentucky 218 in the eastern part of Horse Cave. They then followed the Bearwallow Road -- now Kentucky 218 -- west to its junction with the Louisville and Nashville Turnpike -- now Kentucky 335 -- where they turned south to Woodland located at the point the L&N Turnpike crosses the railroad.

Dashiel mentions "the great cave here, from which it derives its name" and appears intrigued by the natural wonder.

One of my benighted readers, who happens to be an employee and must read this column in the interest of continued employment, suggested that I look at the reaction of newcomers to Horse Cave when confronted with the sight of the cave entrance.

I am ever willing to take the advice of others about this column, especially when confronted with a looming deadline and an empty mind.

Three accounts from the Nineteenth Century come to mind. One is that which Mr. Dashiel in 1862 recounted in his letter to the newspaper editor in Indianapolis.

Another is that of a young boy, Cyrus Edwards, who first visited the town in 1852 riding behind his father on a horse and who later established himself in Horse Cave and whose Stories of Early Days was compiled by his daughter Florence Edwards Gardiner.

The third is that of John Muir, botanist and father of the idea of national parks, who on September 2, 1867, began his Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf -- arriving four days later in Horse Cave.

These three men provide interesting and varied views of the town and the reaction to its centerpiece, the cave itself.

Cyrus Edwards, our first visitor, was a native of Barren County and was familiar with caves. He lived out his long life within half a mile of the cave. The big cave, therefore, evokes little reaction in the nine-year-old. Or at least in his recalling the visit he chose not to record how he viewed the cave. It is merely a landmark marking his journey into town "on the Glasgow road, and through some bars or gates to Mrs. Lafferty's, and into what is now Main Street near the Baptist Church, and thence along the north brink of the cave to Eli Murray's shop, ... crossing the present location of the railroad near the Owens' house (hotel) ... through the woods to the turnpike (now Kentucky 335) -- passing around on the north side of the large pond... going into the turnpike 50 or 60 yards northwestward of the west end of Main Street." This is the route of Church Street.

The village was lightly settled in those days. When Edwards returned about a year later he found the tobacco factory mentioned on his first visit burned and a thriving photography shop located near the site of the factory "in the present limits of the park."

Mr. Dashiel was just passing through the town on that September day. Not being a native of the cave region, he showed a little more surprise and curiosity about the cave. "We had no opportunity to examine the great cave here only as we passed by near its mouth -- we could see far into it." One can imagine that, were it not for his military duties, he would have liked to be a spelunker or at least a tourist.

Comparing Mr. Dashiel's account of the town with that of Mr. Edwards a decade before, we see that the little village was growing and had been largely burned by the southern forces.

And then came John Muir, eight years later. The war was over. The railroad was up and running after the destruction of the bridge and track by the confederates. Escaping the cloying hospitality of a Mr. Munford, he set out down the tracks toward Horse Cave. After spending the night of September 5 in a log school house, he caught a ride with a black man driving a team of oxen. The drover talked of the war and of plants in the woods. Mr. Muir remarked on his intelligence and eloquence.

Mr. Muir arrived at the Horse Cave. "It seems a noble gateway to the birthplace of springs and fountains and the dark treasuries of the mineral kingdom. This cave is in a village [of the same name] which it supplies with an abundance of cold water, and cold air that issues from its fern-clad lips. In hot weather crowds of people sit about it in the shade of the trees that guard it. This magnificent fan is capable of cooling everybody in the town at once."

With his observation about the flora surrounding the cave mouth, Mr. Muir noted what scientists would confirm decades later: that "the strong, cool breeze [issuing] from it, creates a northern climate for the ferns that adorn its rocky front."

And the progress of man's view of the cave passes from that of "the useful, practical man -- too wise to waste precious time with weeds, caves, fossils, or anything that he could not eat;" to the curious tourist to come in the days of automobile travel heralded by Mr. Dashiel; to the scientific study of caves alluded to by Mr. Muir and continued by the American Cave Conservation Association into the Twenty-first Century.

Editorial Note: Further information:

American Cave and Conservation Association

Horse Cave's Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-07-27 03:08:11
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