Thursday, June 3, 2010

Indian Cave on Calico Rock Bluff

Click images to enlarge.

View Video Here.

A property-owner from Calico Rock, Ed Matthews, recently asked the EIC Crew to visit the site of an interesting and very unusual cave within the city of Calico Rock. Ed and others with properties near the cave have long wondered about the origins of the unique rock walls that have been built inside the natural shelter and asked us to investigate and add our insight.

On Saturday, May 29th, 2010, the EIC Crew, joined by Tony McGuffey and his wife Roberta as well as by Jeff and Laura Snyder, visited the site during a preliminary trip to prepare for a future expedition to more thoroughly investigate what we found. The cave, which lies only a few feet from a main County Road, has a carefully concealed entrance, the mouth having had a stone retaining wall built in front of it and backfilled to create a small slit in the earth with steps leading to the cave below. The natural shelter is approximately 40 feet wide and as many feet deep with walls constructed of stone to create three seperate rooms resembling a warehouse or underground dwelling. In fact, a natural hole in one wall of the cave opens into a small chamber containing clear, fresh water which stands in a natural reservoir. This "cistern" is accessible from above the cave as well as from inside. The largest man-made wall runs the width of the cave and sports a doorway and two wondows perched near the roof of the shelter.

The property-owners near the site have never spoken with any long-time residences of Calico who remember anything at all about the use of this cave. No one in living memory seems to have any idea whatsoever how the site was created or for what it was used. Speculation persists.

Some have offered the suggestion it was used as a speak-easy during the days of prohibition. Others have guessed it might have been used as storage for munitions during the Civil-War, we found on our preliminary's very moist inside the structure. Buddy, a local landowner who has lived near the cave for 20 years, told us that they had tried keeping potatoes in the cave but they soon rotted suggesting that the cave would not have been used for the purpose of storing produce of any kind.

Personally, considering the fact that there were many in Izard County during the Civil-War who opposed slavery and who were also defiant towards the Confederacy, I believe it is possible the site could have been used as a stop on the notorious Underground Railroad, though its just as possible some home-owner during the latter part of the 19th century simply built the walls in the shelter cave as a summer home to stay cool during the suffocating heat of the season.

The EIC Crew has asked those who were along for this preliminary visit to the site to share their own thoughts about what we observed. We also invite readers to join the conversation. We will be revisiting this post in the future after we have had a chance to more thoroughly investigate the site. We hope to even dig a few small "test-holes" to see what kind of artifacts we can find which will help to give a better picture of how the site was used in the past...and who actually used it.

We welcome your comments!


Al-Ozarka said...

You might have noticed in the video that there is a squarish-looking "shaft" in the ceiling of the cave. The location of this shaft leading to the surface would have it breaking the surface of the ground directly beneath the stump of a huge oak tree that must have stood for many generations. The center of the remaining stump is hollow.

I know this is only wild speculation, it possible that...considering the way the entrance to the structure was built to be easily concealed (possibly allowing the "slit" to be covered with slats or a mat and then covered with earth)...the "shaft" was constructed beneath a hollow tree to accommodate ventilation if the entrance was covered or sealed? If so, I think it could add credibility to my speculation about this being a place where runaway slaves could have been concealed in their flight for freedom.

Al-Ozarka said...

Jim told me over the weekend that someone had told him that they had always heard this cave referred to as "The old slave cave".

I've also been told that there is a similar cave in the Zion area which was also called a "slave cave".

Al-Ozarka said...

New rumor:

Mr. Matthews told me this past week that he had been told there used to be a passage at the back of the cave leading to a cave on the bluff. He said he remembers when the the floor was lower in that area before being filled with debris washed into it. A man who hade explored the caves along the bluff assured him there was no passage through.

Today, Jim told me that he he was told that there was indeed a passage and the ice was hauled into theis cave from the river below.

Was this just an ice-house?

Al-Ozarka said...

I've heard from two individuals who both grew up in the area of this cave between 1930s and the 1950s recently. One, who lived nearby in the 30's, doesn't remember anything at all about bootlegging going on in the area. Another, who grew up very near the cave and used to play in it as a boy, remembers it being almost the same as it appears today even back then. Neither of them have any knowledge of anyone knowing the origins of the site even back then!

To me, this further suggests that whatever this cave was used for, it was kept as low-profile as possible.

Note - the lady who contacted me used to enjoy cook-outs with friends and family at a cave right on the bluff and is not absolutely sure this is the one. It's entirely possible that she remembers another cave about which we aware that lies right on the bluff's edge. The cave we are investigating may have been unknown to her even though she lived in a home just a few hundred feet away!

Al-Ozarka said...

Freda contacted me a day or two ago and had spoken to one of the old bootleggers that once operated in the Calico area and he told her that he does not remember an manufacturing operation operating at the site and that it was possibly used to store liquor for distribution. He also told her there was a cave "above Peppersause Alley" that was used to store liquor, mainly wine, because it created the perfect climate for fermentation.