1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wyandotte Cave

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Britannica 1911 Wyandotte Cave.jpg
Emery Walker sc

WYANDOTTE CAVE, a cave in Jennings township, Crawford county, Indiana, U.S.A., 5 m. N.E. of Leavenworth, on the Ohio river, and 12 m. from Corydon, the early territorial capital. The nearest railway station is Milltown, 9 m. distant. The cave is in a rugged region of high limestone hills, in one of which its main entrance is found, 220 ft. above the level of the Blue river, whose original name, the Wyandotte, was transferred to the cave by Governor David Wallace; it having previously been styled the Mammoth Cave of Indiana, the Epsom Salts Cave, and the Indiana Saltpetre Cave. The exact date of discovery is not known; but early records show it to have been pre-empted by a Dr Adams in 1812 for the manufacture of saltpetre, and his vats and hoppers are still to be seen. After the War of 1812 he relinquished his claim; and in 1819 the ground was bought from the United States government by Henry P. Rothrock, whose heirs are its owners. The earliest account is in Flint's Geography (1831); the first official report of it was by Dr R. T. Brown (1831); and it was first mapped by the writer (1855), whose map was revised by John Collett, state geologist (1878). No instrumental survey has been made, nor have all its intricate windings been explored. Its known passages aggregate more than 23 m. in length, and 144 places are named as noteworthy. The “Old Cave” contains the saltpetre works, and ends in a remarkable chamber exactly 144 ft. long and 56 ft. wide, in which stands the Pillar of the Constitution, a stalagmitic column perfectly cylindrical and 71 ft. in circumference, entirely composed of crystalline carbonate of lime (satin-spar), fluted and snow-white. A cavity in the column was first claimed by H. C. Hovey as a prehistoric quarry, proved to be such by the stag horns and boulder pounders found in its vicinity. His careful estimate of the rate of stalagmitic growth showed that 1000 years would have been needed to form the lip now covering the incision.

In the N. arm of the newer part of the cave, opened in 1850, is an immense room, styled Rothrock's Cathedral, 1000 ft. in circumference and 200 ft. high, with a rugged central hill 135 ft. high, surmounted by statuesque stalagmites, near which is another quarry of satin-spar with similar fragments, pounders and aboriginal relics. When Mr Hovey visited this cave in 1855 he found many extinct torches, charcoal embers, poles and pounders, as well as numerous footprints, in the soft nitreous earth of certain avenues, which were left by exploring parties previous to the coming of the white man.

In the Pillared Palace a number of large alabaster shafts had been thrown down and fragments carried away. Near by were so-called “bear-wallows,” which proved to be the remains of an aboriginal workshop, where masses of flint were broken into rectangular blocks; and spalls and flint-chips encumber the floor and choke the passage-way. Milroy's Temple is a magnificent room, 100 by 150 ft. in its dimensions. It contains many remarkable formations; and its display of helictites, or twisted stalactites, is unsurpassed.

As Wyandotte Cave has no large streams and few pools or springs, its fauna and flora are not extensive. Formerly bears, wolves and other wild animals took refuge in its fastnesses; and bats, rats, mice and salamanders are frequent visitors. Blind crawfish (Cambarus pellucidus)inhabit the Crawfish Spring. Cave crickets (Hadenoecus subterraneus) abound. A dozen kinds of insects, with a few varieties of spiders, flies and worms, complete the meagre list. The flora include mainly forms brought in from the outside.

For more full descriptions of Wyandotte Cave and its contents, see Hovey's Celebrated American Caverns, pp. 123-153; Indiana State Geological Reports, by R. T Brown, E. T. Cox, John Collett and W. S. Blatchley; and concerning cave fauna reports and papers by C. H. Eigenmann, professor of zoology, Indiana State University. (H. C. H.)