The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Oregon Caves
Early explorations of the Oregon Caves.
Note that while the official year of discovery of the cave is 1874 (or 1873), local newspapers don't mention it until 1877--when those writers say it was discovered in 1875 or 1876.

    Having just returned from a visit to one of Southern Oregon's great natural wonders, I hasten to send you a brief description of the same.
    Two years ago, Mr. E. J. Davidson, one of the most adventuresome and successful mountaineers and hunters of this region, while in pursuit of a deer he had wounded and was following with his dog, accidentally stumbled upon the discovery of what he took to be the mouth of a cave, and which conjecture has since proven to be correct. The discovery was made on the spur of a mountain familiarly known out here as "Old Grayback," and on the side that is drained off toward Sucker Creek or Illinois River. It was not till July 5, 1877, however, that an attempt at exploration of this subterranean cavern was made. Then the discoverer, in company with his brother, Carter Davidson, and James Nail, undertook to penetrate its mysterious and marvelously beautiful apartments. Aided by pitchlight they were able to penetrate only two or three of the most accessible chambers, which intensified without satisfying their curiosity, but their supply of illuminating material having become exhausted, they were compelled to desist. It was on the strength of the report made by these parties, and at the desire of the discoverer of the cave, that, in company with a party of ladies and gentlemen of Williams Creek, the undersigned visited this spot where "nature thrones sublimity" in glistening if not in "icy halls." But to describe the trip fully, I had best commence with the commencement.
    Our party consisted at the start of but six, to wit: Miss Eudora A. Godfrey, Miss Margaret Davidson, of Portland; Mr. Julius Goodwin, two boys and this deponent. We traveled up the right-hand fork of Williams Creek to its head, thence across one or two streams that run westerly into Sucker Creek, then up to a large mountain that puts out from Grayback to the milk ranch of Messrs. Goodwin & Davidson. Here we camped for the night and partook of the kind hospitalities of these certainly highly elevated and obliging dairymen. The next morning our party was increased by the addition to our numbers of Mrs. Julius Goodwin, Mr. Frank Rose and E. J. Davidson. Of our party were, also, two young lads, named David John, jr., and Ira Sparlin. To the place we wished to reach was only about 1½ miles from the milk ranch, but owing to the ruggedness of the route and the course we took to get there we were fully three hours in reaching it with our riding animals. Soon after we reached the scene of operation, however, the work of exploration began and was entered upon by each member of our party with a zeal and enthusiasm that meant business. From the mouth of the cave emerges a branch of water, and it is up to the bed of this stream we first begin our underground perambulations. The mountain is of limestone formation, and the caverns and cross-caverns , in almost every form imaginable and unimaginable, which we beheld with delightful amazement, were evidently the result of the action of water. After penetrating perhaps one hundred yards, we leave the stream to examine upper and side rooms that do not require so much exposure of the feet to water. Every successive department reached evoked from each and every member such vociferative expressions as "Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! Isn't it nice," "Isn't [it] beautiful," etc., and one of the earliest convictions that overcame us most completely was that it would be impossible for us in the short period of our stay to do anything like justice to the examination of these diversified, fantastic and indescribable realms of the underworld. Prentice's ode to Mammoth Cave has now a much clearer meaning:
        "Crystal founts,
Almost invisible in their serene
And pure transparency--high pillared domes
With stars and flowers all fretted like the halls
Of Oriental monarchs--"
are expressions admirably suited to a description of this Josephine County cave. The stalagmite and stalactite formations of this cave surpass anything ever dreamed of in the sphere of arts, and nothing I ever beheld in nature before so completely overcame me with suggestions of sublimity and beauty.
    In some places the floor is almost as smooth as polished marble, and in others the ceiling is frescoed all over with bright crystals or stalactite in the shape [of] and resembling icicles. In one chamber in particular, which we casually designated the King's Palace, was this the case. The various members of our party commenced here, in obedience to a very natural impulse, to break off specimens to bring away with them, but in obedience to a suggestion that it looked like a shame to desecrate or deface anything in nature so beautiful as that was, they readily ceased the work of spoliation; and let us hope that future tourists and adventurers will be governed by the same honorable deference and spare this apartment if none of the others.
    A volume might be written descriptive of the beauties of the small portion we beheld, which portion did not comprise one-tenth--perhaps one ten-thousandth--part of these
"Dim and awful aisles."
One great danger to be constantly guarded against is that of getting lost. Frequently we lost our way and got into narrow crevices, through which we could see a light in some lower apartment, but could not reach it without retracing our steps and finding some larger crevice. What could be explored by enlarging some of these narrow fissures is a matter of conjecture. The furthest back any of our party got was perhaps not over four hundred yards. To make that distance through its various angles, dips and ascents required nearly an hour's travel after we were familiar with the route. We did not try to follow up the main stream of water, which undoubtedly must constitute the main part of the cave, but have left lots of work for future explorers. Our party obtained many beautiful and valuable specimens as souvenirs of their very hard and--for the ladies--dangerous journey. Many of the prettiest things, however, were spoiled in breaking them off. Some were like a mule's ear in shape, only three or four times as large and in places perfectly transparent. The ears of many of the animals were represented on the walls, together with many varieties of sea shells; and then again clusters of grape, flowers and many varieties of vegetables. These attractions, though, will rapidly disappear as the place becomes frequented by visitors.
    We named the cave, in honor of the finder, "Elijah's Cave." It is situated in the southern part of the county, about 15 miles southwest of Williamsburg, or say 37 miles in the same direction from Jacksonville. A better route than the one we traveled can probably be found, when sightseers can reach the cave without roughing it as we did. It is a sight, however, well worth many times the trouble we encountered in reaching it, to anyone who has a particle of admiration for the sublime and beautiful. Yea, "beautiful are all the thousand snow-white gems that lie in these mysterious chambers."
Oregonian, Portland, August 1, 1877, page 1  This account was reprinted in the September 1922 issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly, pages 270-273

    The discovery of an immense cave is reported from Josephine County.
"Brief Mention," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 3, 1877, page 3

    A LARGE CAVE.--An immense underground recess, several hundred yards in extent, was recently discovered fifteen miles southeast of Williamsburg, Josephine County, by a party of ladies and gentlemen. Hon. W. W.  Fidler was one of the number, and furnishes an extended account of the discovery. A stream of water issues from the mouth, and many of its compartments are described as wondrously beautiful. The party partially explored its depths, but much of its extent is yet unknown and remains for future explorers.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 10, 1877, page 3

WILLIAMS CREEK, July 29, 1877.
    EDITOR TIDINGS:--Lest the reading public may come to imagine there is no spot worth visiting on account of its great natural wonders and mountain scenery in Southern Oregon, except the Cascade region, I send you a few notes of a trip into the Siskiyous.
    Our party was made up of ladies and gentlemen of Williams Creek, Josephine County; but it would take up too much space, and might trench upon their modesty just a little, to describe each member personally. I cannot dispose thus summarily of the young ladies, however, without quoting a line or two from Tommy Moore, as applicable in an eminent degree to their cases.
"Oh! he who knows
His heart is weak, from Heaven should pray
To guard him 'gainst such girls as those."
An admonition, by the way, which "old stagers" who have long since learned "how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong" will not sufficiently heed.
    The course of our journey was up the right-hand fork of Williams Creek past the newly built saw mill of Messrs. Akers & Co., past several good-looking homesteads of ye hardy settler, then up the gradual and easy grade of the low mountain that divides the waters of Williams and Sucker creeks, across some of the branches of Sucker Creek, then up the long and steep ascent of a spur of old Grayback, on the summit of which we made our first camp.
    For fear of encroaching too much on your space, I leave out many of the incidents of our journey; but for the information of young lady tourists hereafter, I have some sage advice to offer, to wit: If when riding in a mountainous region, your animal is taken with a sudden disposition to kick with all four of its feet at once, in a spasmodic effort to repel too warm a greeting from a kind of insect noted for the wearing of a yellow jacket, (here's the advice) don't jump off your horse and run back and stand right over the nest as a place of safety. One of the young ladies of our party tried it, and she reports it not a gratifying success. I give this caution no less out of sympathy for the supposed cavalier who may be in attendance upon the young lady, than for the young lady. There are many trying circumstances to be met with in the lives of most ''men on the border," but to have to stand by and realize--not see--that the prettiest girl ''these eyes have seen" is dexterously vibrating her drapery in a frantic effort to resist the spirited attack of exasperated yellowjackets, and not be permitted to render needed assistance in the unequal contest, for fear of adding to her embarrassments a mortification more stinging than the stings of the yellowjackets is to encounter an emergency that puts one's intellect to its most trying tension, and calls for the exercise of a sagacity and nice sense of the proprieties not often ''dreamed of in your philosophy." In such an extremity, to borrow from Joaquin Miller:
It seems to me there is more that sees
Than the eyes in man. You may close your eyes
You may turn your back and may still be wise
In the sacred and marvelous mysteries.
    From the summit of old Grayback may be had a view of mountain scenery not often beheld. In ordinary seasons it has snow on some of its slopes the year round, proving that it rears its ''bold and blackened cliffs" almost as high as Mt. Pitt. Many snow-white spires, in addition to Mts. Pitt and Shasta, are discernible from its lofty eminence. As far as human vision can pierce the "ambient air," an unbroken panorama of diversified mountains, peaks, valleys, hills and dales is spread before us like planetary spoils before some mighty conqueror. From its western slopes flow the tributaries of Althouse and Sucker creeks--streams well known for their mineral wealth, [omission?] From its eastern edge Applegate begins its graceful horseshoe curve to reach the ocean. On the south is the rushing, foaming Klamath, and on the north, nestling in lovely, golden grandeur, is the modest valley of Williams Creek. "The elements of empire" here are something more than chimerical; they are visible to the naked eye.
    Our second day of adventure took us to the newly found cave on the west slope of old Grayback, and here we might have wandered
"All day as day is reckoned on the earth
Within those dim and awful states"
had we only taken the precaution to get there with the day's commencement. As it was, we had to content ourselves with four or five hours of most delightful work at exploration. I presume the cave resembles in many respects most all other caves in a limestone region. We traversed many different apartments, got lost repeatedly, but do not pretend to have given it anything like a thorough examination. A stream of excellent water flows out of the cave, up which we first commenced our explorations, but finding the upper chambers more comfortable, we confined most of our time to an investigation of them. Formations of a stalactite and stalagmite character are numerous and of almost infinite variety. Notwithstanding Byron's "Curse of Minerva" our party could not resist despoiling this Josephine County wonder of many of its most beautiful curiosities. We named the cave Elijah's Cave, in honor of its discoverer, Elijah Davidson. It was first discovered one year ago last fall, but never explored until July 1877. To those who have never been in a cave it is a curiosity well worth beholding. It is well ventilated in the upper chambers; the atmosphere is cool and pleasant, making the cave a pleasant resort during warm weather. We did most of our exploring by pitch light, but candles are preferable on account of not making so much smoke.
    Leaving the cave we had numerous and some almost serious adventures on our return, which I had best not take up space relating. The ruggedness of our route was such as is not often traversed by members of the gentler sex, yet their courage rose gradually with the occasion, and although the laws of gravity and the perversity of some of the riding animals, to say nothing of the perversity of some of the riders, had the effect of precipitating one or two very unceremoniously over backwards, and down the mountain, no accidents of a fatal character chanced to attend us. We all got back safely with our spoils from the underworld, and are now engaged wondering that we left as soon as we did, and wishing we were once more back to the scene of our subterranean adventures.
Ashland Tidings, August 10, 1877, page 2  The writer, "F," is almost certainly W. W. Fidler.

    The return of another party from the cave is announced. They confirm without adding to former discoveries. It was found impossible to ascend the bed of the stream much farther, without crawling in the water; none of them being of an amphibian nature, the feat was not attempted. A thorough exploration of the cavern will require time, perseverance and labor, neither of which has been brought to bear upon the task as yet.
"Letter from Josephine," Ashland Tidings, October 19, 1877, page 2

    The mammoth cave recently discovered in Josephine County will be thoroughly explored this season.
"Pacific Coast: Oregon," Corvallis Gazette, July 26, 1878, page 2

Or, Annals of the Cave Hunters.

    To those who have neither leisure nor inclination to follow these sketches throughout, I will state that their design is to give a description of a pleasure-seeking expedition, gotten up by the young people of Williams Creek, and having for its objective point of research the cave discovered last summer by Elijah Davidson, and situated on or near the southern boundary of the state, in Josephine County, Oregon. And, furthermore, I will add, in advance, that one of the important results of the expedition was the discovery of many additional aisles and chambers of beauty in those previously visited. Such is as brief an outline of the whole as could reasonably be given; but for those who have time, patience and inclination to follow details, I have a lengthy, if not an "unvarnishable" tale to unfold.
    Our expedition was composed of the following ladies and gentlemen: Miss Mattie Nail, Miss Emma Nail, Miss Hannah McGee, Miss Anabel Jordan, Miss Lola Layton and Miss Mary E. Layton, Messrs. Andy, Charley, Oliver McGee, Prof. Hathaway, Fritz Mace, Rev. M. C. Miller, D. Vineyard, Carter Davidson, W. Beardsley, Wm. Jordan and this reporter.
    A combination happily organized for the pursuit and realization of pleasure and recreation. A full sketch of the prominent peculiarities of many of our members, as they were drawn out by the incidents of the journey, would swell these articles to a good-sized volume, and would furnish material for a Dickens to write upon.
    Foremost in point of wit and hilarity, and most inexhaustible in resources to amuse, was young Oliver McGee, alias "Prof. Tommy," a lad of perhaps sixteen brief summers, and an equal number of equally brief winters. If he isn't the budding "Mark Twain" of the future, it is needless for your humble servant to set himself up for oracle or prophet in such matters.
    The very antithesis of Prof. Tommy in human nature was Prof. H., silent, seemingly sullen and out of humor, he still had an internal relish of jocundity not exceeded by any member of our party, and his grotesque way of manifesting appreciation, coupled with his sour looks and subsequently approved good nature, added no little zest to the general good humor of the cave hunters. As an evidence of his strong predilection to please, it may be cited that he carried his avoidance of contradiction so far, that if appealed to as to the correctness of a particular statement, in the form of "that's so, isn't it, Mr. H.?" his good nature would lead him to respond in the affirmative, with a promptness most gratifying to the interlocutor, and that, too, independent of such immaterial considerations as truth and veracity. He would not aim purposely to bear false witness, but was simply a victim to an uncontrollable disposition to be agreeable--and he succeeded. But the key to his better nature, once discovered, left him exposed to many annoyances and impositions. For instance: One member of our party would get from him an unequivocal affirmative response to a certain proposition, then one of the distant relatives of Mother Eve would contrive to get as positive response in the negative. Should a young lady, weary of single wretchedness, take advantage of this weakness, and remark: "You will marry me, won't you, Mr. H.?" I am confident she would get an answer sufficient to hang her future hopes or a suit for breach of promise upon. What a source of "joy unspeakable" to the masculine portion of humanity it would be if the young ladies themselves had a little of Prof. H.'s peculiar talent in the use of that monosyllable "Yes." But this is slow progress towards the cave.
    We left the residence of Mr. McGee on the 8th inst.--the ladies on horseback, while most of the young gentlemen used their pedal extremities. Up the right-hand fork of Williams Creek, across the divide to the headwaters of Sucker Creek, and then up the mountain to the milk ranch of Elijah Davidson, jr., is a tolerably fair trail--barring its steepness. We made this part of the journey without any event of special moment happening to overtake us. The yellowjackets made a running fusillade at our entire party at one time, and one of the young ladies was temporarily placed hors de combat, but the brunt of the battle was borne, though somewhat impatiently, by the horses. The leader of the party--I'm almost ashamed to own it--was an animal, similar to the one that the Savior rode into Jerusalem, and not a little amusement was occasioned through a penchant he had for joining in the chorus, when the musically inclined portion of the crowd indulged in their favorite pastime. Such animals, however, are the appropriate ones for such mountains; the climbing is too severe on horseflesh.
    From the milk ranch to the cave is a distance variously estimated at from a mile and a half to two and three miles. The first trip, it seems as much as five, but shortens rapidly as you get used to the country. Most of the distance is through heavy timber and burnt openings, with logs and brush to encounter in disagreeable profusion; and if it is a rule without exception that, as the poet says:
"There is a pleasure in the pathless wounds,"
it certainly ought to be come-at-able in this latitude and longitude. After over two hours' struggling with that kind of pleasure, we reached the cave in safety, on the evening of our first day's travel. Impatient for a peep at the wonder we had labored so hard to reach, and in spite of the fatigue of the journey, some of the youngsters took an after-night ramble in the cave. It was a little too gloomy a prospect, however, for one lad, who soon returned to camp and, after lying down before the fire a short time, meditating what he had seen, halfway raised up and slowly perpetrated the following ejaculation:
"Well, if that ain't the doggonedest place I ever seed!"
To be continued.
Ashland Tidings, July 26, 1878, page 1  The writer, "F," is likely W. W. Fidler.

Or, Annals of the Cave Hunters.

    To most people on this coast, there is little that is new to be said in favor of camp life in the open air. Many yet survive, who, perhaps, had a surfeit of its realities while traveling the plains across; others have tried its invigorating effects on a small scale, while following a nomadic or Nimrodic life, and in all instances, such an existence has about it much of the spirit of romance; but for a realization of that spirit in its twofold sense, and greatest fullness, a mixed company of romantically inclined young people is necessary. And such were, with few exceptions, the cave hunters.
    There was no hurry to seek the arms of Morpheus on the night of our arrival. The excitement of the day and expectations of the morrow were slow to be lulled to sleep; then there were other sensations and anticipations, that, the more they are mutually lulled, the livelier they become. Cupid, though blind, is not a friend to drowsiness. And if there had been no other antidote to "Pleasant dreams and slumbers light," the antics of Tommy, the general good cheer and the good music (instrumental and vocal) to which many of the party abandoned themselves, would have been sufficient to reconcile us to a protracted deprivation of "Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep."
    The morning of the 11th was met by our party with an early greeting; some had visions of venison before them, others found wholesome exercise looking after the riding animals, while those remaining in camp attended to culinary preparations. Breakfast once over, preparations were immediately begun for the work of exploration. The most suitable toilet for this business would probably comprise a suit of stout ducking, something not cumbersome nor easily torn; and a bandage over the head instead of fashionable hats or bonnets is recommended on the score of convenience; as well as economy.
    At the mouth of the cave are two openings, both of which have been choked up with large rocks fallen from above and by sediment, washed in by the stream of water that issues from the cave, and all who penetrate the lower cave must "stoop to conquer." A stiff breeze is to be contended with at the start, to the detriment of lighted candles, but once inside the cave a few rods, the atmosphere is quiet, wholesome and of an equal temperature--such as would certainly be advantageous to persons affected with weak lungs. Three or four rods from the entrance, we come to a rugged chamber that is partly filled with huge stones, from ten to thirty feet in width, and has a fissure extending fifty or more feet overhead. Here are also side tunnels, of little interest, however, in point of ornamental embellishments. There are several small passageways leading to the other apartments. You can either crawl on all fours, or squeeze through a narrow fissure through which runs the stream of water. It was observed that most of the younger ladies had--if anything--a partiality for those places where there was the most squeezing. Girls who inherit a constitutional aversion to all such experiences should shun the lower cave. Along the watercourse is an irregular tunnel, up which a person can ascend about two hundred yards to where the stream is too much choked up for further ingress. It is then to the side and upper chambers that you must turn for the more curious and beautiful specimens of nature's skill in the art of decoration--such fantastic cornice was never dreamed of by the most skillful of human architects. Overhead are to be seen numerous pendant stalactites, resembling icicles. There is seemingly no limit or regularity to the excavations. Wherever the water chanced to run, there the work of excavation and embellishment went on. No inconvenience on account of dampness is experienced in the upper chambers. Numerous drops or beads of water glisten overhead, waiting to be  crystallized into shining stalactites. There are many cavities into which the tourist can only peep without penetrating, and this circumstance will fortunately secure much of this underground splendor from spoliation. In trying to find one of the upper chambers previously visited by the writer, we wandered off in a new set of rugged apartments with numerous side openings we did not try to investigate. Finally one or two of us entered a big recess, that, on account of its size and ugly appearance, wight be mistaken for "Symmes' hole" prophesied to exist near the North Pole. Over the pile of immense rock that, from time to time, has fallen into this chasm the writer trailed a line as a guide to return by, and when near what was supposed to be the surface of the mountain, where a strong draft was noticeable, and in plain sight of "other worlds to conquer," the string was fastened and the work of exploration suspended, only temporarily, however.
    When our party retired from the cave most of our number were too much fatigued to think of resuming operations, and it looked as though further research would be abandoned. The discovery of what were supposed to be other openings to a cave higher up the mountain, however, induced Mr. H. and myself to try the experiment of an entirely new discovery. Our labors were most happily rewarded in the sudden discovery of more natural magnificence and splendor than is usually seen by ordinary mortals in a lifetime. Down every narrow opening, hardly large enough for a full-sized man to squeeze through, we descended to a passageway that led us to a string of apartments, it is perfectly useless to attempt to describe. Only by seeing them as we saw them, fresh from the hand of Him who created all things and as the result of many centuries of growth and construction, can anyone fully realize how truly transporting the sensations born of such a discovery. Is it any wonder that we proclaimed from the mouth of the entrance, to those who were in camp below, that we had discovered the Celestial City? or, that we returned to camp that evening with the proud consciousness of having seen "glory enough for one day"?
    A number of the young men, on hearing our report, rushed up the mountain and into the newly found entrance to verify our statements. It was not a great while, however, ere they came belting forth from the scene of hidden splendors, with an enthusiasm apparently more irrepressible than our own. These events determined our stay at the cave another day, that all the party might enjoy a sight so rare and yet so glorious. An accident, however, happened to one of the young ladies during the afternoon that deprived her of this satisfaction. One of the young men had accidentally started a rock on the side of the mountain that rolled against her, bruising her ankle so seriously as to temporarily put a stop to active pedestrian exercise. This circumstance gave the author of the accident, who had subsequently killed a large venison, to perpetrate the cruel joke that he had killed one deer and crippled another during the trip. Literally true,with necessary changes in orthography.
    July the 12th was a busy day with the cave hunters. Such adjectives as "beautiful," "nice," "splendid" etc. had to do service so frequently that they became tiresome, if not odious, expressions. The number of times that "the prettiest room yet" was found is not definitely remembered; nor was there sufficient unanimity of opinion to confine that distinction to well-defined limitations--they were all the prettiest. After passing through a long aisle profusely resplendent in calcareous crystallizations, we come to what resembles a furnished apartment or sitting room. This we named Martha's drawing room, in honor of Miss Martha Nail; farther on we descended into what, in many respects, resembles a cellar filled with boxes, barrels and bottles of diversified shape and sizes. This place was christened Mary's cellar, in honor of Miss Mary Layton. Still farther on is Emma's closet; back a short distance, and to one side, is Anabel's pantry; while to the right of Martha's drawing room is one of the most unique apartments of all--called Tommy's candy shop. This is an almost exact likeness of a well-arranged toy shop, with numerous fancy fixtures hung out as a sign to entrap the runaway urchin. An adjoining room contains a miniature lake or fountain of water. Several places were examined by members of our party that were not visited by the writer, but he has their testimony to the fact that such places were "the prettiest yet." One place was described by Rev. M. C. Miller as resembling an ancient sarcophagus, stored with old mummies. But I dare say it never entered into the mind of man, much as has been expended by mighty rulers for costly sepulture, to devise a mausoleum equal to this. Here are solemn shapes and fairy frost-work artistically blended; beautiful cascades and waterfalls congealed in solid marble; ghost-like images, too substantial to be called an apparition; limestone stairways, with marble steps and balustrade, with ceiling, sides and floor of each room radiant with the profuse magnificence and gorgeous splendor of generous, modest, unassuming nature.
To be continued.
Ashland Tidings, August 2, 1878, page 1

Or, Annals of the Cave Hunters.

    "There is an end to everything," it is said, and I suppose the remark applies to the cave I have so frequently referred to, without describing, as to other things of a mundane character, but the discovery of such a termination is indefinitely delegated to the future. There came an end, however, to our investigation, and ought, in the nature of things, to be an end to these sketches. From present appearances without the expenditure of considerable work in the way of removing obstructions, and perhaps 20 or 50 years from now, it may be the province of sightseers and wonder admirers to behold new chambers in all the beauty of their virgin splendor. Otherwise, I am afraid the glory of Elijah's cave would be short-lived and almost ephemeral because visitors cannot resist the temptation to strike for specimens, and the fairest specimens are always the ones that appeal most strongly to the feeling of covetousness. Many of the specimens get spoiled in the act of breaking them off, and are thus shorn of their attraction, while the damage of the cave is irreparable.
    After the enthusiasm of the new discovery had somewhat subsided, we started to examine into its connection with the lower cave. We had hardly started, however, ere we came to the string I had fastened to the rocks the day before, at the upper edge of the big opening called Symmes' hole. Had I not been fatigued and surfeited with explorations on that day--besides a little "skeery" at the prospect of several tons of loosened limestone descending upon a poorly protected head--I might have reaped the honor of the new discovery single handed. I was up in the passageway leading to the beautiful subterranean city, and encountered the current of air coming in at the entrance; but there were other side openings, seemingly just as favorable to important developments, which I failed to enter. The mind gets wearied with grandeur after beholding a score or two of these enchanting chambers, and asks for rest even on the threshold of probable new discoveries. After a short respite, the feeling of curiosity is as keen-edged as ever. This is the reason why those who have once visited this scene of underground magnificence are so soon anxious to return again, after reproaching themselves with the folly of leaving without making more thorough researches.
    Our party left the cave on the afternoon of the third day after our arrival--most of the members, however, promising themselves a speedy return to the works of delightsome recreation--for we had other scenes of natural splendor to visit, and vividly those scenes brought to mind some of George D. Prentice concluding observations in his immortal poem to Mammoth Cave:

            "How oft we gaze
    With awe or admiration on the new
And unfamiliar, but pass coldly by
    The lovelier and the mightier! Wonderful
Is this lone world of darkness and of gloom,
    But far more wonderful yon outer world,
Lit by the glorious sun. These arches swell,
    Sublime in lone and dim magnificence.
But how sublimer God's blue canopy,
    Beleaguered with his burning cherubim,
Keeping their watch eternal!
Are all the snow-white gems that lie beautiful
    In these mysterious chambers, gleaming out
Amid the melancholy gloom, and wild
    These rocky hills and cliffs and gulfs, but far
More beautiful and wild the things that greet
    The wanderer in our world of light--" &c., &c.
    We had for our destination what are called "the lakes," near the summit of old Grayback. Up and over the steep ridge east of the cave, over logs, through thickets, and through "the continuous woods where rolls the Oregon" for about two miles--nearly all the way on an up grade--and we reach a camping place on the glade near the lakes, in a few rods of immense banks of snow. Notwithstanding the high altitude of our situation, the place was not wanting in evidences of a nearness to civilization. Sandwiched between patches of snow were seen herds of sheep and cattle, feeding upon the tender green grass that crowns this magnificent and useful old mountain with midsummer verdure at a time when the valleys and their surrounding hills are scorched and brown. This splendid provision in the arrangements of nature is being taken advantage of extensively by the cattle and sheep owners of Illinois [River], Williams Creek and Applegate valleys, who find here a land that "flows with milk and honey," that greets them with all the freshness and joyousness of spring at a time when the unfortunate human bipeds of the valleys are sweltering with summer heat. Poor bipeds! how I pity them!
"Ours the wild life in tumult still to range
From toil to rest, and joy in every change."
Such, I think, was the general feeling of the cave hunters the night we lit our camp fire so near the stars and heavens. Speaking of the camp fire reminds me that there was yet a practical, or earthly, side to our existence. Despite a sense of our lofty eminence, we were hungry, and supper seemed a factor in the general makeup of human happiness not to be treated with absolute indifference. The splendid exercise, necessarily coupled with the life we were leading, vastly increased our capacity for epicurean enjoyment. We were so infected with a desire for luxuries that we tried to steal some milk from the cows that were feeding on the luxuriant garlic, or wild onions, near camp. The calves up here, however, as we soon learned, are very punctual in the performance of duties of a lacteal nature, and it was only by tying up one of these self-acting--if not patented--milkers, that we could hope for success. This operation was gone through with--we waited patiently till morning for the lacteal fluid to accumulate, and had our labor for our pains. The mother bovine kicked the bucket, nearly full of milk, ruthlessly to the ground, as if to emphasize the commandment, "thou shalt not steal!" Anyhow, we had garlic for supper, and venison--oh what venison--besides the edibles brought with us. Everything, or nearly everything, tastes good when you are hungry, and we were hungry so often that our supplies threatened to fail us long before we were satisfied with sauntering. Our appetite for food being both gratified and satisfied for the evening, left us free to feed other kinds of appetites that are apt to evince an existence when the demon of hunger is not too predominant. Some of our members were fond of singing; some, or perhaps all, had a keen relish for jokes, while a few--not so very few either--had an appetite for--for--well, after all, I guess it's best not to be too specific. But, anyhow, and notwithstanding:
"He who hath loved not, here would learn that love."
    For, to borrow from the same great bard:
"It is the hour when from the boughs
    The nightingale's high note is heard;
It is the hour when lovers' vows
    Seem sweet in every whispered word."
And if one or two, or perhaps a still greater proportion of our number, were ready to say:
"Yes, love indeed is light from Heaven;
    A spark of that immortal fire
With angels shared, by Allah given,
    To lift from earth our low desire."
I don't see how anyone who hasn't "been there" can successfully contradict the proposition: those who've been there, won't try it.
    Amusements around the camp fire were kept up until late in the night. Tommy excited himself to his fullest capacity; Prof. H., though footsore and disabled for walking by the unusual exercise he was indulging in, was the same unruffled embodiment of good nature--the same imperturbable monument of patience and acquiescence--he had been from the start. "Pap" did some things that caused all to "laugh consumedly." His main effort, however, was a melancholy and signal failure. Mounting a log for the sake of being conspicuous, he essayed the rendering of a very plaintive ditty that had reference to the cold and cruel-heartedness of a young damsel whose name was Polly. He was evidently so absorbed in the sentiment that he lost run of the words, and broke down on the chorus. After frequent repetitions of the word Polly, Polly at last got stuck in the mournful singer's throat, and he then seemed more anxious to get under than he had previously been eager to get on top, the log.
"Oh the performance on the whole it may be said
    'Twas musical, but sadly sweet."
    After a brief sojourn in the land of Nod, we commenced early preparations for the succeeding day's adventures--the hunters to hunt, and the sightseers to see a section of mountain scenery perhaps unexcelled anywhere else on the globe. On our way up to the summit of the mountain we pass by the lakes; but they are too small to claim much attention. They help out the general appearance of the landscapes; otherwise they are a useless appendage. Once on the summit we have a view of a considerable portion of two states--our point of observation being nearly or quite on the state line. Mt. Shasta seems like a near-door neighbor. The peaks of the Cascade Range are many of them in sight. A splendid bird's-eye view of the intervening mountains and valleys is also had. We can almost see the ocean. Mr. Briggs, who is herding sheep almost on the summit, says that he can see the ocean on a fine day. But the finest sight of all is a view of the congregation of peaks seen in a southwesterly direction. They are very numerous, and nearly of the same height, being partly covered with snow. The intermediate places must be filled in by the imagination of the reader. The only further assistance I feel able to render is this: after having seen much of the grand and rugged mountain scenery of the state, I think the view had from here eclipses any similar sight I ever had, not even excepting a view from the summit of Mt. Pitt.
    But it is fit that these idle jottings should find a terminal point somewhere, even right here, without tiring anyone with further details; only adding we returned in safety.
Ashland Tidings, August 9, 1878, page 1

    TO EXPLORE JOSEPHINE COUNTY CAVES.--Mr. W. G. Steel, who has imbibed a love for exploration, and whetted his zeal by a journey to Crater Lake last summer, proposes to explore the caves of Josephine County as soon as the weather will permit. He will go with a party of four or five, and will do his best to reach the "headwaters." These caves are situate about thirty-two or thirty-three miles southwest of Grants Pass, and thus far have been ineffectively explored. Prof. Thomas Condon, of the University of Oregon, visited them, but for lack of time penetrated only about 600 feet. He states that so far as he went there were very few points where a man could stand upright. A Southern Oregon man, who did some exploring last summer, said he found a room fully sixty feet high. When Mr. Steel goes, it will be with the intention of staying long enough to find the innermost recesses of the cavern.--Oregonian.
Roseburg Review,
May 13, 1887, page 4

W. G. Steel and Others Explore the Josephine County Caves.

    Under date of Grants Pass, August 28, Mr. W. G. Steel writes as follows:
    Our party consisting of H. D. Harkness, M. M. Harkness and Marion Harkness of Grants Pass, S. S. Nicolini of Portland, E. Dewert and your humble servant also of Portland, returned from the Josephine County caves late this evening. We were in the caves twelve hours wandering through the numerous passageways and chambers. We feel that our visit was a genuine success throughout. Early tomorrow morning we leave for Crater Lake. We have been on the go from 4 a.m. to midnight for four days, and it is now nearly midnight again, so you can understand why we are "all broke up." While in the caves we secured some fine specimens of stalactites.
Morning Daily Herald, Albany, Oregon, September 1, 1888, page 3

A Party of Portlanders Explore These Famous Underground Palaces.
Marvels of Nature Hidden from the Eyes of Man--
Photographs Taken by Means of a Flash Light.

    On Friday evening, August 24, S. S. Nicolini of Ragusa, Austria, E. D. Dewert of Portland and myself boarded the southbound train for Grants Pass, intent on a few days' outing. This town of Grants Pass was so named for a pass in the mountains several miles south, where, in early days, the silent hero camped for the night. [The pass was named in honor of U. S. Grant, but he never set foot in Southern Oregon.]
    Early Saturday morning my head was banged up against one end of our sleeping car, an instant after hearing the shrill whistle sounding "down brakes." As soon as possible I got on the outside and found the engines standing within a few feet of a yawning chasm, where a bridge had been. Now, however, several bents had been burned away and a terrible railroad accident was averted by the quick eye of engineer Elliott, who saw the fire as we turned the curve and stopped the train almost instantly.
    At Grants Pass, H. D., M. M. and F. M. Harkness joined us, and we started for the Josephine County caves, about thirty miles due south in the Siskiyou Mountains. For twenty miles the trip was made over a very good road by wagon. At that point it became necessary to pack our things on two horses and walk over a trail into the mountains. On a hot day this portion of the trip is very laborious, owing to the fact that it is up the steep mountainside about two-thirds of the way, and down an equally steep incline the remainder. We arrived at our destination a little before noon the 27th, and found two openings, one above the other, and about one hundred yards apart on the south side of a deep canyon. When out hunting a few years since, Elijah Davidson found a bear and chased it into the lower entrance, thus discovering the caves.
    Each entrance is high enough to admit a person without stooping, and is probably eight feet wide. At noon we entered the upper cave. For a few feet the floor inclined inward; we then descended a ladder for about six feet, and found ourselves in a passageway eight feet wide by an equal height, which changed, however, at every step. Now it would be wider, and now narrower; now higher, and now lower. Walls, ceiling and floor were composed of solid rock. To describe them appropriately would simply be to use a gift made divine by inspiration. No man can behold them, then impart to others an accurate idea of their appearance. Soon after entering we were compelled to progress on hands and knees, then stood upright in chambers ten feet high, the walls of which were white. Stalactites were first seen here, and and involuntarily we cast shy glances around to discover the bodies of kings preserved beneath such droppings in "King Solomon's Mines." We wandered from place to place, from chamber to chamber, dragging ourselves through passageways briefly large enough to admit a human body, while with toes and fingers we worked along, or stood in the midst of rooms that reached far above us. Now we see a beautiful pool of the clearest water, surrounded by a delicate crystal formation in the shape of a bowl. In color it is as white as the driven snow, while each crystal is oblong, projecting at right angles with the main portion for about an eighth of an inch. One peculiarity of these crystals that disappointed us was the fact that they change from white to a dull, yellowish color immediately after being removed from the caves.
    We were extremely anxious to try a new process for taking photographs in the dark, do Dewert took his camera and acted as photographer for the party. Owing to the limited space at times and cramped manner of locomotion, it requires the services of four men to carry the camera and accompanying necessities. Having reached a suitable place for a picture, the camera was first put in position, a board was laid on the top of it in which a tin reflector was placed, and a little powder called the lightning flash was then poured on the board in front of the reflector. At this point the order was given, "Douse the glim," and all lights were extinguished. The plate was exposed in perfect darkness, the powder was ignited, and instantly there was a flash of the most intense light. This light was so brilliant that for several minutes afterward it caused in the eyes a lingering sensation of light. Several photographs were taken in this way, which will doubtless prove excellent examples of what ingenuity can do in the dark.
    It would require days of constant work to explore all the passage we found, whereas our time was limited to that portion of one day after 12 o'clock noon. For this reason we remained in the caves from noon to midnight, first examining the upper, then the lower one. This difference exists between them: The one above is possessed of fine stalactite formations, while below none appear. Instead, however, immense rocks are piled indiscriminately one upon the other, with great cracks between. Long ladders were used to climb to the tops of rocks, over the sides of which yawning pits could be seen that seemed to possess no bottom. Lack of time alone prevented our making a thorough investigation, but I could not resist the temptation to climb over the side of one friendly rock for a few feet to see what it looked like. Down to twenty feet the space remained unchanged so that I could easily reach from rock to rock. It then widened out and I could proceed no further without ropes, so I returned to the party. A fine stream of clear, cold water flows from this cave, and a strong breeze of cool air rushes forth also. At times in both upper and lower cave the wind blew toward the entrance so strong it was impossible to keep the lights burning. No traces of foul air have been found in either cave.
    Before our visit visions of square chambers filled my mind only to be dusted aside when real ones presented themselves, the irregular shape of which could not well be surpassed. There are no parallel walls, few straight ones, but corners everywhere. The floor will pitch in all directions, likewise ceiling and walls. Beautiful views of stalactites and stalagmites stand out in bold relief against snow-white walls. At the farthest extremity of the upper cave in one direction an immense chamber presents itself, and should be known as the devil's banquet hall. It is probably 75x150 feet and sixty feet in height. Great blocks of rock hang as by a thread from the ceiling, while on every side rocks of equal size lie in all conceivable shapes except in order. Standing at the point of entry one looks at the opposite side and sees great cracks; yawning cavities with open mouths of blackness, dismal shadows to flickering lights give a ghoulish, dance-like appearance. Yes, the devil seems to be holding high carnival, while his imps would dance the night away. They bob up and down and swing their arms in fiendish glee, while the dance goes on forever. None can look therein without seeing these imps and their antics. The floor recedes rapidly from the entrance, and is composed of great rocks scattered in confusion. We placed a number of lighted candles in different places, then climbed to the opposite side to view them. The shadows had partially disappeared; crevices and holes in the walls not before seen became suddenly black and excited our curiosity, so we climbed over high rocks into unknown passages. In a small chamber on one side we found a beautiful stream of water, falling several feet into a crystal basin. The walls of the chamber are white, and the effect by candlelight is very fine indeed.
    Midnight found us still employed, but we reluctantly ceased our labors and withdrew. Without unnecessary ceremony we wrapped our blankets about us, laid down beneath the stars, and slept the sleep of the just until 3 o'clock, when the dulcet notes of a coyote called us to the business of the day. Preparations were quickly made for the journey, and at daylight we were on our way to Grants Pass, where we arrived at 9 o'clock p.m.
Morning Oregonian, Portland, September 10, 1888, page 8

    Elijah Davidson, the discoverer of the caves, was present on the outing as the special guest of the Mazama organization, and around the camp fires he retold the story of the giving of the curiosity to civilization. In 1875 Davidson tracked a wounded bear along Grayback till it found refuge in the lower cave entrance. He followed it in for a distance, but being without adequate light he waited till the next day when he returned with Ira Sparlin, John Kincaid and David John, all present and guiding for the Mazamas Saturday, and explored the find for some distance, and incidentally found the carcass which he had shot the day before.
"Mazamas at the Caves," Rogue River Courier, Grants Pass, June 6, 1913, page 8

Last revised March 21, 2024