S. Fred Prince

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Outfitted with unlimited curiosity and a sense of adventure, S. Fred Prince left Chicago and came to the Ozarks as a bachelor homesteader in the 1880s. He roamed the wilderness of Missouri's Stone County, climbed bluffs to find ferns, searched the hills for wildflowers and descended into the intricate grandeur of a great cavern.

Like others who came here, he found beauty in this rugged country, with its steep-sided ridges, woodlands, glades, springs and waterfalls. Prince took his interest further. An artist and self-taught naturalist, he began to catalog the wonders he encountered above ground and below, in the area of Marble Cave (later Marvel Cave).

This endeavor lasted throughout his long life, and he eventually completed a remarkable body of unpublished work, including illustrated manuscripts on ferns, violets, wildflowers, insects and the cave.

While Prince lived out his life in Stone County, his works traveled far. A lengthy manuscript on ferns is in the collection of the Garden Library of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. The Oak Spring Garden Library, Upperville, Va., owns several manuscripts, including 207 watercolors of wildflowers Prince found around Marvel Cave in the 1890s.

Prince's botanical work reveals an intensely inquisitive man, talented with words and watercolors. But it is his cave book, owned by his family, that presents glimpses of Fred Prince and the Stone County life he knew.

His first contact with Marvel cave occurred, he wrote, "almost the same day of my arrival in the Hills-in fact, in a few weeks I knew more about the inside of the country than I ever did of its surface, and it absorbed most of my life that first ten years."

In 1893, new cave owner William Lynch asked him to survey Marvel Cave. Prince devised homemade instruments for the job and came to know the caverns and passages in minute detail.

He "learned to read the pages of the wonderful story written in their rocks and the spaces between-the story of the beginnings of a new world," he wrote. In his illustrated manuscript, The Ozarkian Uplift and Marvel Caverns, he described the cave room by room, analyzing its formations.

His survey took about two years. "We put up a tent in the Cathedral Room," he wrote, "and even built a stone fireplace, and lived down there for a week, or even a month at a time! . . . In the deeper and more remote places, I would often, when tired, simply stretch out

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