Milestones of Missouri's Hidden Hollows

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

safe havens for outlaws.

By the 1880s, a new era had arrived. Mark Twain popularized Missouri caves in the fictional adventures of Tom Sawyer. People came from all over the world to see the cave Mark Twain wrote about, and public demand for other caves to visit brought about the opening of Missouri's first real show caves. Another new industry sprang up in Missouri--underground tourism.

Until well into the middle of the 20th century, most people generally thought of caves as little more than landscape curiosities without significant value, unless they could be used commercially. Landowners often considered caves a nuisance and a liability. Until the late 1950s, there was no scientific imperative or widely held conservation ethic to protect caves and their contents. But the caves did interest scientists.

The first report on Missouri caves published by a Missouri geologist appeared in 1868 and was written by Garland C. Broadhead. In the 1880s, Ruth Hoppin, an amateur biologist, captivated American zoologists with her discovery of blind albino fish and crayfish in caves around Sarcoxie. During the same time period, Missouri's pioneer female geologist, Luella Agnes Owen, dared the conventions of her gender and time by exploring the caves of the Ozarks to determine their geologic origin. Her book,

Cave Regions of the Ozarks and Black Hills of South Dakota, published in 1898, became a classic.

As the 19th century turned, archaeology got a toehold in Missouri caves through the work of Gerard Fowke. Prominent in his day but somewhat eccentric, Fowke carried out the first large-scale excavations of central Missouri caves in search of Indian burials and artifacts. Toward the middle of the 20th century, Dr. Carl Chapman, founder of the Missouri Archaeological Society, introduced the concept of the prehistoric utilization of Missouri caves.

Hundreds of Missouri caves were used by prehistoric Native American cultures for shelter, burial and ceremonies and as a source for water, clay, flint and minerals. Human burials, artifacts and rock art still bear silent witness to the way the Indians used Missouri caves over a period of some 10,000 years.

The last century brought change, plus two notable events in the 1930s. William Morris Davis, a geologist, published a major paper on the origin of limestone caverns. J Harlen Bretz, a distinguished geologist at the University of Chicago, tested the Davis hypothesis by doing fieldwork in the caves of the Ozark Uplift of southern Missouri. His research, supported by Missouri State

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