Wind Cave was discovered in 1881 by one Bingham, who, while hunting horses, was attracted by the noise of the out-rushing air and upon investigating, discovered the first small opening in the hillside. Some curiosity seekers enlarged this opening enough during the next two years to enable a person to crawl in a few feet.
Then J.D. McDonald, as agent for one Moss, with his two sons, Elmer and Alvah, arrived at the cave and located in the old blacksmith shop with a view of prospecting for gold. A small log house was erected over the opening and some little work done toward an entrance. No minerals were found. The McDonalds had to furnish their own supplies; Mr. Moss finally discharging J.D. McDonald as his agent.
J.D. McDonald then changed the entrance a little, built a larger log house over the new opening, and settled on the land as a “squatter.” Work was going steadily forward in opening up the cave. New rooms were discovered and opened up by blasting through the intervening rock walls, etc.
Much exploring was done from the old blacksmith shop. Elmer and Alvah McDonald (at that time aged 20 and 18) would take balls of twine and start off on a side opening and go as far as they could, or as far as the twine lasted, then turn back, marking the route. There are many rooms off the main routes which have never been opened (for lack of time, in our case).
In 1892, the land surrounding the cave was surveyed by the government and opened up for homesteads. J.D. McDonald and Elmer McDonald (then 21) filed on homesteads covering the cave. Quite a few tourists were visiting the cave at this time.
J.D. McDonald, upon the anxious solicitations of John Stabler, the proprietor of the Parrot Hotel in Hot Springs, sold to said John Stabler for a few hundred dollars (mostly in trade – Irene’s organ is one item), one-third interest in the income that would accrue from fees paid by the visitors, for guides, candles, use of overalls and caps, etc. Said John Stabler and his two sons, George and Charlie Stabler, to put in their time at the cave, as guides and to help with the work of further exploring of opening up the cave, or chambers in this case. He also gave the Stablers the privilege of running a hotel at the cave; they to furnish everything and receive he profit from said hotel.
The smooth tongue of John Stabler also induced J.D. McDonald to turn over all the books and collections to George Stabler. Between them, they did most of the business, incidentally transferring mot of the coins to their own pockets, besides carrying out enormous quantities of specimens which they sold or traded with as they chose. J.D. was owner and manager only. John Stabler was soliciting agent (met tourists at Hot Springs).
In 1892, a U.S. Post Office was established at Wind Cave. It was discontinued later.
August 1, 1893, Elmer McDonald was married. Later J.D. McDonald and Alvah McDonald went to the Worlds Fair in Chicago. Alvah returned from there unwell, and died about a month later on December 15, 1893 of typhoid fever, aged 20 years and 8 months.
Mrs. Susanna D. McDonald, mother of J.D. McDonald took up a homestead at the cave, the same year, on which she proved up on in due time.
In the summer of 1894, J.D. McDonald married one Maggie Drinkholm, said Maggie first having filed on a homestead about one-half mile from the cave.
Meanwhile the Stablers bought ranches and stock while the McDonalds had to charge their groceries during the winter months.
John Stabler’s oily tongue and cheery smile still had J.D. McDonald hoodooed. He could not and would not see home things went. He thought the Stablers were infallible, but he had overlooked his Dutch wife, Maggie. She saw and she knew and after a time, things began to happen.
In the spring of 1896, J.D. McDonald made Stablers show the office books and finding (in their own accounts) that they had overdrawn their allowance enormously, he kept the books and put Elmer McDonald in charge of them, and the office, giving the Stablers the chance to pay back (what they showed that they had overdrawn) in small payments. They were angry and quit work.
J.D. McDonald, who had proved up on his homestead in the fall of 1895, was then living with his wife on her homestead in order for her to prove up also. Elmer McDonald and family were living on their homestead continuously.
Moss, mentioned before, and as J.D. McDonald’s one time employer, was a mine speculator from New York, but at one time, living in Custer. While there, he employed a number of men, among them, one Peter Folsom of Custer. Moss left for the East, owing Folsom, in order to recuperate himself (so he thought) went around doing assessment work on various claims (mineral claims so-called), at one time owned by Moss. To this man, went the Stablers and together with him and McAdams (a bunch of cut throats living near the cave and one ranger (their tool) of Hot Springs). They broke into J.D. McDonald’s house, covering the entrance to the cave, and when J.D. McDonald and his son Elmer tried to go into the house, they met then at the door with guns – saying they had minerals in the cave and they were there to protect their property, and no Mr. McDonald could enter. This was in the winter of 1896-97, more than a year after Mr. McDonald had proved up and got the receiver’s receipt for his land.
To Tell all that followed would make a large volume. No justice prevailed. J.D. McDonald resorted to law, but the Stablers had the cave, the money, the lying tongues and the cut throats, and they were everywhere. They held it thus for three years, taking visitors through, and carrying out specimens and selling them and storing them.
Finally, Chauncey Wood, lawyer for the McDonalds, carried the case to the U.S. Land Office. The Government sent agents and mineral experts to investigate and who testified, that there are no minerals in the cave. The case was decided in favor of J.D. McDonald in the U.S. Land Office in Rapid City and the general land office in Washington D.C. But when it reached the Secretary of the Interior, he held it for a natural curiosity with the recommendation for it to be turned into a national park, which has since been done. (Secretary of the Interior’s name was Herman).
When Elmer McDonald attempted to prove up on his homestead, the Stablers-McAdams contingency contested him. The Garden of Eden and other parts of the cave, being under his land that was also set aside by the government.
Incidentally, the Stablers proved up on their homesteads later, without any interference whatever from the McDonalds.
J.D. McDonald, after many hardships, left for Montana. Elmer McDonald, after working two years as a guide for the government and after 12 years of residence at the cave, left with his family for Hot Springs. Neither has received one penny in recompense for all the time, labor, and expense contributed by then in exploring and developing Wind Cave.