Birth of a National Park - Early Explorations
Candles and a String
In 1881, Charlie Crary of Custer squeezed through the small Natural Entrance and became Wind Cave's first known explorer. Using candles for light, and string to mark their route, he and friends scrambled on their hands and knees into the darkness. In their flickering candlelight, they were probably the first people to see a rare cave formation known as boxwork.
Party Loses Cave
Becoming lost in a cave is always a possibility, but in the early days, losing the cave was a reality. In the fall of 1881, a party lead by Frank Herbert searched an entire day trying to find the small opening in the bottom of the gully mentioned by Tom Bingham. After finding it, they squeezed into the cave and followed Crary’s string deep into the depths while viewing several rooms and many cave formations.
NPS Photo Archive
The World's Biggest Basement
The chief obstacle to initial exploration was the small 8 by 10-inch hole comprising the cave's Natural Entrance. With the help of friends, the Binghams created a larger opening adjacent to the original one. They later constructed a small cabin over both openings allowing the cave's cool breeze to serve as an air conditioner for the cabin's residents.