NPS Photo Archive
I, Catherine Rose, was asked by the Superintendent of Wind Cave, S.D. to write my experiences while there as lady guide and explorer from 1891 through 1902 and the season of 1913 (cook and guide).
I became interested in Geology from a small square of striped sandstone my father, John Stabler, picked up at Chatanuga (Chattanooga), Tenn. in 1864. He had carried it through the end of the Civil War and gave it to me when I was quite young.
My father, John Stabler, one of five children, was born of George and (sic) Margret Stabler in a part log house (still there) near a mill pond near Mifflin, Junita Co., (sic) Penna. in 1847. His father owned a blacksmith shop. He died when Papa (John Stabler), the youngest of five, was quite young. His mother married Jake Meintzer and moved near Broadhead, Wisc. When Papa was 16 he ran away from home and joined the 7th Wisc. Cavalry. He was wounded at Chattanooga, Tenn. and discharged at end of Civil War.
He met my mother Lydia Raymer, daughter of a very religious family, of Rock City, Il. (1867-1866). They were married and had six children, all deceased except myself, three brothers older and 2 sisters younger.
In 1871, with their three sons, they went out west in a covered wagon where Papa acquired a grant of land from the government at MiddleCreek, Nebr. Near Melford where 2 of Papa’s sisters lived on farms and also Mother’s brother lived in Melford. The youngest son, only a baby, tumbled out of the back of the wagon while enroute. It was several miles later that they missed him. They retraced their tracks and found that someone had rescued him and were waiting for them. Papa was building a house and had not completed the kitchen. It still had it’s dirt floor. Mother needed some soap and as she was about to step onto this dirt floor, she remembered she had some. Father saw a white flash, (it was night) and went over and killed a large rattlesnake. Then on morning, (while the kitchen was still being built) as she was starting breakfast on the outdoor fireplace, she reached for the frying pan and there curled up was a rattlesnake. Those were the dry years and grasshoppers came in clouds, they would settle on a piece of grain and eat it to the roots, lay their eggs in the ground and rise up in a cloud and fly to a fresh field. They left bare cornstalks and dry pits on peach trees. We lived on barley coffee which Mother roasted, game Papa shot and a very few groceries. Our folks back east sent us barrels of clothes, bedding, nuts and necessities. Papa was a carpenter walking five miles each way for $1 per day. Mother was a tailoress and made clothes for people. She also pieced a quilt of calico, some material from the Civil War days. This quilt is being handed down to my great-grand daughter. One morning while Mother was getting breakfast, she saw a prairie chicken on the fence and called Papa who grabbed his gun and shot it. She skinned it and had it cooking before it’s muscles stopped twitching.
The youngest son, Raymer, died the summer of 1873 and I was born October 29, 1872. The town of Middle Creek burned and all records were lost. I never got a birth certificate. When rebuilt it was named Pleasant Dale.
In 1874 we moved to Hastings, Nebr. where Papa and a Mr. Deisher went into the implement business. Country was new and crops good, lots of machinery was needed, so they made good. My two sisters were born here. While living here, I remember being sent to town on an errand. In the park, I witnessed and had to pass a man being hung.
They sold out in the fall of 1879 and moved to Lincoln, Nebr. where Papa started to make machinery in the prison with convict help. I remember attending the circus and riding on Jumbo’s back. Also Jumbo being killed by a train and saving her baby elephant by throwing her over her back. It was at this fair that Papa had an exhibit of his machinery and had built a spiral stair case. The first of its kind and a great curiosity which drew large crowds. The Indian performances were next to his exhibit and they made me an Indian Queen. Also my cousin Harry Raymer age 3 months and weighing 33 lbs. was the prize winning largest baby. I took care of him one afternoon while mother and my aunt were shopping. He cried all the time they were gone and I had to walk the floor with him. I was sure tuckered.
Papa’s (sic) buisness here was not a success as the convict help was not satisfactory and also the bank where Papa had his money went broke. (The bank president absconded with the money).
We bought a home in East Lincoln and Papa went on the road selling machinery. He made good, but wanted a (sic) buisness of his own. While here I remember the blizzard of 1888. We went to school a mile from home and it had started to snow after lunch. By 2:30, traffic was stopped. Our teachers had all children living in one direction take hold of hands and walk in middle of road. Schools in country, teachers, and children stayed in school, breaking up furniture to burn. Others started out with the children and not reaching home, some died, others climbed into haystacks to keep warm.
The next fall after the blizzard of '88, we moved to Chamberlain, S.D. and ran a hotel, The Brule. The Sioux Indian track of land was being opened for homesteads by the government. Before the rush for these government claims our house was full all of the time. The winter of 1890 and ‘91, the last Indian war, the Battle of Wounded Knee, every woman and child who could afford to go, left until the battle was over. I remember one Saturday night twelve Indian chiefs stayed in our house until Monday morning as no trains left on Sunday and Chamberlain was the end of the line. We had a small room across the hall from the office where they smoked pipes and pow-wowed. They were great eaters. We left them in the dining room after all other guests were gone and then put everything we had cooked on the tables and they ate and ate. They got up and shook themselves and sat down and ate again. They were on their way to Washington to see the White Father and negotiate peace.
One morning word came that Sitting Bull was on the boat that just came in so everybody rushed down to see him. He was smart, shut himself in his cabin and charged people 50¢ to see him.
Not far from Chamberlain was Mitchell, S.D. where I remember visiting the Corn Palace, the only one in the world. Also took boat trips up the Missouri to the Crow Indian reservation and went to the Indian’s church. Most of them sat outside and hunted lice on their children’s heads and cracked them between their teeth. Visited the beef issue across the Missouri and saw the cattle slaughtered and divided among the Brule Indians. The Indian children would run around sucking the entrails. After the crowds had filed on their homesteads, (sic) buisness dropped off so Papa sent Charles, my younger brother, with a party to Hot Springs, S.D. to look up a location. He found the Hotel Parrot on the right side of the court house almost finished and rented it. Papa packed our furniture in two freight cars and shipped them to Hot Springs. Then he bought a covered wagon, team of horses and equipment, found another family, the Vet Schofields, to share the trip, and we started on a very interesting trip. Our party consisted of Father, Mother with four children and son’s wife, The Schofields and their three children. Later their baby was the first child to go in Wind Cave. Mrs. Schofield is living now in Hot Springs as Mrs. Gregory. We crossed the Missouri on a ferry, then over the Wounded Knee battle grounds which had been fought three months before. We found a few Indian war relics and ran into several war parties with their war paint on. The drinking water was a problem. We would fill our barrels only to find it bitter and would have to dump it. The bad lands were just Indian trails and gumbo (mud). When it would rain it clung to the wagon wheels until they were a foot or more wide and would have to scrape it off. Luckily there was a store in the heart of the badlands as we used up all our food in just one week. We thought we had brought enough for the two weeks it would take us to get through these badlands. Brother George shot some game which was scarce. To me the bad lands looked like a large winding dry river that dropped 20 to 40 feet with a wall on each side gulches which made going through two states forming a ring around it with only a few passes to enter. It was a geologist paradise with (sic) petrfied snakes, fish, toads, birds, (sic) lizzards, etc., beautiful crystals of all colors, and shapes. Rustlers used to drive stock there, keep the breeders and rebrand them as there was good grazing in parts and very hard to find the stock. There was Lame Johnny Creek which was named after a rustler who was caught and was hung there. Mother caught poison ivy which covered her body, and she nearly died before we could get to a doctor. Before we got to Buffalo Gap we were pounded twice within an hour by hail stones. The stones piled up to the horses knees, broke some the wagon staves and made black bruises on our hands where I had tried to up hold up the canvas.
Next day we arrived in Hot Springs and drove to the Hotel Parrot, found our furniture stored in the basement so we moved in there while we cleaned and furnished the rooms. Then we opened to the public, we had all we could take care of.
Just six weeks after the hailstorms of our trips, we were struck again. We hurried to get sick people and guests out as it broke all windows on the North side and blew down the chimney. It had battered the headboards which stood across the rooms. This storm flooded the Fall River which runs through Hot Springs which is warm water and Cold Brook which is cold and met just above the plunge bath. My brother, his wife and my sisters and many of our guests were in this plunge bath when the storm struck. It washed out bridges, broke the glass roof over the plunge bath and the tower. They scurried to shelter and had a rough time finding their clothes as lights had gone out. The B. & M. Railroad came in the west end of town and the Northwestern came up from Buffalo Gap and very often, each year they would be washed out and then repaired at a great expense.
Some time that first summer of 1891 Papa went out to Wind Cave. There were no stairs and they went down a rope and did a lot of climbing and crawling. He was very much interested in it and saw great possibilities for development. It was occupied by a Mr. McDonald (a squatter), who had been sent by Mr. Folsom, head of a mining company, to do the assessment work. He jumped the claim and took it as a homestead. This was unknown to my father at this time or he would not have bought into the cave. McDonald’s family were starving, very hardup, and was very anxious for someone to invest money in the developing of the cave. He sold Papa one-half (sic) intrest and we sent out wagon loads of food several times.
The entrance to the cave was in a deep gulch. The original opening was a small oval hole about 8"x12" worn smooth by water spouting out a geyser, (9) a geyser 12 mi. south of H.S. (at Cascade live) There are others south of Hot Springs and geologists who came from all over the world said there were so many signs of it’s being an extinct geyser. The story went that two Bingham brothers hunting rabbits camped for the night on top of the gulch and while one brother made camp and got supper, his brother went down into the gulch hunting and heard this wind coming out of a hole but covered with brush and debris washed there by floods. So he scraped away the brush and as he looked into the hole, the wind took his hat up into the air. He ran back to camp and told his brother that all hell had broken loose down in the gulch. In the morning they decided to take another look at this hole, and as they neared the spot, the first man threw his hat toward the hole and said “Watch it go up!” but the wind had changed and took the hat in. They never saw the hat again. We found out later that this wind was governed by atmospheric pressure and turned out to be a true (sic) arometer. Clear days it blew out and the longer it was going to be clear, the stronger the wind. As a storm approached, the wind blew in and the closer the storm got the stronger the wind.
Later a log house was built over the hole which had been blasted near the original discovery. The front room being directly over it and near the trap door made in the floor and steps built down 155 feet to the first passage of cave. The wind blew so strong at times it took two of us to raise or lower this door according which way the wind blew and after it got to the first level, there was no strong wind but a regular system of circulation. Some routes of wind going in and some coming out. In fact, we used this draft to aid us in exploring. All of the rooms had two to a dozen openings and we could take our candle and put it in each opening and the one with the strongest draft indicated the largest country ahead. We carried a ball of twine which one end we tied to a rock as it was so easy to get lost.
The cave as we knew it was a number of crevices where we found the large rooms (running N.W. to S.E. - 50 to 150 ft. apart) connected by ovens, as we called them, crawling on our knees and sometimes pulling ourselves through on our (sic) stomachs. Many times we would have to make a bridge of our bodies for the others to cross on. We kept ourselves well padded, where needed. Papa made a code signaling by tapping rocks. One tap – two taps – three taps and then two and a one tap – all meaning something like Come, I’ve found a new room; I am lost; Am in the dark, etc. I still have this code that Papa made me.
I loved to explore and seldom missed a trip. It was a great thrill to go into a room anywhere from 12' x 12' to 3 acres of floor surface that no one had ever set eyes on before. The ceiling and sided festooned with beautiful formations, sparkled like diamonds, large rocks strewn everyplace and fun to make out images of faces, animals, etc.. The floors were as clean as the walls and showed no dirty water had flowed through, but all the water had gone up. On one occasion we were in there 18 hours with temperature of about 45 degrees. When we became tired we rested, but we never caught cold. In fact, we had some (sic) asthamatic people stay with us to go down and breath that air.
One experience I remember, Papa and I were exploring and had, it seems, been in the cave about two hours or more. The first part of the trip is pretty hazy to me, but I distinctly remember coming to a small room about 12 feet around shaped like an Indian (sic) teepee, the center having a strong draft. Papa had become tired and laid down to rest. (We often went to sleep when tired in cave and never caught cold) I looked down this hole and seeing some rocks that I thought I could reach with my feet, let myself down, my arms resting on the floor until I got my balance. I sat down and lit some magnesium ribbon which I used in large rooms while guiding. I was greatly thrilled being the first person in a room no one had ever been or seen before. It was truly beautiful. It was a very high room, about 100 feet by 50 feet wide. A portion of the ceiling about 30 feet by 15 feet had fallen just about the middle and in falling cracked open. It had their (sic) irredesent chocolate colored crystals found no other place in the cave. The rest of the room including the floor was covered with what we called Satin Spar which glistened like diamonds. The (sic) pretiest room I ever expect to find this side of heaven. I called Papa and after exploring the room further, we gathered some of the loose pieces of crystals and started our long hard crawl out. As far as I know this room was never named as it was hard to get there and was not shown.
There were three routes opened the first being The Garden of Eden in the winter of 1891 and 92. Many of the rooms were named by the guides and many more were named by the visitors themselves. The Prairie Dog and Mound was named by one of the guides who picked up a large rock which looked like the shape of a prairie dog and placed it on this mound; Snow Ball, many shapes of snowballs; Post Office, little boxes lined walls; M.E. Church, our first stop in guiding to rest and we generally sang a song. Odd Fellow’s Hall, we had to cross a stone which looked like a turtle so this was named Turtle Pass. The Cross Roads, we branched off to the right to go the Garden of Eden. One room had large stones we sat on and called this room Stone Quarries. The G.A.R. Hall was named by a group of G.A.R. members who were guided through as were the Eastern Star, Odd Fellow’s Hall, W.C.T.U. Hall, Union College rooms and many others.
The second route, the Fair Grounds started at the Crossroads. This route was opened in 1892-93 and so named after Papa guided Billie Bryan and (sic) Govenor Lee through the Cave. The following newspaper clipping tells the story.
John Stabler surely captivated Gov. Lee when he visited the cave last summer for besides being appointed as an Omaha exposition commissioner, John has also been named as a delegate to Stock Grower’s Association at Denver on Jan. 25, 26 and 27. (1893) In speaking to Billie Bryan, Papa once said “I wish I might talk like you”. Billie Bryan answered “I wish I might laugh like you”.
Another newspaper clipping reads: A Transmississippi State Commission Governor Lee has appointed a new Omaha exposition commission for this state, as follows: Vice-Pres. A. McKinney, Lead; W.L. Gardner, Rapid City; Harris Franklin, Martin Chapman and Charles Davis, Deadwood; John Stabler, Hot Springs; Hance Murphy, Elk Point; C.A. Jewitt, Sioux Falls; O.H. Mann, Okobojo; Hugh Smith, Howard. The governor says that he will appoint additional members of the board at the earliest opportunity and will call the commission together and devise some means of raising money for making a state exhibit. The governor certainly made no mistake in naming John Stabler, of this place, for he can make an attractive exhibition alone if necessary – with his Wind Cave Specimens – and he no doubt will.
(Sent large collection to the Smithsonian Inst. Wash.) John Stabler did have an exhibition of specimens at the State-Fair and so named the room State Fair Route. Among the Fair Grounds route rooms was the Kimball Music Hall where you could tap the columns and play an octave. Johnstone’s Campground – Where Johnstone, the mind reader, slept on his three day journey through the cave for the pin head. Then we heard of Mr. Johnstone, the mind reader, coming to Hot Springs, driving through the streets blind folded and found a name in a register at a certain hotel. The name belonged to the man whose mind he read. My father met him and asked him if he thought he could find something hidden in the cave. He said ”Yes”. So they made arrangements for the trial. A business man of Hot Springs, Mr. Germond and Alva McDonald, our chief guide, hid the head of a scarf pin in the cave. Meanwhile Mr. Johnstone stayed in his hotel room in Hot Springs and the next morning with his manager Mr. Germond and the Associated Press reporter with Mr. Johnstone blindfolded got in an opened spring wagon. Mr. Johnstone drove the 12 miles of very bad roads in 45 minutes. This drive usually took us 1½ to 2 hours to drive. One of the horses dropped dead, the other one was never any good afterwards.
Brother Charle’s wife and I saw the horse drop. As he entered the hotel he took a razor from my brother’s hand (my brother was shaving my father) and shaved a few stokes. We all looked scared to death. At the table he wanted anything he would name it and touch the man next to him and reach for it before anyone else could.
When he went down to the cave entrance, he sat on the step leading down in the cave and cried “I’ve lost my power” repeating it several times. Finally, still blindfolded, he jumped up and said “Come, I see the way”. He flew down the stairs dragging the man who had the other end of string tied to his wrist. We knew where they were all of the time as we sent a guide a distance behind them in case they should get lost. This guide carried blankets to sleep on and food to places he knew they would pass. They were three days and nights and were getting exhausted, so Alva took them to the place where the pinhead was hidden. Mr. Johnstone, still blindfolded, took the pinhead up on the end of his knife blade and put it in Mr. Germond’s hand. Our boys took a stretcher in, but when they got to the Post Office, they heard them coming so they stepped beside the wall and when Johnstone still in the lead, passed he didn’t see them but Gerome did. Johnstone immediately said “I don’t need that stretcher, watch the path”.
Later when Papa got very sick, we sent for Mr. Johnstone and he hypnotized him with the thought that his pain was all gone. That really helped him more than doctors and medicine.
Another room was Alpine Pass was so winding sometimes called the Merry-go-Round.
The third route, the Pearly Gates, was opened in 1892 and was so named by my brother-in-law (Mamie’s husband) Oscar Merwin. He said it reminded him of what the Pearly Gates would look like. The Blue Grotto of the Pearly Gates route had a 500 foot level, the lowest we had ever been. The Raymer room named by my Grandfather Raymer when he went through the cave at the age of 81. He died at age 89.
The Wind Cave Hotel, as it was called, my father first built on a hill. It was a two story house and after moving it down off the hill Papa added two wings. One for an office and one for kitchen and two bedrooms. The lower part of the original building we used as a dining room and we served dinner to all who wanted. My brother, George, ran this hotel for the first year until papa could sell out in Hot Springs. Besides buying the half-(sic) intrest in the claim, my two brothers, brother- in-law, and myself took up homesteads to cover the surface of the cave. Also McDonald’s son took up a homestead claim, McDonald having the claim which covered the entrance. George had the next claim closest to the hotel. Each claim was 320 acres consisting of 160 timber and stone, 160 tillable.
I started exploring in 1891 and also guiding a few people in the cave that first season, 1892. We explored winters and my family spent 11 winters blasting and opening routes and making them possible for women to go through without overalls. My father, mother, brother Charles and family and myself lived on my homestead. I had the deed to the only spring of water a mile away and when the stage coaches would come to water horses, they would pick me up to guide the party. Papa visited all the hotels in Hot Springs, getting people to come and tour the cave. I continued to guide steady for 11 years until 1902. Have guided many groups of students from School of Mines at (I believe) Sturgis. Also, geologists from all over the world studying the different formations, where located, etc. we would take three parties a day. At one o’clock, 5 o’clock and 12 P.M. We couldn’t get the Indians to go through except one party of 10 or 12 who were in missionary work. They chanted their Indian songs all the time they were in the cave. Grandma Rose’s newspaper clippings.
WHERE THE WINDS PLAY
On reaching Hot Springs, truly the “Carlsbad of America,” the party was escorted to the Evans Hotel, the leading hotel of the place. Hot Springs is 3500 feet above sea level, and nestles in a most charming valley in the Black Hills. The scenery surrounding the city is grand and inspiring. Back of the town a short distance stands what is named “Battle Mountain”, named for a terrible fight which (sic) (sic) occured years ago between the Sioux and the Cheyenne Indians for the possession of the hot springs. The city has about 3,000 inhabitants, a social, energetic and thrifty people. The buildings are modern and will compare favorably with any city in the world for beauty of architecture and convenience. The Evans Hotel, the palace resort hotel of the West, is built of pink sandstone and will accommodate 300 guests. It is equipped with all modern conveniences and is just such a home as the person seeking health, repose and comfort desires. In Hot Springs are many hotels and several fine business blocks, two newspapers, the South Dakota Soldiers’ home, and many residence mansions. The great plunge bath, the wonder of the west is 275 x 150 feet. This is unquestionably the finest plunge bath in the U.S. The water temperature as it bulges from the earth is (torn) and the most glorious was torn in by man.
The after (torn) day there was devoted to a drive over the city. To our friend, Capt. A. B. Connor we are greatly indebted for this pleasure. Our better-half and daughter were the guests in a like pleasure of Col. Fred T. Evans., Capt. Connor was stationed at Fort Wyman in this city and was instrumental in the construction of the same, and also Ft. Ditty near the School of Mines. He was, after that and for many years, with Gen. Crooke and Gen. Custer. He retired from the service, but a few weeks before Gen. Custer met his death at the hands of the Savages at Big Horn. He and Col. Evans are possessors of large tracts of land adjoining Hot Springs. To Dr. W.E. Adams, Kennett F. Harris, the Stanley Bros., Congressman Lucas and others who names have escaped our memories, we are under obligations for many courtesies.
The evening was devoted to a pretty dancing party given by Col. Evans which was interspersed with music, song and story. As only a few newspapermen ever indulge in tripping the light fantastic the party was not as largely represented as Col. Evans had desired. The Burlington’s travel agent, Col. G. H. Baxter, a most genial gentleman, was on and did much to make all who happened near him enjoy themselves. The next morning after a good night’s rest, in two large tally-ho coaches, a large number of party started for Wind Cave, a distance of twelve miles. The owners of this wonderful handiwork of nature, Messrs. Stabler & McDonald, had us under their wing, and although the air was crisp and bracing, the distance was quickly covered by these gentlemen.
The story of the discovery of Wind Cave, which is ninety-six miles long and the most unique and wonderful cave formation in the known world, was that a hunter in 1881 chased a deer to its opening. So wonderful was the rush of air from the small opening that he returned the next day with his brother to whom he had told the story. An investigation was begun and from an original opening of eight by twelve inches, it has been enlarged to admit three men walking abreast. Twenty-five thousand dollars have been expended on inside improvements making it the finest and easiest traveled underground wonder known. There are twenty-five hundred subterranean chambers, and the contract has been closed to light everyone with electricity. A good hotel adjoins and the meals are excellent.
Our party explored this wonderful cavern to the depth of 350 feet and a distance of three and a half miles. We are utterly unable to give a description of what can be seen here. The formations are different from those found in any other cave in the known world, while their (sic) brillancy and beauty are marvelously grand. This cave has been explored ninety-seven miles, and resembles and eight-story building. All who have visited this wonderful place pronounce it the first of the known wonders of the world.
On our return from Buffalo Gap, a distance of sixty miles. Prairie-dog villages are numerous along the route. After a most refreshing bath, and an excellent dinner, the remainder of the evening was spent with billiards, genuine western hospitality led by Congressman Lucas and a delegation from Edgemont headed by Mr. Russell Thorp, and a (sic) progessive euchre party. At cards the Missourians proved themselves on par with the men in the wild and wooly west who had taken lessons from the heathen Chinese, and won every prize but one – that a “booby”.
The next morning at 8 o’clock. the sad farewell was said and (sic) accompained by a pleasant bevy