Beginning as early as 1891, there was a question of ownership of the cave and surrounding lands. The South Dakota Mining Company bought the mining rights in 1889 and hired the McDonalds. However, when no minerals were found, they stopped paying them. The McDonalds filed a homesteading claim on the land and began operating as if the cave and surrounding land was theirs. Alvin reports in his diary:
April 20, 1891: About 11:00 o' clock this morning the deputy sheriff for Buffalo Gap came here and showed us a notice notifying us to remove from the claim of J. Scholfield. Of course we laughed at the idea.