Caving Narrative 1988 - May 4

Original CCC Cave Entryway Stairs descending into Wind Cave
Civilian Conservation Corp entrance stairway.  Original cave entrance is directly under the stairs in this area.

NPS Photo by Jim Pisarowicz

Jim Nepstad, Jim Pisarowicz, Darren Ressler

Duration of Trip:
1-1/2 hours

New Cave Surveyed:
98 feet

It is misleading to think that all major discoveries at Wind Cave are made far into the cave or involve the discovery of new of different speleothems (cave formations). This survey, though short in terms of time and distance mapped, concerns a major discovery at Wind Cave.

For the past two months, work crews have been involved in a cave restoration project at Wind Cave. Basically this involved removing all the material originally left in the cave during the trail construction in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. In addition to these materials, all the old wiring from previous light systems in the cave were removed and a new set of lighting fixtures is being installed.

During the process of tracing down old wires, a spot was found with a wire hanging out of a hole in the ceiling of one of the cave rooms. Del Hanni climbed up to remove this wire and found that is was coming out of a piece of conduit that he could not quit reach. From the location of the wire, it appeared to be coming out of a bank of loose rubble that was located under the walk-in stairs into the cave.

Climbing into the ceiling of this room revealed that the stairs into the cave were set over a 40 foot pit without the benefit of cement and rebar! After the removal of this fill (and subsequently the construction of a new set of stairs into the cave) we discovered that this pit was directly below the natural entrance from the surface into Wind Cave.

An examination of this pit showed an abundance of scuff marks on the walls. Given this pit's location we have determined that this was the ORIGINAL route taken into Wind Cave.

The first written record of a trip into Wind Cave was by Frank Hebert, a Black Hills pioneer who visited the cave in 1881. He was given the cave's location by Charlie Crary, believed to be the first person to actually descend into the cave. In this early party were Hebert, Jesse Girelle, his wife, the two Cole girls, and Mayme Sprague.

"I was supposed to lead," Hebert said. "We had to jump down a hole that I cold just about squeeze through, six or seven feet. I started down with my lantern. Had to crawl on hands and knees facing a terrible wind for about fifty feet, and then the main hole seemed to be going down at right angles and very steep, but it gave a good foothold.

"I waited for some time and yelled for the others to come, but the only one who answered me was Mayme Sprague. She said she thought they were coming. I found the twine that Crary left and made my way down."

After exploring for a time, Herbert and Sprague began the long climb back toward the entrance:

"We started on back, found the string and followed it. Those on top helped to pull us up. They went down as far as where the main part turned down, but got scared and went back."

With the new staircase into Wind Cave, park visitors can now see where Charlie Crary, Frank Hebert, Mayme Sprague, and other early explorers descended into the cave. This key passage which had been lost for over 50 years has now been rediscovered.

Report by: Jim Pisarowicz

Last updated: December 28, 2017

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