Drought opens up areas of Ozark’s historic Smallin Civil War Cave

OZARK, Mo. – With the lack of rain in the Midwest drying out and exposing more natural wonders, explorers are flocking to one of the Ozark area’s most notable sites: the Smallin Civil War Cave. 

Guests at Smallin Civil War Cave are greeted by a dramatic opening measuring 55 feet high and 100 feet wide. Lining the paths of the entrance are natural rimstone dams formed by minerals and hard water, along with a spring-fed stream traveling outward from the cave. The water level receding has opened much more of the cave to be explored. 

According to owner Kevin Bright, the cave got its name from the Smallin family that came to the area from Tennessee in the 1800s. He says the cave served as a laundromat and community center where people gathered after church on Sundays. The limestone walls also bear the names of civil war soldiers. 

Bright says Smallin Civil War Cave has quite the history and was even used by vigilante group the Bald Knobbers on the Ozarks’ wild frontier. 

The main passage to the cave is approximately a mile long, but the entirety of the cave has yet to be explored. When water levels run at their lowest points, spelunkers have traveled to previously unseen areas in the historic cave – but Bright reminds patrons: with more discovery comes extra danger. 

“The biggest danger is going beyond the reach of natural light and any kind of communication,” Bright said. “When you go back in a cave, it’s kind of like a trip to the moon. If something happens back there, then you’re gonna have to navigate that problem and figure out how to get out of it on your own. If you go back in a cave a mile and a half or so, a rescue would take forever. There’s injuries, natural health conditions – if you have a heart attack or seizure, medical help is not there.”

The owner’s favorite thing he has found inside the cave was a Ford Model A wheel from the early 1900s with rubber tires still intact. With a chuckle, Bright said he’s always on the lookout for the rest of the vehicle when it floods. Other items found in the cave include fine china dishes and old mason jars from the early 1900s.

“A sinkhole in the Ozarks has always been a natural catch-all for anything left on the ground,” he said. “Seems like everything washes down into it.”

Remnants from a long list of living creatures also have been found in the Smallin Civil War Cave, including cow, pig, bison, elk, horse and even camel bones. There have been 17 starfish and six shark teeth discovered, along with three shark spines found embedded into the ceiling of the cave. 

In a showcase of how old the cave actually is, a piece of tooth has been discovered from a mastodon as well, the early ancestors of elephants that lived anywhere from 11,700 to 2.6 million years ago. 

To learn more about Smallin Civil War Cave and check out tour times, visit the website here.

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