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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

The Mysteries of
Buffalo Cave

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Buffalo Cave, near Johnson City in Blanco County, has been a place of mystery since cattlemen first discovered its dark entrance while grazing their herds along the Pedernales River in the 1800s. Only a small number of people have been inside. For everyone else the underground wonders and the natural beauty of the cave remain hidden in a damp subterranean blackness that has never seen the light of day.

Buffalo Cave was known only locally until 1925 when the West Texas Guano Company leased the site for guano mining. At the direction of the company an experienced caveman named T. C. Harrington explored the cavern and declared it "one of the most wonderful caves in Texas."

Descending into the cave Harrington found several lofty rooms where centuries of dripping water had slowly eaten away the limestone ceiling.

In one room he found bones believed to be human.

In another room Harrington found a molar "3 inches long," and an ivory tusk. According to reports the tusk went on public display at the office of the Blanco Record-Courier.

About 70 feet down in the cave and far back from the entrance, Harrington surprised a wildcat. The animal scared the daylights out of Harrington before it slowly retreating into the darkness.

Farther on the explorer found several animal carcasses - believed to be cattle that wandered into the cave and never made it out. He found a long set of horns and a bubbling turquoise spring.

Newspaper stories spread the word about Buffalo Cave, but there is no evidence that the West Texas Guano Company ever mined an ounce of guano there. Apparently the business never got off the ground, and the cave was soon forgotten.

Then in 1929 geologists searching for petroleum in Blanco County stumbled upon Buffalo Cave. J. B. Dickinson, a geologist and spelunker from Tulsa Oklahoma, couldn't resist taking a peek inside.

"The Buffalo Cavern seems to be a most wonderful freak," Dickinson told a reporter. "We made a somewhat hurried investigation with ordinary flashlights and found many interesting situations. We started on the north side of the Pedernales River about one thousand feet and came out on the south side, being a direct line of almost a mile. Our meanderings probably covered twice that distance."

"The character of the limestone easily erodes by the action of the water, hence the immense opening and the numerous large rooms."

Dickinson estimated there were a dozen or more branches of the cave, "some of them may lead several miles under the high hills."

News about Buffalo Cave created a lot of public interest. The cave drew comparisons to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Longhorn Caverns near Burnet.

Riding a wave of publicity the owners of the property decided to open the cave to the public.

Johnson City, TX - Buffalo Cave

Courtesy Fredericksburg Standard

Two factors made the opening of Buffalo Cave feasible. Roads to the site, which until 1930 had been in bad condition, had recently been improved, and electricity had finally reached the Hill Country. Strings of electric lights lit up the cave for the first time.

Billed as "one of the most famous underground caverns in Texas," Buffalo Cave opened to the public on July 26, 1931.

There was a big celebration. Newspapers advertised "plenty of lights. Music in 3 parts of the cave. Free coffee and ice. Bar-B-Que available at low cost."

Then almost immediately, the publicity stopped.

Just how long Buffalo Cave remained a tourist attraction is not clear, but the site rather quickly closed to the public.

The Great Depression may have hurt attendance. Perhaps the owners of the property decided not to turn their pasture into a tourist attraction.

For whatever reason Buffalo Cave fell off the radar. Even people in Blanco County forgot about it.

Since the 1930s the cave has been left alone with nature, but it probably hasn't changed much.

A cave is a hidden universe, separated from the outside world. There is no day or night in a cave. There are no seasons.

Time stands still. A second in the life of a human is like a century in a cave.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" December 15, 2019 Column

Sources:
"Buffalo Cave Opening Saturday," Fredericksburg Standard, July 24, 1931.
"Mysteries of the Famous Buffalo Cave," Llano News, October 29, 1925
"Large Cavern is Found in Texas," The Junction Eagle, April 25, 1929.


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