Category Archives: From The Mountains

Man’s Best Friend

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Many Americans and others around the world have formed close attachments to their canine friends.

Even Dr. Thomas Walker and his party brought along their faithful hounds when he explored and documented the discovery of Cumberland Gap in 1750, before venturing deeper into the vast wilderness beyond and building the first log cabin in what would become the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The following is a true story and could have occurred in any of the states as easily as in Missouri, a state that adjoins Kentucky and Tennessee on their western border.

It was 1869 and something had been killing Leonidas Hornsby’s sheep. The irate rancher thought it was Old Drum, a hound dog belonging to his neighbor and brother-in-law Charles Burden.

He ordered his farmhand, Samuel “Dick” Ferguson, to kill Drum and his worker complied. Charles Burden, the owner of the dead hound that had been a constant companion for many years, sued Hornsby for the wrongful death.

The case eventually went to the Missouri Supreme Court where attorney George Graham Vest gave his famous tribute to our canine friends.

In summation the lawyer, who would later become a senator, addressed the jury.

“Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith.

“The money that a man has, he may lose; it flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees and do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stones of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

“The one absolutely unselfish friend a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.

“Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side.

“He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds that he encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

“When all other friends desert him, his dog remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

“If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, a faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger and to fight against his enemies.

“…and when the last scene of all comes and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open and alert, faithful and true, even in death.”

The jury deliberated a very short time before returning a judgment in favor of Drum’s owner.

A statue commemorating the case stands in front of the old Johnson County, Missouri, courthouse in Warrensburg.

Drum was buried in Cass County, Missouri. Dick Ferguson moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma, where he himelf died of gunshot wounds.

Without Purse Or Scrip An Evangelist Comes To Town

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Rev. George O. Barnes was instrumental in bringing more than 26,000 to Christ during his evangelism, over 20,000 of these in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
Rev. George O. Barnes was instrumental in bringing more than 26,000 to Christ during his evangelism, over 20,000 of these in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

On the morning of November 13, 1879, Rev. George O. Barnes and two associates “rambled along on the Panhandle Ridge near Jackson, Kentucky.” This was normal fare for the evangelist who preached what he called “the true Gospel,” six days weekly but whose mornings often found him getting out into nature and closer to God.

“They called twenty-six to be the miles over here from Mt. Sterling,” Rev. Barnes jested. “It seemed nearer to thirty-six (actually it was even more than that) but we arrived in time to preach in the Breathitt County Courthouse. It was the only room in town but pretty well attended with forty or fifty present.”

He was one of the first educated preachers to come into the mountains of eastern Kentucky, noticing signs that proclaimed “first chance for alcohol” entering many counties and “last chance for alcohol” as they exited. He preached at 10 and 6 o’clock on the 13th and the morning brought a very good attendance.

“But they seemed very reserved, evidently very suspicious,” Rev. Barnes recorded. “We could read it on nearly every face. It didn’t surprise us. We gave no invitation in the morning nor at the evening service.”

During the afternoon he and several others went through the tunnel that had been cut through the Panhandle to allow water power for the mill. Early the following morning they strolled along the river-bank beyond the Panhandle. The river was nearly dry and they were able to cross without getting their feet wet though they elected to wade back across farther downstream. Frequently brethren and inquisitive individuals would accompany him.

Rev. George O. Barnes took after his father, Rev James C. Barnes, a learned Presbyterian clergyman who claimed a divine revelation, becoming known as “the Mountain Messiah.”

“Rev. James C. Barnes was highly esteemed by all. His labors resulted in extraordinary success,” a Princeton publication cited. “His massive form, earnest delivery and powerful voice contributed greatly to his influence over an audience. The people listened to him with enthusiasm with multitudes being converted under his preaching. Many schools and churches were organized. Eventually his failing health and desire to educate his children led to his withdrawal from the pulpit.

He taught his sons well, both becoming preachers. The second was the aforementioned Rev. George O. Barnes.

“Seven came forward to pray with us on invitation that morning,” the reverend recorded. “Two were Methodist preachers, young men who were leaving in the afternoon for their appointments. Two confessed at our night meeting, our first fruits of Breathitt County. A young boy came first and then his grown sister. Praise the Lord!”
“Suspicion seems to have already vanished,” the preacher recorded in his journal on November 15, 1879. “It is evident that everyone has already softened. Young Mr. Patrick walked with us yesterday. As he walked away later his companions jeered at him, shouting, ‘he’s got you now!’ That didn’t dampen our spirits. We thought it was a positive sign.

“Good attendance and eight conversions today including two backsliders. We had another service by request and we were pleased to do it. The attendance was fair and the attention was good but we had no confessions.

“Sunday morning, November 16, greeted us with a dense fog, hiding everything,” Rev. Barnes recorded in his journal. ”After the fog lifted we had a glorious day, typical of the spiritual blessings that follow trials all through our lives. This has been ‘a day of the power’ of our King Jesus. Praise his name! The day was cloudless and at nightfall we had the loveliest crescent moon.”

During the morning there was a completely full room and he preached on the “Good Samaritan” but there were no confessions. (Rev. Barnes term for converts)

“The attention was exceptional however,” the preacher recorded. “At the children’s meeting at 3 o’clock the breakdown occurred. Thirty-three children confessed. Then at our regular nightly meeting fifty-seven men and women came forward. Nearly the entire congregation was absorbed leaving only the Christians and a mere handful of sinners to be standing when the last invitation was given. Praise the Lord for the most wonderful Sunday we have ever spent. Our young friend Patrick came, Dr. Hill came, Mrs. Williams came although her husband held back. Our landlady came. This made ninety-two in all. Praise the Lord!”

Rev. Barnes arose early on November 17th as he went out in search of a black girl who confessed at the service the night before but was then overlooked in the large crowd. After a short while he found her.

“She said she felt nothing bad about it because there were so many to come forward,” Rev. Barnes wrote. “I was greatly relieved to find that her feelings were not hurt. The Lord overrules it all for the furtherance of the gospel. Praise the Lord!”

Rev. Barnes, Brother Patrick and several others, a larger number than usual, clambered over the hill and witnessed the beauty of the new day before the morning service.

“The young black girl came forward this morning and confessed along with three others,” the preacher related in his journal. “Praise be to Jesus! We are all children of God.

“There were about thirty who then spoke for Jesus. There was a young man who came forward who said he was drunk Sunday night and was too ashamed to come to the meeting. Praise the Lord for his coming tonight! There are several older men who continue to hold back even though they are deeply absorbed and very regular in their attendance.”
During his preaching in Jackson practically all of the county officials were saved. The inmates from the county jail were brought and most of them were converted. Everyone who accepted Jesus as their Savior had a choice of baptism by immersion or by sprinkling. The inmates from jail were baptized by immersion then came out of the water and shook hands with the judge who had sentenced them. He was also newly converted.

“Sheriff Shade Combs brought a handcuffed jail inmate to the meeting who was charged with murder,” Rev. Barnes related. “His cuffs were removed after being saved. The jailer, too, accepted Christ and the two confessed their sins in front of the meetinghouse. Praise God for his works.”

A total of 365 Jackson area residents were saved. From there he went to Hyden and found it less orderly.

“There were men who brandished pistols, firing them to the right and to the left. Some of them walked in and out of our services. One man went up to my daughter (Marie) who was playing the organ and laid his pistol there in front of her. She kept on playing but then someone started shooting outside. The man reached for his pistol. Somehow Marie had the inspiration to put her hand on his. He soon moved his hand away, sat down and listened to the sermon.”

The next stop for Rev. Barnes was in Hazard and from there on to Whitesburg where the notorious Dr. M. B. Taylor was one of the converts.

The successes in bringing the lost to Christ led to requests for Rev. Barnes to preach in the Kentucky state capitol of Frankfort. Many came and many were saved beginning with the first meeting. The word spread throughout the area with greater numbers coming and more being saved. Some of the converts included prominent citizens including Kentucky Governor Luke P. Blackburn. The revival was extended for a total of three weeks, bringing over a thousand converts.

He held revivals in Louisville and several other larger Kentucky cities during this period. Many came to Christ in Louisville. The number of converts while an instrument in God’s hands swelled to 26,000 individuals, with 20,000 of them in eastern Kentucky.

What an impact his work had on our mountain region! Many of those individuals ‘passed it on’ and influence our lives even today.

Innocent Man Hanged In The Mountains

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The trapdoor of the scaffold wasn’t working properly and Sheriff Wilburn Killen of Wise County, Virginia, hammered on it for nearly fifteen minutes as E.A “Eave” Hopson waited on the gallows to be hanged. It was May 15, 1903.

Hopson seemed undaunted by the happenings as he chatted with a friend, J. F. Fleming, about his impending burial.

“Take me to Preacher John Mullins’ home at Skeetrock,” Hopson told him. “I want to be buried in the family graveyard there close to my Dad and brother.” Skeetrock is in Dickenson County, Virginia, 28 miles from Wise, the county seat of Wise County.

hopsonThe events leading to the hanging began when Hopson, Bob Mullins and Enoch Wright were on a drinking spree. They became hungry during the night and decided to steal a chicken and roast it over a fire.

John Salyers, who recently moved to Wise County from Tennessee, ran outside when he heard frenzied clucking from his chickens and shooting soon erupted. Salyers was mortally wounded.

William Dotson, Commonwealth’s Attorney, talked with Salyers before he died. Salyers described Hopson as one of the culprits. Hopson, Mullins and Wright were all arrested and taken to Lynchburg for safekeeping.

All three went on trial January 28, 1903 and pled not guilty. Bob Mullins changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to 18 years. Eave Hopson and Enoch Wright faced a judge and jury. Enoch was a son of “Devil John” Wright, famed bad man of that era who later became a lawman. During court proceedings Hopson admitted he stole the chicken but said that Mullins and Wright were the ones carrying guns and were responsible for the shooting. Mullins and Wright said it was Hopson who shot Salyers.

Both were found guilty. Wright was sentenced to a prison term of seventeen years. Hopson was sentenced to hang.

“It is hard for an innocent man to go through this,” Hopson said from the scaffold prior to his hanging. “It doesn’t seem real. In a few minutes I will meet my God in paradise where I will finally have peace. There will be no more trials or trouble. I have only a short time left. I thank God that I’m not afraid to die.

“The prosecuting attorney went down there and took the dying man’s statement and then got up and told the jury it was me that was guilty. He heard Bob Mullins swear that I was on the inside of the fence when the man was shot and he also heard Mr. Salyers swear that the man on the outside was the one who shot him. Yet he turned it around and accepted every word that Bob Mullins said as if he was an angel that had come down from Heaven on snowy wings. There must have been a mistake made between Brother Dotson and Mr. Mullins. My life is politely being stolen from me.”

Roy L. Sturgill wrote about several of the bad men of the “hanging era” in Wise County, Virginia. He said Eave Hopson added the following.

“This is a sad occasion for lots of people. Most of you look on me as a willful murderer, but thank God there is no murder in my heart. There will be no murder alleged against me on the judgment day to come. I am as free of murder as the angels in Heaven although I am condemned to die for murder. Thank God there is not a stain of any man’s blood against me.

“I want all of you to take warning of my condition. I am here to suffer and die for what some other man did. You may think a man is the best friend you have in the world but you don’t always know what is in his heart.

“You can’t look in a man’s face and tell what’s in his heart. I warn all people, young and old, men and women, to shun bad company. I fell in the hands of bad company. I bid farewell to this world and I hope you will remember what I have said and try to meet me in a better world. God is with me.”

About this time a spectator in the crowd accidentally fired his gun, frightening and causing several onlookers to scatter. In the era of public hangings there was always a concern that friends of the doomed man or woman would try to break them free. Public hanging brought large crowds from miles around. The crowd at Hopson’s hanging was estimated at 5.000. Order was soon restored but the happening prompted Hopson to comment, “A loaded gun in the hands of a fool is a dangerous thing.”

C. H. Patterson and J. A. Hughes, Hopson’s attorneys, remained at his side as Sheriff Killen finished his repairs to the death gallows.

Ironically the sheriff had known Hopson since he was a baby and had tended him at times. Hopson asked that Deputy Sheriff Renfro perform Killen’s duties to relieve his long-time acquaintance but the deputy refused. The deputy thought it may cause him to have many restless nights.

When the repairs were completed Hopson stepped on the trap door without apparent fear or weakness. He proceeded to shake hands with everyone on the scaffold including the brother of the murdered man. Hopson was heard to say he was sorry that his brother had been killed.

Sheriff Killen adjusted the noose and asked Eave Hopson if he had any final words.

“I’ve done things in my life that I’m not proud of,” Hopson replied. “When Salyers was shot and killed I had been drinking a lot but God knows I am innocent. I did not shoot the man. God is with me. I hope to meet all of you in Heaven because you’ll know then that I was innocent. Goodbye.”

“Eave, may God have mercy on you and your soul,” Sheriff Killen said as a hood was placed over the prisoners face.

Hopson’s body plunged downward, suddenly jerking to a stop. His neck wasn’t broken from the snap of the rope and the hood fell aside. An agonized look on Hopson’s face pleaded for relief.

The sheriff asked Dr. Miles to replace the hood. After it was replaced it soon fell again from the struggling man. Finally Dr. Miles pinned the hood in place. After hanging for 36 minutes Hopson was pronounced dead. During that time Dr. Miles, Dr. Cherry and Dr. M. B. Taylor checked him periodically for signs of life.

hopson2The body was turned over to J.F. Fleming of Clintwood who took the corpse by wagon from Wise to Dickenson County. Periodically they stopped along the road when residents asked to view the body. Rope burns were clearly visible on Hopson’s throat.

The other men received prison sentences. Enoch Wright was in prison until 1910 when he was pardoned. Later he was convicted on a charge of second degree murder in another case and had to serve the remaining 17 years plus an additional 12 years.

Bob Mullins was the only one of the three to plead guilty and was imprisoned 6 years and nine months before being pardoned. He had no further criminal record during the remainder of his life.

But it was told and retold throughout the mountains that before he died, Bob Mullins confessed to firing the shot that killed John Salyers and sent Eave Hopson to the gallows.

The Miraculous Survival Of Robert McGee

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Robert McGee was a son of immigrants who migrated west, joining a wagon train heading to Leavenworth, Kansas in 1864. Both of his parents died along the way. Others in the group looked over the young lad who was about fourteen or fifteen years of age.

After reaching Leavenworth he was left to fend for himself. Men were needed to protect travelers and goods along the Santa Fe Trail and Robert, needing a means of support, applied for a position. He was turned down because of his lack of maturity. Some youngsters joined the army but he was turned down after talking to them. He was simply too young and inexperienced.

Robert knew he needed a job and his perseverance finally paid off when he was hired on by a freight company taking supplies to Fort Union in New Mexico. The wagon train left Fort Leavenworth in July 1864 with a U.S. Army escort, bound for Fort Union in New Mexico with supplies and more than a hundred mules. J.L. Riggs was the wagon master in charge.

Robert McGee was one of the teamsters although a young one. His duties were to help care for the mules and other tasks. The wagon train had a US army escort. The Indians were extremely hostile at the time, in fact the group had several minor skirmishes along the way. The army escort was able to ward them off without loss of life or property.

As they arrived at Cow Creek, near Great Bend and the Arkansas River, near dusk on July 18, the members of the wagon train had a false sense of security. They were drawing near to Fort Larned. The members of the army escort also felt all was well and moved farther ahead, out of sight of the group they were protecting.

The unexpected happened. Chief Little Turtle and his hostile band of about 150 Brule Sioux attacked the wagon train, surprising them with their Army escort too far ahead to be of assistance.

Everyone in the wagon train was tortured and killed except for two youngsters who somehow had survived. Robert McGee was one of these. The other young lad died that night. Robert would later say he never lost consciousness while he was being tortured and eventually left for dead.

“I knew I was going to die,” he explained many days later. “I knew that the only chance I had to survive was to play dead . I was badly wounded and they dragged me before the chief (the onerous and combative Little Turtle). He promptly knocked me down with his lance before shooting me. The chief then shot me with two arrows. The arrows actually pinned me to the ground. Each time I knew my life was over… that I would go blank and I’d be dead… but somehow that never happened. I never lost consciousness.

“Then came the worst. The chief scalped me. I will say nothing more of that. I vaguely recall the other Sioux Indians beat me and poked me full of more holes with their knives and spears before riding away. I was supposed to be dead but I was alive.”

The Indians destroyed everything in the wagons, tearing the linen goods to shreds and breaking open and scattering flour throughout the area, leaving a grotesque scene to be found. They burned everything they couldn’t take and left, driving the more than 100 mules along.

The commanding officer at Fort Larned learned that day that the Brule Sioux were on the war-path. The army scout went out with a handful of soldiers and struck the trail of Chief Little Turtle’s group late in the afternoon.

They followed it to the scene of the massacre on Cow Creek, arriving too late, two hours after the savages had fled. Dead men were lying about in the short buffalo-grass, stained and matted by their flowing blood. They were shocked at the widespread carnage and also surprised upon finding the two boys who had miraculously survived. They were badly maimed but they were alive…although barely.

Robert McGee was one of them. Surprisingly he was still alive. They took him to Fort Larned, hoping he would live long enough to be treated by the post surgeon.

“McGee, a boy of about sixteen years, had been pierced by ten arrows, shot, scalped and tomahawked in a most brutal manner,” Hulbert H. Clark M.D., acting post surgeon, stated in submitting his report as Proctor of the Committee on Military Affairs. His report #1228 was published by the U. S. Senate. “It was several days before McGee could whisper and be understood. He was handled by raising him in the sheet due to his many wounds, 14 in number, about the chest, arms and abdomen which prevented us from grasping him in the normal manner.

“The skill of physicians and careful nursing led him to partially regain his health though he suffers greatly from contusions of the skull and almost the complete removal of the scalp. He was very weak when he left the hospital and fully 2/3’s of his skull had not healed, covered by a delicate coat of granulation which bled upon the slightest friction. A wound to the left elbow and groin was still open.”

This may be difficult for some to read. It is difficult for me to write about but don’t fret because Robert McGee survived and lived a nearly normal life. There is a great picture of him which was taken in 1890, 26 years after his terrible injuries. He would have been about 41 or 42 at that time. He appears robust, intelligent and kempt. He probably lived several more years after that.

Glory to God! Kudos to those doctors and nurses who assisted him while at the edge of Heaven’s door.

Buried Alive – The Floyd Collins Story, Conclusion

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Floyd Collins was finally removed from Sand Cave on April 23, 1925, by W. H. Hunt and his workers. They are pictured with the corpse.
Floyd Collins was finally removed from Sand Cave on April 23, 1925, by W. H. Hunt and his workers. They are pictured with the corpse. Photo by Floyd Collins Museum.

“It isn’t that news of the day didn’t reveal many tragedies of far greater peril and human life,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported in summing up the Floyd Collins rescue attempts by a succession of cavers, geologists, miners and engineers. “Ships have been swallowed up by the sea. Miners by the hundreds have been imprisoned in the bowels of the earth. Fires and floods have swept populated areas while volcanoes have blighted entire country sides and cities. Earthquakes have devastated miles of inhabited territory.

“However none of these calamities has so riveted and held a universal interest as the fight for this single life in a Kentucky cave. The outcome was awaited and watched because the world is a world of human beings. Every fellow-being, with a spark of imagination, could and did put himself in Floyd Collins place.

“Day after day millions of people read reports from the scene of the horror. Newspapers far and wide presented all of the details about it that could be obtained. Even papers thousands of miles away issued extras to keep their readers posted as to what was going on at Sand Cave in Kentucky.

“That is why the story of Floyd Collins unfolded for seventeen days in the newspapers of this country – a news serial with the most sustained interest of any story ever printed.”

Skeets Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting during the rescue efforts, one of the youngest to ever win he prestigious award.

Funeral services for Floyd were held on the surface near Sand Cave though his body was still entombed. Kentucky Governor William J. Fields sent out the National Guard a few days before to maintain order. A carnival atmosphere had developed with food, drinks, souvenirs and likely moonshine sales as some were drinking openly. Untold thousands of visitors filled the area, estimated at 20,000 or more. Although it was a wooded area there were people everywhere and the twinkling campfires each night created an eerie sight to see. Some of them openly drank moonshine whiskey.

It bothered Homer that Floyd’s body was still inside the mountain and he devised a plan to have a proper burial for his brother. Homer was hell-bent on raising money to have Floyd’s body removed from the cave. He went on a tour, telling anecdotes of Floyd’s entrapment at theaters across the country.

After accumulating sufficient funds Homer contracted W. H. Hunt and six others to remove Floyd’s body. They succeeded in finding his corpse on April 17, 1925, raising it to the surface on April 23rd. Hunt and his fellow workers gathered around for pictures. A proper funeral for Floyd was held on the Collins property on April 26, 1925. Six pallbearers wore sashes on their arms with Sand Cave printed on them. A large stalagmite served as his head stone.

Sand Cave was never opened commercially as it was too unstable. Floyd had discovered Crystal Cave on the family property and readied it for opening in 1917. He and his father became equal partners. It was farther off the beaten path than the other caves and was not profitable even though it had outstanding features.

Tourism dollars dried up in the months that followed and Lee Collins sold Crystal Cave and his homestead to Dr. Harry B. Thomas, a local dentist who was already a cave owner. He had electric lights installed through his caves and received authorization to move Floyd’s body. Dr. Thomas hired a mortician to do whatever was necessary to make Floyd’s corpse presentable. On June 13, 1927, the glass-topped coffin was placed along the walking trail inside the cave.

Visitors to Crystal Cave could look in at him. It proved to be a boon to the owner as millions knew the Floyd Collins name and were enthralled with the story about him. They flocked to the area on vacations and outings to see for themselves. A red granite tombstone listed pertinent information and concluded by calling Floyd the “greatest cave explorer ever known.”

Floyd’s brothers filed suit to stop the public exhibition of Floyd’s corpse but the judge ruled that it would remain in Crystal Cave. After hearing the testimony of Lee Collins, the judge decided that the cave and Floyd’s body had been legally sold. Lee Collins said he was simply trying to stay out of the poor house.

“It is there for anyone to see if they want to see it,” Dr. Thomas said, never admitting that he displayed Floyd’s body for financial gain. “That’s what Floyd would have wanted.”

On the night of March 18-19 of 1929, there was a bizarre occurrence. Floyd’s corpse was removed from the coffin… stolen. It had vanished.

Authorities with bloodhounds searched about the countryside looking for Floyd’s body. Eventually it was found but Floyd’s left leg was missing. It was the one that trapped him inside of Sand Cave. It was never found. Afterwards the body was kept inside a chained coffin in a secluded part of the cave.

In 1961 the cave was purchased by Mammoth Cave National Park and closed to the public. At the request of the Collins family the National Park Service re-interred Floyd in the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church Cemetery on Flint Ridge, March 24, 1989, 64 years after his entrapment and death. It took three days for the 15 men to remove the casket and tombstone from the cave.

His gravesite is a favorite visiting place, especially for other cavers. Their camaraderie led many to leave items they found that held a mutual interest such as coins, stones, Indian flintwork, sunflower seeds, a variety of nuts and other objects.

Floyd Collins, undoubtedly, was the most famous cave explorer ever known. Unfortunately he didn’t adhere to the five accepted rules of caving, do not explore alone; always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, have more than one light source, wear adequate clothing and finally, wear a helmet or hard hat.

Several books were written about Floyd and a song about his entrapment and death became popular. One nine verse song concluded with “Young people oh! take warning from Floyd Collins’ fate. Get right with your Maker before it is too late. It may not be a sand cave in which we find our tomb… at the bar of Judgment we must meet our doom.”

Editor’s note: Several writings serve as resource material for the story, including the book “Trapped” by Robert Murray and Roger Brucker, works by James C. Neace, Kentucky Explorer articles, several newspapers and other articles.

Buried Alive – The Floyd Collins Story, Part 5

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This is just one of numerous pictures taken outside of Sand Cave during Floyd Collins' entrapment in February of 1925. People and transportation conveyances were widespread throughout the area. At times people had to park two miles away and walk.  Kentuckycavewars.com.
This is just one of numerous pictures taken outside of Sand Cave during Floyd Collins’ entrapment in February of 1925. People and transportation conveyances were widespread throughout the area. At times people had to park two miles away and walk. Kentuckycavewars.com.

Floyd Collins was trapped in Sand Cave near the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky for six days and nights before the digging of a vertical shaft began in February of 1925. Cave-ins forced would-be rescuers to discontinue their earlier efforts to dig Floyd out. No contact had been made with the trapped caver for the prior 36 hours.

The crowds increased each day. It was incredulous. Masses of people, estimated by national newspapers to be be­tween 20,000 and 40,000, arrived. Cars jammed together on area road­ways leaving them nearly at a standstill.

A workforce of 75 able-bodied men began digging the 55 foot vertical shaft with the hope of freeing him. A complete Delco lighting system was installed to allow the digging to continue 24 hours daily. Two Fordson tractors arrived, one used to haul dirt from the shaft while the other was used to haul railroad ties for shoring the sides of the shaft. Six-mule teams were used at the site to maneuver the heavy equipment. The main story however was the crowds along the roads and along the hillside.

“From the first light of day an endless stream of humanity moved toward Sand Cave,” Robert K. Murray and Roger W. Brucker wrote in their outstanding book ‘Trapped! The Story of Floyd Collins.’ “They came by car, train, taxicabs, carts, springwagon, buggy, horseback, and mule. In addition to many animal-drawn conveyances, by nightfall on Sunday an estimated forty-five hundred automobiles had been in and out of the Sand Cave area.

“They bore license plates from twenty different states, up from previous days. By 11:00 am there were two solid lines of cars on the road from Cave City. For the last three miles they touched fender to fender. Many were forced to park their cars and walk, often as much as two miles to the site. Farm yards and open fields became parking lots.”

Initially the excavation went quickly but the weather became unseasonably warm with day-time temperatures in the low 60’s and in the low 40’s at night, causing constant thawing. The increasing drainage damaged the shoring of the sides of the shaft. Emergency shoring was performed to allow the work to continue. Additionally, the work diminished to a snail’s pace as the shaft became narrower, enabling fewer men to work.

It became critical when the work area diminished, allowing only three men to dig at the same time. It was going slow and many workers could do little more than stand around the hillside campfires as they waited to spell other workers when they tired. Many of those around twinkling campfires wondered if Floyd was still alive.

“We don’t know if Collins is alive or dead,” Lt. Wells said on February 5. “But as far as we are concerned he is still alive. When we reach him a physician will make an official examination and then we will all know. In the meanwhile we are considering Floyd Collins to be alive. He deserves every chance to survive and everyone connected with this rescue effort is trying to give him every opportunity”

Lee Collins, Floyd’s father, spent many hours watching the shaft being dug including the last two days even though he was recovering from the flu.

“I reckon God wants me and my boy,” Lee said. “Well I’m ready but I fear Floyd is not.”

Mr. Collins said later that Floyd was “saved” and that if he should die, he expected to be reunited with him in Heaven.

Floyd’s ailing stepmother arrived at this time and immediately collapsed near the mouth of Sand Cave. She was transported to the hospital but after Mrs. Collins was treated and released she promptly returned to the work site.

“Lord in Heaven, thank you for these workers and for giving them the strength to work for Floyd’s freedom,” she prayed. “Let their efforts and our prayers be rewarded by reaching him and bringing Floyd back home. Lord you are a merciful….” Mrs. Collins began teetering backward again but was caught and assisted to a nearby log where she sat and rested. After several minutes she recovered and continued to watch the proceedings before departing for home.

Day after day came and went with the digging on the shaft continuing. By February 15 the crowds were only half of their earlier totals. Floyd had been trapped since January 30th and many had to return to their work and normal way of life. The efforts to save him were still in newspapers across the country.

Several publishers had airplanes in a nearby field to fly rescue pictures out when they became available. A young Charles Lindbergh, who would become a famous pioneer in aviation, was one of the pilots.

“We’re there!” finally came from deep within the shaft, bringing excitement and anticipation from all of those present.

Word soon spread that a breakthrough into Sand Cave had been achieved. After working to enlarge the opening, Ed Brenner went headfirst into the cave. He soon found that the shaft had intersected the passageway above instead of behind Floyd.

Floyd’s left arm and head were free but that was all. His right eye was slightly open, his left eye closed, and his mouth gaped open. There was no movement. Brenner had seen enough.

“Dead,” he said reverently to the others.

Floyd’s body was wedged so tight among the rocks and rubble Brenner could barely get a hand between him and the limestone ceiling. He immediately determined it would still be a difficult and risky ordeal to recover his body.

After many more hours of digging it was announced that Floyd’s body would remain, buried in the cave. A coroner’s jury was impaneled and one by one entered the shaft where they looked on Floyd’s face. Upon exiting, they were each officially asked what and whom they saw and “Is he dead?” It was unanimous.

Two doctors finally entered the cave and concluded that Floyd had died from starvation and exposure about three days earlier. Although they couldn’t ascertain the exact date they settled on “Friday the 13th” as the date Floyd died.

“Floyd Collins is found dead,” “Cave keeps its victim,” “Cavern grips Collins body,” and “Collins given to final rest in Sand Cave.” were some of the headlines in major newspapers across the country.

Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson’s gripping story about Floyd Collins becomes more bizarre in the next segment.

Buried Alive – The Floyd Collins Story, Part 4

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Volunteer workers are shown removing rock and rubble near the mouth of Sand Cave in February of 1925.The removal was aborted after several days and the National Guard began sinking a shaft in hopes of rescuing Floyd Collins.  Courier Journal.
Volunteer workers are shown removing rock and rubble near the mouth of Sand Cave in February of 1925.The removal was aborted after several days and the National Guard began sinking a shaft in hopes of rescuing Floyd Collins. Courier Journal.

Telegrams of encouragement came from around the nation five days after Floyd Collins was accidentally trapped in Sand Cave, near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, January 30, 1925. Thousands of prayers were being said for Floyd as many people identified with his plight, there but for the grace of God go I.

“It’s great to know that so many people are pullin’ for me,” Floyd told Courier Journal reporter Skeets Miller. “I do hope you write that I appreciate everyone that is offering their prayers.

There were individuals who were anxious to help, scraping dirt and rock away from the passageway and from Floyd in the hours that followed. Several jacks were used to try and lift the rock away from his foot. The passageway was so narrow they couldn’t get a jack over Floyd’s body to place it where it might help. Homer made it known that he would pay $500 to the doctor who could amputate Floyd’s leg and bring him back to the surface. They had tried everything.

By the fifth day of Floyd’s entrapment, he headlined newspapers across the country. Skeets Miller became sort of a national hero. He was relentless in covering Floyd’s story and the rescue at­tempts to save him.

“That kid has guts,” The Chicago Tribune said of the young newspaper man.

Miller knew it was really Floyd Collins that was the courageous one. He was tenacious in holding onto life. He wasn’t giving up and Miller would make sure everyone knew it in his writings.

“The crowds of the curious and sympathetic are continuing to grow,” the Louisville Post reported. “Morbid tendencies of the human race are clearly in evidence. The throng of people that milled to and fro, more than doubled the crowd from the day before. Automobiles from at least sixteen states were counted within a short time.

“Hot dog, sandwich and coffee vendors are enjoying a brisk business even considering this is a resort area of cave attractions.

“News reporters from New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, Cincinnati and Dallas and elsewhere are at the scene. Six to eight motion picture companies have cameramen here and others are enroute. This doesn’t include the hundreds of news photographers taking snapshots and artists drawing sketches.

“No one man has gripped the interest of an entire country as has Floyd Collins. He was celebrated as an explorer in his home area but he is now known by millions throughout the country.”

Many attempts to free Floyd with various jacks failed on Wednes­day and there were rock falls along the narrow passageways. The would-be rescuers crawled out quickly with Floyd imploring them to, “Stay with me, oh, please don’t leave me.”

After one such rock fall, Floyd lay trapped worse than ever. It prevented them from reaching him but they could still hear him through the rocks and rubble.

“Floyd. Floyd?” Miller spoke up. “Floyd, are you there?”

“Come on down.” he answered, “I’m free.”

Miller and the others thought it was incredible if it was actually true. They had worked for days to free Floyd and now that he worked himself free, a rock fall prevented them from getting to him. The men at­tempted to move the rocks blocking their path to Floyd but it sent additional rocks tum­bling down upon them and they were forced to leave again.

Volunteers came forward to remove the rocks and debris while shoring up the ceiling with pieces of wood. Johnny Gerald frantically moved forward with chisels and a grease gun. He planned to squirt Floyd’s legs with grease and pull him out but then another rock fall fell just ahead.

“Floyd, Floyd,” Gerald yelled. After a long while, Floyd an­swered. “Don’t bother me. I’ve gone home to bed and I’m going to sleep.”

Gerald and the other men retreated as the entire passageway seemed to be crumbling behind them. It would be suicide to try to do more yet more volunteers came forward. Removing the fallen rock was like removing apples from a barrel however. When one apple was taken it seemed two others would collapse in its place.

After working for hours a party led by Reverend Roy Hyde departed at 4 a.m. calling out, “don’t give up Floyd, don’t give up. We’re coming.” The final in­telligible words ever heard from Floyd would follow. “You’re too slow… too slow.”

When another day passed and Floyd was still trapped, Ken­tucky Governor William J. Fields called out the National Guard. They saw their problem as one of engineering rather than one of caving. It was decided to sink a shaft to Floyd’s side. Digging began on Thursday afternoon, nearly a week after the trapped man entered the cave.

Surgeons expected that amputation of Floyd’s leg would be required. The doctors worried that the unfortunate soul might not survive surgery due to his weakened condition. General Denhardt was in charge of the Guard and forbade their members from entering the cave. There was widespread dissension because sinking the shaft would be long and arduous. General Denhardt felt that continuing with the prior efforts to reach Floyd would place his men at risk. The roof of the cave was just too unstable.

Another of Floyd’s brothers, Andy Lee, drove in from Illinois, so distraught he had two car accidents along the way. He fainted upon arriving at the cave sight and was taken to the hospital tent. The tension at the rescue scene was too much for him and he was taken to Cave City.

The crowds increased each day. It was incredulous. Masses of people, estimated by national newspapers to be be­tween 20,000 and 40,000, arrived. Cars jammed together on area road­ways leaving them nearly at a standstill.

There hadn’t been as much excitement in the area since Jesse James held up the stage between Mammoth Cave and Cave City in 1870. It seemed that everyone, everywhere, had their minds on Floyd Collins — the man who was buried alive.

A newspaper account read. “A hundred deaths the victim of this accident has died. Fiction has nothing comparable to the horror of this scene which makes everyone quail and shud­der. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with the ceiling and sides of the room closing in, neither is comparable to the throes of agony tearing at the spirit of Floyd Collins.”

Editor’s note: Read more of Jadon’s true story about Floyd Collins next week at Cookeville.com.

Several writings serve as resource material for the story, including the book “Trapped” by Robert Murray and Roger Brucker, works by James C. Neace, Kentucky Explorer, several newspapers and other articles.

Buried Alive – The Floyd Collins Story, Part 3

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This New York Times photo from the Sand Cave area of Kentucky shows some of the volunteers taking a break from moving rock and dirt in 1925.  Wide World Photo.
This New York Times photo from the Sand Cave area of Kentucky shows some of the volunteers taking a break from moving rock and dirt in 1925. Wide World Photo.

Several property owners in the Mammoth Cave region searched their land holdings for caverns in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They hoped to cash in on the tourism trade a la the Mammoth Cave. It led to “the cave wars.”

Printed content was the way to get the word out in that era but the cost of advertising on a broad scale was prohibitive. Some of the savvy cave owners contrived stories about trapped or lost workers, sometimes tourists, hoping to get “free” publicity.

Local writers in the region readily covered such stories because it helped sell papers but most of the larger news outlets had subscribers and other methods of distribution. After being hoodwinked by promoters they developed the attitude, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

Based on preliminary information the Courier Journal, reported “Cave-in pins man in cavern” without sending a reporter to the area. The Herald-Post, a competing Louisville paper in that era, ran a small headline story titled, “Kentuckian rescued from cave.” The Courier Journal editor thought it seemed phony and ordered William “Skeets” Miller to go to the scene and get the real story. Miller, just 21 years old and weighing 117 pounds, took a train to a station near the cave. It was said that he was nicknamed Skeets because he was no bigger than a mosquito.

Homer Collins, the trapped man’s brother, was emerging from the cave, wet and tired after a lengthy visit at Floyd’s side. Miller attempted to talk with Homer but the disheartened young man wasn’t in a talking mood. Finally Homer admonished Miller to “go down there and find out for yourself.”

He removed his coat to allow him to pass through the narrow opening and entered Sand Cave. After crawling along with a flashlight he began to call out, “Floyd, Floyd.” After several minutes he thought he heard something so he elbowed his way further and suddenly found himself sliding down a muddy incline. He was stopped by a wet mass that moved slightly and groaned.

“Oh you’re hurting me!” he heard someone cry out.

Soon Miller realized that he had slid right into Floyd Collins. They talked and soon established a kinship that would last for several days. Miller’s news accounts and Floyd’s entrapment would bind them together. After a short initial visit Miller inched his way from the cave. He was exhausted, cold and covered with mud but he had his initial story. Other reporters had been at the scene and some even attempted to get to Floyd. Skeets Miller had succeeded.

Floyd was hallucinating when his brother Homer visited him on the morning of the third day. They discussed the possible amputation of Floyd’s leg in order to get him out. Of course in the trapped man’s predicament Floyd would have to do the cutting himself, that is if he could manage it. His range of movement was much impaired. And if he did, would he be able to crawl through the narrow passageway to freedom before bleeding to death? Floyd didn’t think it was possible. They wondered if he could be yanked out by several men, by a rope harnessed somehow to his torso. Soon Floyd began fading in and out of consciousness and Homer could hear his discourse with angels. He left the cave to rest and warm up by a fire.

William Miller, the reporter from Louisville, crawled back in the cave and to Homer’s side. When Floyd came to, he continued telling his story.

“I began losing confidence Sunday when attempt after attempt failed,” Floyd’s story read. “I prayed continually. Sometimes I would be in a stupor. I could hear people coming in but they seemed far away. I heard voices but can’t remember what was said. Sunday night I dreamed of angels.

“Monday was the first day that strangers came back to me. I kept working to free myself whenever I felt strong enough. I tried to twist myself free but each time I tried I could hear pebbles falling in the deep hole right behind me. The thought of a cave-in made me shudder. I kept thinking what would happen if the rock above me should fall. I tried to think of something else but it wasn’t any use. What help could I be? I can’t even help do much to help those that come to help me but I know they are doing all that is in their power.

“Monday night was a night of agony. My foot pained awful. It actually felt like it was going to break off. When I as much as wiggled a toe the pain would shoot through me. I don’t know how long it was before my brother came in with something to eat but it seemed like ages. He finally brought me some whiskey and it warmed me up a lot. We talked for awhile but it wasn’t long before I was unconscious or asleep. I don’t know which.

“Tuesday morning I couldn’t help thinking I was no nearer freedom after four days down here than I was the first day. I’m wondering how it will end. I have faced death before and it doesn’t frighten me but this has been going on so long. Oh God be merciful!

“Tuesday night I felt better than at any time since I have been trapped. I was very weak a few hours ago…mighty weak. So many people have tried so many things to get me out but my predicament has changed so little. I’m beginning to get fearful again. I keep praying.

“I say Oh Lord, Dear Lord, Gracious Lord, Jesus All-Powerful, get me out of this if it is Thy will. But let Your will be done. I know I’m going to get out alive. I can feel it. Something tells me to be brave and I’m going to be.”

When the Courier journal reporter left to file his story Homer returned to be near his brother. He methodically dug for a while, ignoring Floyd’s murmurings but soon Homer had to stop digging to offer comfort to his anguished brother. Homer rested his hand on Floyd’s shoulder, a constant touch to give him comfort. They faded in and out of sleep on the wet, cool night.

The nation was captivated by the news accounts of Floyd’s entrapment in Mammoth Cave. Many folks imagined what it would be like if it was them who was caught inside the cold, dark cave, barely able to move. It made people shudder.

Floyd Collins’ story competed for the nation’s headlines with President Coolidge’s economizing and the big jump in prices in the stock market. Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey’s talk about his possible retirement was in the news. Movie ads included Rudolph Valentino and Noah Beery films.

Lt. Robert Burdon of the Louisville Fire Department entered the cave after Miller and seriously talked about yanking Floyd out with a rope.

“I’ve been thinking about that myself,” Floyd replied.

“Now Floyd we’ve got a helluva’ problem here,” Burdon warned. “We might pull your foot off….or worse.”

Pike Chapman had been yanked out after being covered in a rock slide in 1897 but he died not long thereafter. Some said Floyd’s foot would be torn off and he may bleed to death. No one could come up with a better plan.

Two doctors were at the scene and they concurred that Floyd’s foot may tear off at the ankle or his leg at the knee. Regardless they said he would suffer internal injuries and would most likely die. Burdon thought if they could get him loose from his location then others could assist him out of the cave.

“That boy is gonna die in that hole for sure if we don’t drag him out soon,” Burdon said emphatically.

Marshall Collins fainted and while he was attended to, Homer left for Cave City to try and get someone to fabricate a pulling harness. When he returned with the device Homer entered the cave with Skeets Miller, Lt. Burdon and five others.

They starting pulling the rope after the harness was attached and soon Floyd’s body began to straighten out five to six inches. Floyd cried out.

“Stop, I can’t stand it,” he yelled. “Stop! It’s pulling me in two. It’s breaking my back. Stop them, oh God, stop them.”

“Stop it, stop it,” Homer gasped, directing the men to halt their effort. Floyd was in a pitiful state and Homer was in despair.

As the would-be rescuers left, Floyd cried out to them. “Please don’t leave me! Dope me up and pull me out. Oh God please!”

Both Burdon and Miller were put into a feverish panic on the way out as their flashlight winked out. They hastily scurried the remainder of the way. The failure of the men to save Floyd was written on their faces as they exited. Burdon collapsed at the entrance and was carried away. Homer, exhausted, fell to the ground. Miller had to be dragged out.

They were sure Floyd’s doom was sealed.

Editor’s note: Read more of this gripping true story next week.

Buried Alive – The Floyd Collins Story, Part 2

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Floyd Collins dozed in and out of sleep after hours of yelling, praying and shivering, in the hours following his accidental entrapment in Sand Cave, near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, in early February of 1925.

He wondered if anyone missed him and if anyone would start up a search party to look for him. Floyd had stopped and talked with a neighbor on his way to Sand Cave. He hoped and prayed that someone would come searching for him soon.

Meanwhile Bee Doyle and Edward Estes were uneasy about Floyd’s absence. They found that no one, including Floyd’s family, had seen him. They hurried to Sand Cave after remembering Floyd telling them he was exploring it in recent weeks. Jewell Estes, Edward’s 17-year old son, went with them.

Soon after they arrived they noticed Floyd’s coat hanging on a rock as they neared the cave entrance. They yelled into the cave entrance but got no response so they lit a lantern and started inside. Bee and Edward were forced to stop at the first squeeze (narrow crawlspace) but they asked Jewell if he would continue, cautioning him to be careful and not to go any further if he began to feel uncomfortable.

“Floyd! Floyd!” the 17-year old yelled as he crawled further and further into the narrow passageway. “Floyd, are you there? Floyd! Floyd!”

Jewell was about to give up when he heard what seemed like a faint whisper, “Come to me. I’m hung up.”

The young lad, excited upon hearing Floyd’s voice, continued crawling ahead in his search. Although he hadn’t seen Floyd as yet, as he neared the trapped man he heard a familiar voice.

“I’m cold and hungry,” Floyd said desperately. “Jewell go and get help.”

The news of Floyd’s entrapment in Sand Cave spread rapidly. By the time help arrived a crowd had gathered at the crude cave opening.

A rescue party of six men including Floyd’s brother Marshall entered the cave. Four of them abandoned the effort because they couldn’t squeeze through the narrow passageways or because they became frightened at the unsafe condition of the cave. When Marshall got within twenty feet of Floyd he could hear his brother but he couldn’t see him.

Finally he found Floyd surrounded by earth and rock in a narrow cocoon-like hole. He began digging with a crow bar and bare hands but soon relented to his better judgment and stopped. Five others reached Floyd but no one could solve the puzzle of how to extricate him.

Meanwhile another of his brothers, Homer Collins, was returning from Louisville when a service station attendant asked if Floyd had been removed from the cave. Homer hadn’t heard about the disaster He immediately drove to the cave, grabbed a lantern and entered. After reaching an impasse Homer retreated to a turnaround in the cave where he stripped down to his underwear so he could squeeze through the narrow passageway.

Homer was cut and bruised by the time he reached his trapped brother. He became terribly concerned with Floyd’s predicament but didn’t broach the matter as he didn’t want to discourage his brother.

Homer determined that, in order to achieve Floyd’s release, he or any other rescuers would have to enter a narrow chute headfirst and then virtually work upside down. In exiting they would have to push themselves backwards, feet-first, up a sharp slant.

The alternative was to enter the shaft feet-first but in that position they could be of little assistance once they neared Floyd. In either event the narrow crawlspace would only allow one person at a time to approach the trapped man and they would have to be relatively small in stature.

When food finally arrived Homer had to feed his brother as his brother was in such cramped quarters he couldn’t raise his hands. Floyd was so hungry he ate several sausage sandwiches and drank a pint of coffee. The food, blanket and companionship buoyed his confidence but he was no nearer being free.

When the Louisville Courier-Journal editor first heard reports of the emergency his initial reaction was that it was a hoax being perpetrated to interest tourists in the cave. Finally they dispatched a youthful reporter by the name of William Burke Miller to look into it.

Luckily Miller was small in stature which enabled him to get to the trapped man. He won Floyd’s confidence and through him Floyd told his own story date-lined February 4, 1925, from Sand Cave, Cave City, Ky.

“I was crawling out of Sand Cave, one of the most beautiful caves I have ever seen, when soon after climbing a steep wall I dislodged a huge rock,” the story read. “It caught my left foot, pinning me down. That was at 10 o’clock Friday morning.

“The first night I spent yelling at the top of my voice. I knew my chance was slim but I couldn’t give up without doing something. So I just shouted and shouted. After a long time I was unable to call out any more because I became hoarse. I struggled on though until I finally lost consciousness. Maybe I slept, I don’t know, but I felt better when I woke up.

“Surely, I thought, no man was ever trapped like this. I prayed as hard as I could. I begged God to send help to me. Finally I heard a voice and it sounded better than anything I ever heard in my life. I called back and got an answer and found it was Jewell Estes. He couldn’t get to me but before long Clyde Hester came back to me. He told me it was Saturday morning. I asked Clyde to get word to my brothers, Homer and Marshall, and to my father. Soon he left to do so.

Homer and Marshall Collins, brothers of the trapped man, were disheartened while resting outside of Sand Cave in 1925.  Ernst Kastning Collection.
Homer and Marshall Collins, brothers of the trapped man, were disheartened while resting outside of Sand Cave in 1925. Ernst Kastning Collection.

“My brothers came down Saturday afternoon and saw the fix I’m in. They tried to dig me out but couldn’t. A blanket was brought in Saturday night to help keep out the cold and I felt better. I was numb all over but I felt warmer after I was covered. I couldn’t move and was getting awfully weak.”

News of his predicament spread across the country Americans all across the country began reading about Collins, cold and wet, trapped in a narrow crawlspace in a dark Kentucky cave.

Floyd had little energy after two days of cold, pain and anguish.

He complained of feeling numb and Homer Collins, Floyd’s brother, noticed that he wasn’t looking good at all.

“I’m awful cold, Homer,” Floyd muttered. “I’ve got to warm up. Get me some whiskey. I’m freezing and this pain is unbearable.”

Homer slowly crawled from the cave to fetch the whiskey for Floyd. Along the way he thought about the results of his eight hours of strenuous digging. He had freed Floyd’s upper torso but his brother was no closer to being rescued. As Homer crawled out of the cave he was amazed at the huge crowd that had gathered. He was thinking “this can’t be real.”

Others took the opportunity to enter the cave and exhorted Floyd to pull his foot free. He couldn’t and each time he tried it sent excruciating pain through his body.

“Why doesn’t someone come down here and help me instead of just staying up their talking,” Floyd said at one point. The narrow passageway prevented them from being able to be of much help and their desperation began to cause tension.

Floyd told Homer to get him “good whiskey,” not moonshine but it was during the prohibition era and liquor couldn’t be easily purchased in that era. Homer called on a local doctor and obtained a prescription and then purchased the whiskey from a local druggist. When he returned to the cave site however a magistrate confiscated the bottle.

“You know likker’s against the law, Homer,” the lawman said. After heated words between the two, Homer reentered the dark cave to his brother’s side. He found that nothing had been accomplished since he left. Homer began digging again in the cramped quarters and stopped four hours later – exhausted.

Floyd was no closer to being rescued than when he was first found. His brother Marshall Collins, offered $500 to anyone who would go in and rescue Floyd. The crowd buzzed but no one stepped forward for what seemed like minutes.

Finally Clyde Hester stepped forward sealing the bargain with a handshake before entering the dark hole. He returned a short time later, saying, “Floyd’s dead.”

Marshall began to cry. Homer couldn’t believe it since he had talked to Floyd a short time before. Several in the crowd began to pray as the magistrate asked for a volunteer to `double-check’ Floyd’s condition. Although the magistrate was the acting coroner a volunteer was necessary because he couldn’t negotiate the narrow passageway himself because of his size.

L.B. Hooper volunteered and as he neared Floyd’s location he inquired, “Floyd, are you there?”

After a long hesitation Floyd replied in a weak voice, “I’m hungry. Bring me something to eat.”

Before departing Hooper asked, “Clyde Hester been in here?’

“Naw, I ain’t seen or heard from Clyde.” As Hooper crawled from the cave he thought of Hester who minutes before had notified the growing crowd that Floyd was dead.

“Where’s Hester,” he yelled after taking a deep breath. “He’s a *!&$#*+@&* liar. Floyd’s still alive.” Hester was nowhere to be found.

By Sunday evening many in the crowd openly drank from bottles of moonshine. Occasionally someone entered the cave but would soon exit. Rescue efforts had stalled. It was as if everyone was waiting for Floyd to die.

Floyd, numb and pained from the cold, damp, constant 54 degree temperature, also thought his life had come to an end as he began to fade in and out of dreams.

He saw white angels riding by in white chariots drawn by white horses.

“Take me, take me,” he cried. “God, help me, oh, God help me.”

His brother Homer arrived at this time with Floyd’s favorite food, liver and onion sandwiches and fresh milk.

“Oh, God, Homer,” he cried. “Take me home to my bed.”

Editor’s note: Read more of this gripping true story next week.

Introducing The Adventuresome Floyd Collins

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photo: Bettman Archive
photo: Bettman Archive

The Mammoth Cave was reportedly discovered in the late 1700’s when a hunter stumbled upon an entrance as he was tracking a bear in the area. The cave received national attention during the War of 1812 when its deposits of nitrates were used in making gunpowder. The cave was formed over millions of years as seeping water dissolved away limestone.

Dr. John Croghan became interested in the cave when he read accounts of the preservative qualities of the cave. Bodies of dead Indians and bats were preserved for many years without decay. The doctor thought it must be because of the cave air and if so, it could be beneficial for his 16 pulmonary consumption patients. There was no cure or effective treatment for tuberculosis at the time.

Dr. Croghan bought the cave in 1839 for $10,000 which included the slaves. He sent them inside to build a series of buildings, some of stone and others of wood. They functioned as a sanitarium where his patients could “take the airs.” Initially the patients voiced some improvement in their condition but after staying inside for weeks, during which time several died, it was determined they weren’t better. The cool air and conditions were actually proving to be harmful to their health.

Dr. Croghan opened the cave to visitors after the Civil War and soon tourists flocked to see the wonder of nature. At first it was described as somewhat eerie as the tourists “met pale figures in dressing gowns (Dr. Croghan’s pulmonary patients) moving weakly along the passageways, slipping in and out of shadowed huts, the silence of the cave broken by hollow coughing and muttered conversations.”

An article in Scribner’s magazine in 1884 told of a visit to the cave by a group of tourists.

“After paying a fee we all donned overalls and flannel caps and soon found ourselves face to face with a good-natured black man with two swinging lamps,” the story read. “He led the way down to a black opening to the cave and soon we felt a rush of cold air. A stream of water was pouring over the entrance. A bat darted directly at my face with a quaint scream before hastening back into the cave,

“Soon after entering we were forced to stoop down, practically on all fours. Our pathway soon became better and the guide provided each of us with a swinging lamp. We then walked for several miles without anyone becoming fatigued.”

The writer attributed their freshness to the exhilarating cool air in the cave, somewhat agreeing with Dr. Croghan’s contention.

“Our guide opened a crude iron gate and hundreds of bats flit from the roof, circling about our heads and screaming their resentment to our intrusion,” the story continued. “The bats made our promenade through the gallery quite exciting. The ladies expressed horror at the gauntlet we were forced to pass.

“Our cheery guide sang psalms in a round musical voice, pausing at times to warn against taking any unexplored by-ways saying there were numerous pitfalls should we do so. We visited a vast room called the Rotunda and a succession of many beautiful and unearthly sights which ‘was like we were dreaming.’”

Early the next morning they were again trekking through the cave. The writer said they traveled up to 18 hours seeing many wondrous sights on this day.

“We are convinced that the Mammoth Cave, with its passages more than 200 miles in length, is one of the greatest wonders of the world,” it was asserted in Scribner’s magazine.

The success of the Mammoth Cave resulted in other caves being found and developed in the area. It led to “the great cave war” with landowners searching for caves beneath their property.

Floyd Collins was born into a large family near Cave City, KY, in 1887. He led a life of adventure, exploring caves near his home at the end of a dirt road in a backwoods area. Floyd became interested in caving when his mule stepped into a sinkhole and broke its leg. He found an entry to a cave nearby and began his exploration.

He descended into a sinkhole on the family property in 1917 and discovered a passage leading off through a maze of corridors. He found many impressive formations and unearthly sights. Floyd said the cave rivaled the Mammoth Cave in beauty, naming it Crystal Cave with hopes of developing it for tourism. They cleared pathways to the caverns and erected a ticket booth. Pennants welcoming tourists to Great Crystal Cave were placed on nearby roadways. No one came however as the cave was located at the end of a long rutted road. Tourists stopped at Mammoth Cave instead.

Floyd decided to explore Sand Cave which was much nearer to the main road. He dug his way through the crumbling passageway for three weeks, overcoming shifting soil and rock falls. He set off dynamite to remove some of the final obstacles. He cleaned some of the debris aside and wriggled past shattered rocks too large to move.

On January 30, 1925, he lit his kerosene lantern and crawled 150 feet into the cave where he then used a coil of rope to lower himself to a lower level. He crawled through the shaft which was only ten inches high in places and would then bend sharply in one direction or another. Floyd was an experienced caver and had explored narrow caves in the past in which a turnaround could not be found and he was forced to crawl out backwards.

He reached a breakdown in the cave and was forced to work upside down to scrape the loose rock and dirt. He noticed large limestone rocks along the roof with loose rocks protruding nearby. He made every effort not to disturb them.

A flicker from his lantern told him he must abort this mission and he crawled to a narrow opening where he pushed the lantern ahead so that he could follow. The lantern turned over and rolled away as the light went out.

“Darn it,” Floyd said inaudibly as he reached unsuccessfully through the passageway to grasp the lantern.

He tucked his arms to his side as tight as possible and began to wiggle himself through the narrow passageway as he dug his feet into the sides and floor of the cave for better leverage. With a kick he accidentally struck a hanging rock which was sent crashing down. Floyd’s foot was in a v-shaped indentation and the rock landed across his left ankle, making it immovable and causing excruciating pain.

His left arm was pinned under him and his right arm was held close to his body by the cave wall and the limestone above. His cheek rested on the rock floor. Trapped in the darkness by rock, Floyd was in a coffin-like straitjacket.

Since he was in the dark he could not fully assess his situation but he knew he needed help. Yet he was trapped 55 feet underground in a narrow opening where no one else had ever ventured.

He began to yell.

After awhile Floyd lost his voice. He then became aware that he was cold. He wished he had worn his woolen coat but the narrow openings of the cave wouldn’t have permitted it. He then had a strong urge to relieve himself. Shivering, his left leg throbbing with pain, Floyd let himself go. “How more miserable can a person be,” he cried out to himself.

He then prayed, begging God to help him. Occasionally he tried to extricate himself from the narrow passageway but it always resulted in agonizing pain. He dozed off after a lengthy time but the pain caused him to go in and out of sleep. Floyd woke up hoping his predicament had been a dream. Copyright 2016 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: Read more of this gripping true story next week.