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Sifoddling Along

By Marilyn Carnell


This month people are getting out and about after being isolated by the COVID virus. It made me think of explorations of the countryside and my interest in the many caves in the Ozarks.

In addition to being known as the “Show Me” state, Missouri has another nickname, “The Cave State”. The Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources notes on its website there are more than 6,000 known caves in the state, averaging 52 caves per county. However, McDonald County, located in the southwest corner of the state is known to have 530 explored caves. There are bound to be more still unknown as the county sits on a karst foundation riddled with openings.

Perhaps my favorite cave is described below.

Jacobs Cavern (often misspelled as Jacob’s Cavern) was discovered by E. H. Jacobs of Bentonville, AR on land he owned on Little Sugar Creek near Pineville, MO. He and professors Charles Peabody and Warren K. Moorehead from the Archaeology Department of Phillips Academy, Andover, MA cooperated in a scientific excavation of the site.

The cavern is more a rock shelter than a cave as illustrated in this cross-section drawing.

The description from Wikipedia (also the source of illustrations) makes the findings clear.

“The ash surface was staked off into square meters, and the substance carefully removed in order. Each stalactite, stalagmite, and pilaster was measured, numbered, and removed in sections. Six human skeletons were found buried in the ashes. Seven-tenths of a cubic metre of animal bones were found: deer, bear, wolf, raccoon, opossum, beaver, buffalo, elk, turkey, woodchuck, tortoise, and hog; all contemporary with man's occupancy. Three stone Metates, one stone axe, one celt and fifteen Hammestones were found. Jacobs Cavern was peculiarly rich in flint knives and projectile points. The sum total amounts to 419 objects, besides hundreds of fragments, cores, spalls, and rejects, retained for study and comparison. Considerable numbers of bone or horn awls were found in the ashes, as well as fragments of pottery, but no ceremonial objects.

“The rude type of the implements, the absence of fine pottery, and the peculiarities of the human remains, indicate a trace of occupants more ancient than the mound-builders. The deepest implement observed was buried 50 cm under the stalagmitic surface. Dr. Hovey has proved that the rate of stalagmitic growth in Wyandotte Cave, Indiana, is .0254 cm. annually; and if that was the rate in Jacobs Cavern, 1968 years would have been needed for the embedding of that implement. Polished rocks outside the cavern and pictographs in the vicinity indicate the work of a prehistoric race…”

Shelters (locally called Bluffs) similar to this are common in McDonald County. Other excavations have been conducted by The Smithsonian Institution early in the 20th century.

In personal communication with the late Jean Mosier Helm, I learned that Jean's father, Clarence Mosier, J.L.B. Taylor, and others aided in the exploration of Jacobs Cavern (J.L.B. Taylor is a shirt-tail relative of mine). Their experience led to the two men and others from Pineville working on the excavation of the Cahokia Mounds near St. Louis, a far more well-known site.

I hope to write more about these sites and the prehistory of McDonald County in the future.

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