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Historical Marker Series: DeSoto Caverns


CHILDERSBURG, Ala. – Stalactites and stalagmites fill the cave of one of Alabama’s hidden treasures DeSoto Caverns located in Childersburg, Alabama. The caves’ history dates back to the early 16th century when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto famously arrived to the cave in the midst of his expedition in 1540. DeSoto spent a little over a month with the natives of the area, the Coosa tribe. He even received a warm welcoming at the entrance of DeSoto Caverns. Unfortunately, DeSoto ended up taking most of the Coosa people hostage and made them slaves despite their generosity.

Prior to the arrival of DeSoto, the cave was used as a burial site of early native American tribes. The Copena culture style burial, using copper and galena materials, was used on most of the Native American’s whose body rest within the cave. In these earlier days, cave burials were very common because the Natives felt caves offered a peaceful and protective environment for the spirits of the dead.

During the 19th century, the cave became a saltpeter-mining center due to the need for gunpowder toward the end of the American Civil War. When walking through the cave, one can see the well and reconstructed vats used because of the excessive need for water.

Fast forwarding in the time, the caverns was in 1912 purchased by the businesswomen and expert in farm economics Ida Elizabeth Brandon Mathis in the hopes to mine the cave for the onyx stone. Though this operation failed, the cave did become popular again during the 1920s in the Prohibition Period where it served as dance hall and served alcohol. The cave was unfortunately know as “The Bloody Bucket” because of the high levels of violence and shootings. The situations in turn cause the dance hall to be shut down by the federal government.

Following the scandalous events, Mathis’s son and Mr. Fred Layton developed the caverns into a show cave in the 1960s. Lights were installed and the cave was originally named the KyMulga Onyx Cave in honor of the Chickasaw Indians whose Indian village was only miles away from the cave. In 1976 the cave was renamed DeSoto Caverns in honor of Hernando de Soto.

Since then the facility has been through many updated in lights, sound, and trails. The area even has added many outdoor attractions and a gift shop.

“DeSoto Caverns is an great place to visit and work,” said Ben Tice, employee at DeSoto Caverns. “The amount of history within the cave is amazing.”

DeSoto Caverns is recognized on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage and served as a gem of the Talladega County area and the state of Alabama.

Caitlyn McTier for | © 2017, City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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