The Underworld of Oregon Caves
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Oregon Caves have been known since a day in 1874 when Elijah J. Davidson went hunting in the Siskiyou Mountains. The story goes that, after killing a deer, he followed his dog to a large hole in the mountain. Here he heard sounds of fighting coming from within. Being undecided as to what to do, he stood waiting—then his dog gave vent to a weird howl, as if in great pain. Hesitating no longer, Davidson rushed into the opening. He soon found the chase difficult to pursue without a light, whereupon he resorted to a few matches that he had in his shot-pouch. Striking match after match, he expected that he would soon be at the scene of the struggle.

Vandalism: Nature required many thousands of years to create these stalactites. A thoughtless person needed only a few moments to destroy them.

Before arriving there, however, his supply of matches gave out, leaving him in the dark. Davidson finally found his way back to a running stream of water, and following it, came to the mouth of the cave. Soon after, the dog came splashing down the creek, unhurt. As it was well on in the evening, Davidson decided to go back to camp and return the next day. Before leaving, however, he placed near the entrance to the cave the buck he had recently killed. He anticipated that a bear would come out for food, eat all it could and then lie down by the remaining part. Returning early the next morning, Davidson found a monstrous black bear lying near the carcass of the deer.

Davidson told others of his discovery, and the cave soon became an attraction for the adventuresome, portions of it being explored and opened. Early interest in commercializing the cave were thwarted by its remote location, far from roads and populous communities.

In 1907, Joaquin Miller, the "Poet of the Sierra," and Chandler B. Watson, author of Prehistoric Siskiyou Island and the Marble Halls of Oregon, visited the cave. They were highly impressed and promoted the cave as the "Marble Halls of Oregon." Public attention was aroused and the cave was established as Oregon Caves National Monument on July 12, 1909. (See illustration on page 33).

Appreciable public use was not attained until 1922, when an automobile road was completed to the caves. The next year, 1923, the Forest Service granted a concession to the Oregon Caves Company, which has provided public accommodations and cave guide service since then.

In 1933, the Monument was transferred to the National Park System. Concurrently, the completion of the 512-foot exit tunnel that same year greatly improved cave tour circulation. The public use pattern, relatively unchanged for the next three decades, was established after the opening of the concessioner's chateau building in 1934. The chateau is noted for its charming architecture, complementing the steep, forested setting.

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Last Updated: 10-May-2006