In 1881, Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a whistling noise coming from a beach-ball-sized hole in a rock formation near Hot Springs, South Dakota. Wind was blowing out of the hole, just as it does today, with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. As the story goes, a few days later, when Jesse returned to show the phenomenon to some friends, the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked in. The hole was the only natural entrance to a cave…a massive one.
We now understand that the movement of the wind is caused by the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface. The place was dubbed the Wonderful Wind Cave, before it became only our seventh National Park of the United States. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks: three eras of Wind Cave National Park: It’s first explorer, the Lakota origin story, and a teenager lost for 37 hours.
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TranscriptJason Epperson: The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean. This year, L.L.Bean is joining up with the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, to help you find your happy place – in an amazing system of more than 400 national parks, including historic and cultural sites, monuments, preserves, lakeshores, and seashores that dot the American landscape, many of which you’ll find just a short trip from home. L.L.Bean is proud to be an official partner of the National Park Foundation. Discover your perfect day in a park at findyourpark.com.
In 1881, Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a whistling noise coming from a beach ball-sized hole in a rock formation near Hot Springs, South Dakota. Wind was blowing out of the hole, just as it does today, with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. As the story goes, a few days later, when Jesse returned to show the phenomenon to some friends, the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked in. The hole was the only natural entrance to a cave…a massive one.
We now understand that the movement of the wind is caused by the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface. The place was dubbed the Wonderful Wind Cave, before it became only our seventh National Park of the United States. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks: three eras of Wind Cave National Park.Abigail Trabue: Alvin Frank McDonald was born in 1873 in Franklin County, Iowa, and moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1890 at the age of 17. His father had been hired in by a mining company to oversee the company’s claim. It’s not known if the mining company expected to find minerals of value in the cave or planned on developing it for tours. The McDonald family decided to attempt to make a living from the cave by enlarging passageways and building wooden ladders and steps with the hope of attracting travelers. Alvin fell in love with the cave, and began systematically exploring its passageways. He used a single candle at a time, and unraveled a string behind him as he went deeper and deeper, so that he would always know his way out. He kept a journal in which he described his exploration of the cave and the naming of the rooms and passageways. He began giving tours to travelers from nearby Hot Springs, calling himself “the permanent guide” of Wind Cave. Though the wonders of wind cave were spectacular, travelers were not prepared to crawl on their hands and knees in suits and dresses. One day, Alvin left a small tour group in a room in the cave with their lunch while he explored a bit. He got so deep into discovering, he forgot all about them, only to remember moments before falling asleep in his bed that he left the group behind with one candle which was surely burnt out. Alvin spent all day almost every day for more than three years exploring and guiding within Wind Cave. He gave names to rooms, routes, and interesting features. He estimated distances, and through his diary he kept a record of explorations. He quickly realized the complex nature of the cave; passageways that he would explore 10 miles of. He wrote in his journal that he had given up the idea of finding the end of the cave. He appreciated the beauty and natural features, but like others of his era, removed cave formations to sell to visitors. In the spring of 1891, the McDonald family was busy making improvements in the cave and gearing up for the tourist season. J.D. McDonald, Alvin’s father, was making weekly visits to Hot Springs to report to the local paper on the progress of developments. Talk of the cave’s potential caught the interest of a man named John Stabler, who McDonald sold somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 interest to, creating the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company. Stabler was also given the right to build a hotel near the cave entrance. To publicize the cave, J.D. McDonald traveled to Iowa to display minerals at the Ottumwa Coal Palace and the Sioux City Corn Palace. During the summers of 1892 and 1893, two large publicity stunts made local headlines. One was a petrified man “found” near Wind Cave and promptly displayed inside it. The other was the arrival of Professor Paul Alexander Johnstone. Johnstone, a famous mind reader, ventured into the cave blindfolded to search for and eventually find a pin hidden there by local townsfolk. In November of 1893, Alvin left Hot Springs to join his father in Chicago. He was to assist in selling cave specimens at the World’s Columbian Exposition. He contracted typhoid fever in Chicago, and died about a month later. He was 20 years old. Alvin was buried near the cave he loved so dearly. A bronze plaque on a stone marks his grave on a hill above the natural entrance. Though his life and time at Wind Cave were short, much of what we know today about the mysterious caverns are a direct result of Alvin McDonald’s meticulous journal. Jason Epperson: During the next few years, ownership of the cave became a major question. A lack of a government survey of the area made possession of a clear title almost impossible. Mining and agricultural claims provided only a small degree of protection to the owner as they were dependent upon proofs of improvement and/or valuable mineral deposits. In 1893, the South Dakota Mining Company brought suit against the McDonalds and Stablers for restitution of property and premises. But by this time both the McDonalds and Stablers had filed homesteading claims around and over the entrance to the cave. The case was in court for several years, but no decision was reached. Of course, as it goes with most of our natural wonders, indigenous people had long before found Wind Cave, though there’s no evidence they ever entered it. To the Lakota people, wind cave is a sacred place, an important piece of their very existence. Ranger Sina Bear Eagle: In Lakota culture, history is passed down to new generations through the spoken word. There are many different versions of the Emergence Story, varying from band to band and family to family.
his story begins at a time when the plants and the animals were still being brought into existence, but there were no people or bison living on the earth. People at that time lived underground in the Tunkan Tipi — the spirit lodge — and were waiting as the earth was prepared for them to live upon it.To get to the spirit lodge, one must take a passageway through what the ancestors referred to as Oniya Oshoka, where the earth “breathes inside.” This place is known today as Wind Cave, referred to in modern Lakota as Maka Oniye or “breathing earth.” Somewhere, hidden deep inside this passageway, is a portal to the spirit lodge and the spirit world. There were two spirits who lived on the surface of the earth: Iktomi and Anog-Ite. Iktomi, the spider, was the trickster spirit. Before he was Iktomi, his name was Woksape — “Wisdom” — but lost his name and position when he helped the evil spirit Gnaskinyan play a trick on all the other spirits. Anog-Ite, the double face woman, had two faces on her head. On one side, she had a lovely face, rivaling the beauty of any other woman who existed. On the other, she had a horrible face, which was twisted and gnarled. To see this face would put chills down any person’s spine. Anog-Ite was once Ite, the human wife of the wind spirit, Tate. She longed to be a spirit herself, so when the evil Gnaskinyan told her dressing up as the moon spirit, Hanwi, would grant her wish, she followed without question. Gnaskinyan used both Ite and Woksape as pawns in his trick on the other spirits. The Creator, Takuskanskan, decided not to punish Gnaskinyan for this trick, because evil does what’s in its nature. Woksape and Ite were both punished because they let their pride determine their actions and allowed themselves to be guided by evil, when both should have known better. Takuskanskan transformed the two into Iktomi and Anog-Ite, allowing Iktomi to play tricks forever and Anog Ite to be the spirit she desired to be. Both were banished to the surface of the earth. Iktomi and Anog-Ite had only each other for company. Iktomi spent his time playing tricks on Anog-Ite, torturing her and never allowing her to live in peace, but this pastime soon bored him. He wanted new people to play tricks on, so he set his sights on the humans. He knew he needed help for this trick; he asked Anog-Ite, promising he’d never torment her again. She agreed to these terms and began loading a leather pack. Anog-Ite filled this pack with buckskin clothing intricately decorated with porcupine quills, different types of berries, and dried meat. She then loaded the pack onto the back of her wolf companion, Sungmanitu Tanka. When the wolf was ready, Iktomi led him to a hole in the ground and sent the wolf inside Oniya Oshoka to find the humans. The wolf followed the passageways until it met the humans.