Death in Hiatt’s Cave ?
The following appeared in the Winfield Courier on February 21, 1925. At the same time there was world wide news coverage of the entrapment and eventual death of Floyd Collins in a cave in Tennessee.
Pinned down and dying in a cave! How vividly the public has pictured this within the past few weeks.
Does anybody know for sure that Hiatt’s cave does not contain the mouldering bones of some explorer whose disappearance has long been an unsolved mystery?
Apropos of the cave tragedy, Col. John O’Connor relates this story:
I was a reporter on the Courier when Margaret Hill McCarter’s book “A Master’s Degree” became a best seller in Winfield. Mrs McCarter had been a visitor in Winfield some time before. The Story was supposed to have “local color” of this place. “Bandits Cave,” Kickapoo Corral,” “Whirlpool” were names which gave the alleged tinge, to say nothing of thinly veiled names, “Lagonda Ledge,” and “Sunset College.”
In the story a couple, in night and storm, climb the hill from Kickapoo Coral, walk across a prairie and right into a cavern. Without any difficulty they proceed through this passage and presently emerge at Bandits’s Cave, the story name for Hiatt’s, the cave—cellar back of the old stone house on Riverside, west of the river.
The story brought on a revival of the legend that there was a continous passage from Hiatt’s cave to the “den” in Wildcat Canyon, a distance of over a quarter of a mile. The legend had it that in early days some venturesone boys had made the trip through the cave from one end to the other.
Intent on getting some facts to be used in a story in the Courier, I went one day to try how far I could go into the cave. I told nobody of my Intention. I put on some old clothes and took some candles and matches for equipment.
For a short distance after leaving the excavated portion of the cave, a man can walk nearly upright. Then crawling becomes necessary. The mud floor was slippery from the outflow as a recent freshlet. Jagged pieces of rock stuck up from the bottom and down from the top. It took a good deal of wriggling to make progress.
After going what seemed several hundred yards but which was probably not over seventy—five feet of the crawl. I came to an abrupt drop in the passage, roof and bottun both going down several feet. There appeared to be a fissure leading onward from the bottom of this hole. To get there I would have had to have dropped in headforemost, then work my way into the fissure on my back.
It looked dangerous. At the same time I began to imagine that the candle flame was dying away, an indication of bad air. I decided to retreat.
If wriggling along a narrow rough—bottomed passage is hard work going head foremost, it is twice as hard doing it feet foremost. My clothes caught on pieces of rock where I could not reach with my hands. I got loose only by squirming and kicking. I was all but tired out when I got back to the wide part.
If I had stuck back in there, I would be there yet. It is not likely anyone would have come in on the same errand as that which took me. I would have been another case of mysterious disappearance.
But I demonstrated that no one can walk underground from Wildcat to Hiatt.
If any early—day boys ever tried that passage it would have been the group to which belonged George Gentry, Noah Davis, Vince Dillon, Frank Cochrane, and Frank Freeland. I asked George Gentry about it. He told me the boys had tried it, but that they never got very far.
Who knows whether anybody ever tried the passage and never came back? (Note — As a boy before the Second World War, I remember crossing the bridge on west Fourteenth street and going to the top of the hill. On the north side of the road was a one story old stone building and west of it was a cave. Col. O’Connor refers to this building as Hiatts’ house and cave. The cave was tall enough so I could stand in it. The farther I went, the cave became smaller. I never went any farther. The west side of the Walnut River was known as wildcat glen. There were caves in Wildcat Glen. I explored several of them. One was large enought that somebody had been growing mushrooms in it.
I have heard stories, lately, that there was a cave or tunnel going from the Hiatt house on west Ninth to the river. Perhaps this story about the Hiatt House on west Fourteenth street is the basis for this story.
I also had heard the cave on Fourteenth Street being refered to as being a hideout of Jesse James. — RKW )
The 1990 “Cowley County Heritage” book records a conversation by C. H. (Hap) Adams as told to L. L. Lierman, jr. “...when the dike was constructed near the Hyatt House, they discovered a tunnel from the barn where the Mills brothers could swim a horse to the river and escape. Counterfeting of nickels and dimes (made out of lead) went on up on the top of the Hyatt House, a fellow was caught but before he could be sent tp orison he took “medicine” and died.” (Note - I do not understand the reference to the Mills Brothers. Since there was no dyke on the west side of the Walnut river, this could not have been the Hiatt house he refered to. - RKW)