Ongoing drought in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri has revealed 1,100 more feet within the Smallin Civil War Cave, which was used by Union spies during the war.
“We have now mapped another 1,100 feet of passageway past this question mark, and they’re estimating about 2,000 feet total,” Smallin Civil War Cave owner Kevin Bright told KYTV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Springfield, Missouri.
Floods in the Ozarks move gravel and other material around in the caves, while droughts expose things lost in the caverns, including the bones of now-extinct animals like the elephant-related mastodon, which once used nearby watering holes.
“The drought conditions are allowing cavers to enter passages that formed tens of thousands of years ago but have in recent times been filled with water,” University of Birmingham professor John Gunn told Newsweek.
During the Civil War, the Smallin caves served as a meeting place both for civilians and for military personnel.
Women would use the cave as a “gathering place after church on Sundays, where women would receive letters from their relatives,” Mr. Bright told the New York Post. The opening of the cave served as a laundromat on Mondays.
Military personnel used the cave to hide, including “three [Union] spies associated with the cave,” Mr. Bright explained to the Post.
While Missouri never seceded, it was a slave state with numerous Confederate sympathizers (such as Jesse James and his famous “bushwhackers”) and a local civil war was fought concurrently with the national one.
How long visitors will be able to explore the new portions of the cave exposed by the drought depends on nature.
“We will never be able to conquer nature — it is an entity that does not seek our permission. We’ve got some more time — we’re hoping to get out there again before it fills back up,” Mr. Bright told the Post.