1,100+ feet of Smallin Civil War Cave discovered due to drought

Receding water helped explorers see what lies in the dark depths
Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 5:22 PM CDT
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OZARK, Mo. (KY3) - The old saying goes, “as above, so below,” which rings true for caves, especially in the Ozarks.

There are several different types of caves. Some form from lava or erosion, but caves in Missouri and Arkansas form with precipitation. This occurs when carbon is picked up by runoff rain or snow, which eventually trickles into caves, forming stalagmites.

The drought has halted cave growth but also shed light on unexplored parts of the cave that were once full of water. Kevin Bright, the owner of Smallin Civil War Cave, showed the original map of the cave with various question marks on several spots, denoting untraversed territory.

“We have now mapped another 1,100 feet of passageway past this question mark, and they’re estimating about two thousand feet total,” explained Bright, “now the 1,100 feet, most of that you can stand up in, and our trademark of Smallin Cave is rimstone dams, and it turns out in this passageway it continues with more rimstone dam after rimstone dam.”

Bright said that water levels in the Ozarks play a direct role in the cave’s ecosystem.

“Every time we have a flood, it shifts our gravel around, and it reveals things from the past that come in the cave system and have been preserved,” Bright stated.

Nine sinkholes flow into the cave, and many animals both past and present have used these low lying areas as watering holes. Bones and teeth of elk, bison and even a mastodon elephant have been found - which would have gone extinct 10,000 years ago.

Mastodon elephant tooth found in cave
Mastodon elephant tooth found in cave(Kevin Bright)
Bones found in the cave
Bones found in the cave(Kevin Bright)

“It’s a link to the past,” said Bright with a smile.

There are many “question marks” on the cave map. Only time and lack of rain tell what lies in the dark depths.

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