The Slightly Condensed Abridgement of  

The Great Cave of Dry Fork of Cheat River 

by Professor George Jordan

(an account of an 1855 cave exploration) 

 

(Notes and condensation by Doug McCarty)

There are several factors that need to be pointed out about Jordan's tale: 

1.      There were places where his notes apparently didn't match his memory. That is, there were spots in the text that were contradictory and other spots where he jumped from one locale to another without much explanation. (We know he took notes of some sort in that he recorded temperatures at various locations. There are places in the manuscript where you can simply tell he was struggling to interpret his own notes.)

2.      Jordan uses some deceptive terminology in naming certain cave features and areas. In one case, for example, he names a narrow belly crawl "Difficult Hall"--an odd choice of terms. Most people (including Jordan himself) wouldn't think of a narrow belly crawl as a "hall". The word "lake" conjures up an image of a broad expanse, but "Stygian Lake" is actually just flooded passage 20 feet wide. On many occasions, the areas he calls "rooms" appear to be just continuations of the passage with some distinguishing feature--they should not necessarily be thought of as discrete chambers. What he calls "pits" and "domes" are not necessarily domepits. They may just be depressions in the floor or gaps in the ceiling. In several places named passages occur within the context of other named passages. For example, "Watery Tunnel" is found within "the Rocky Mountains". That can be confusing. Some of the formations Jordan calls stalactites and stalagmites sound more like flowstone, and in some of those cases I have substituted the word "flowstone". He displays considerable knowledge about geology in the introduction and in his identification of minerals in the cave, but I wonder if he might have called solutional features or pendants "stalactites"? (He doesn't mention either pendants or flowstone in the book.)

3.      It should be noted that Jordan lacked any sort of linear measuring device in the cave. All of his dimensions and distances are rough estimates--probably from memory.

4.      Finally, it should be noted that the formations he describes might no longer be in the cave. At one point toward the end of the book he says,"...we knocked and scaled off many of [the cave's] sacred images, and broke and defaced her numerous monuments; thus spoiling, as well as sacking, and taking away her hidden and sacred treasures and thus committing violent sacrilege." His account of what they found is a description of what was there before they "sacked" the cave. He is saying that they took, among other things, formations. He may well have removed many of the formations he described.

 

Doug McCarty's Condensed, Summarized and Modernized Version of 

The Great Cave of the Dry Fork of the Cheat River

by Professor George Jordan 

 

I heard about this cave from a Mr. Johnson from Maryland--a traveling companion in Western Virginia. Johnson showed me where the cave was and we went in as far as we could, but encountered a flooded passage that we couldn't get around. Because there was more cave beyond, we exited the cave and collected saplings, withes and bark, then hauled the materials back to the flooded passage in order to build a raft. Mr. Johnson didn't like the look of the raft and refused to go on, so I got Mr. Sam Walker to come with me. 

Sam and I entered the cave on March 18, 1855 at 10am. We were carrying bedding, clothes, oil, lamps and matches, a hammer, a pick, ropes and other stuff, a lot of which we didn't really need and later regretted taking. We took tapers fastened to long rods and lanterns to light our way.

I would estimate the cave entrance to be 10 or 12 feet high by 15 to 20 feet wide. It blows so much air it has affected the growth of the trees at the entrance.

The entry passage trends southwest getting slightly lower and narrower, then opening into somewhat larger passage that is maybe 15 to 20 feet high and 20 to 25 feet wide. There is a fissure in the ceiling that goes up maybe 40-50 feet from the floor. We named this passage Long Hall. There is a small passage on the left at the northern end of Long Hall that goes under the floor of the cave and continues for maybe 600 feet, crossing and recrossing under the main passage several times. Air blows from above on the left side of this passage perhaps indicating a high lead. There are some small stalactites and soda straws in this section

Moving on, the passage becomes low and narrow--just a few feet wide. A short hands and knees crawl opens into wider passage shaped almost like a church. The ceiling is 40 to 50 feet high. We named this High Roof Hall. When you consider the height, the width of this area is proportionate to what you would see in a church. (So it was maybe 20-30 feet wide.) There was a fair amount of moisture on the walls and ceiling sparkling in our light like stars. We found large stalactites that resembled a bear and a condor, and a stalagmite that looked like a turkey.  There is a ledge of rock on one side of this room that slopes like steps up to the ceiling. There is also a chimney-like shaft, almost 100 feet high and maybe 5 feet wide that converges at the top. There is a fallen stalactite lying on one side of the room. This stretch of passage continues, varying in height and width, getting as wide as ten feet in places and as high as ten feet. The path is winding and rough for maybe 200 feet, then the passage opens somewhat into an area that is smaller than High Roof Hall. We called this the Specimen Room because we found a variety of minerals: gypsum, chert, falspar, dogtoothspar, aragonite, dolomite, stalactites and many others. There is an object there that looks like an old ruined house. The area with the "house" is about sixty feet square, more or less. It has a very bad and dangerous-looking ceiling. There is a side lead in this room. You climb a long sloping rock into a small room we called the Hermit's Cell. There are bones in there and a high lead into an upper room, but we didn't check it out. There is also a shaft upward like a chimney. It was a difficult climb back down into the main passage, which has a lot of holes or spouts in the ceiling.

From here the passage becomes a narrow belly crawl that we dubbed Difficult Hall. We then came to a large opening with good sized but uninteresting passage that goes off to the right for about 750 or so feet. Here (I think "here" is at the end of the crawl, but he doesn't make it clear.) we climbed some breakdown--like climbing a staircase--and came to a broad little room with a high ceiling shaped like a dome. A little farther on we came to a low stream passage room with scallops and potholes in the floor. It opens up and continues fairly straight for 2 or 3 hundred yards past that, getting crooked at the end and narrowing to a fissure that blows a lot of air--it blew out our lights. We called this passage Long Tunnel. At its widest point it is only about 12 feet wide and at its highest, maybe 12 feet high. Beyond the windy fissure we found a waterfall we called Little Niagara for the sound it made--the roar was about ten times as loud as a waterfall that size would have been outside. There is a crawl going off to the left from the main passage at that point. We left our packs and extra lights and crawled about 40 feet into it with one candle. The candle was blown out and we could not find our packs and extra candles in the dark. Sam panicked a bit, but I got him calmed down. He waited while I followed the airflow and used the sparks from a flint arrowhead and my pocketknife to find the packs and candles. There is also a winding lead to the right that dead-ends. 

From here the cave opens up quite a bit into a large room with a small spring running through the ceiling. We called this 600 to 900 foot passage Charon Avenue. On average, Charon Avenue is about as wide as a city street and has some smooth sections and some rough sections with a great deal of both large and small breakdown. We found shell fossils in the wall through here. Some parts of the ceiling are so high we couldn't see the top with our lanterns. Shortly after we entered Charon Avenue we came upon a 1/2  mile long stream we called the River Styx. It exits the main passage through a fissure to the left, perhaps to empty into the Dry Fork or Glady Fork. Upstream (or so I assume), on the left side of the passage there is a rock that looks like a giant's coffin.

At this point we were fairly tired from climbing over so much breakdown, up and down slopes, banks and benches. We had made a few missteps as well and taken a few rather hard falls too. We stopped near a spring a little above the Giant's Coffin and ate lunch. On the ceiling above us there was a marking that looked rather like the front view of a pair of glasses. It was maybe 18 inches eye to eye. There was also a white object nearby made of sulphate of lime that looked like a headless goose.

Continuing upstream was pretty rough going. A little above where we ate lunch there is a small fissure passage to the right. We followed it for maybe 30 feet. It was very narrow and had a thin gypsum floor could have easily broken through, so we went back to the main passage. About 15 feet up from this is a pit that almost looks like a well. Near the pit we had to climb up a long steep rock that that looks like it has a series of miniature steps on it. We called it Jacob's Ladder. After that there were a series of maybe 10 or 15 broader (a yard wide) steps (near or above the miniature steps  is unclear).

The stream meanders a lot through here and the ceiling is high with checkered veins running through it. There are relatively low sections through here too--six to eight feet high. Moving on, the ceiling gets pretty low. In this low section one side of the ceiling is like the ceiling of a house (flat?). A little further on the ceiling is figured with interesting sculpture-like graphics. There is a small side lead here we didn't follow. (He doesn't specify which side of the cave the lead is on.)

From here we climbed a bunch of breakdown. We named it Rock Hill. After we passed over that we came to an area maybe 15 feet wide that clearly shows indications of flooding from time to time. We called it Flood Hall. There are some nice formations in there and the ceiling is very high and irregular. From here the cave widens somewhat into a series of interconnected areas we called "halls". The first we called Round Hall. 200 people could sit in there comfortably. Next we was a section with reverberating acoustics we called the Lecture Hall. Finally, we came to some of the most beautiful passage we had yet encountered. It was a long tunnel-like stretch of cave that went on for maybe 1300 feet. We called this passage Concert Hall because of the echoing acoustics. We sang and shouted and the echoes were so loud we were afraid the ceiling was going to collapse on us. We toppled a large slab of stone and the sound was unbelievably loud.

Halfway through Concert Hall, the 20 feet wide passage was flooded. The raft I had built previously proved seaworthy. We named this flooded section Stygian Lake. (He says Concert Hall is a 1/4 of a mile long. Then he says Stygian Lake, which starts halfway through Concert Hall, also 1/4 of a mile long. It doesn't add up.) The bank of the lake was even with the water and the water, which appears to ebb and flow, was 8 to 16 feet deep. On this end of the lake there was a dome-like ceiling with some nice stalactites that sparkled in our lights. We called it Shining Dome. There was one stalactite in particular that reflected a lot of light. The passage here  winds for about 30 or so feet and is almost blocked (apparently) by a large rock--nearly fifty feet high. It is very broad as well and against the wall. It almost looks like it is holding up the ceiling. We called this the Pillar of Hercules. There are stalactites all along the ceiling and stalagmites on the shores on both sides of the passage. When we were about halfway through the flooded passage a small slab of rock broke loose from the ceiling and struck our raft. That scared us a bit, so we lowered our voices. We saw various curious rocks, one of which that looked like a fish head and another that looked like a petrified Negro. Much further along we came upon a stalactite that looked remarkably like the foot of a horse. A little way further we found a formation that looked like a hog's ear. There were hundreds of soda straws on the ceiling.

It took us two hours to get through the flooded passage on our raft, and we finally came to solid land on a spot we called Tarpeian Rock (A famous cliff in Rome--therefore, presumably a cliff). Here we saw large mass of flowstone like a long and narrow counter. We walked up a steep, damp dirt bank that led to a flat floor that was about the width of the upper floor of a house. We had to maneuver our way out of there back to the main passage where we found a large roundish rock that we called Hercules' Handball.

This area had a smooth ceiling but a rough floor and it narrowed into sinuous passage we called Crooked Tunnel. At its broadest Crooked Tunnel was 15 feet across. It led to a large room filled with various formations with columns of stone on both sides. There were formations that sort of looked like people and one that looked like a tiger. The ceiling was rather high and the floor was filled with breakdown. As there were in other parts of the cave, there were some solitary hibernating bats on the wall.

            Our course here was still southwest, but it had ticked a few degrees to the west. We were still going just slightly downhill as we had since we left wind gap. The passage became irregular there and we found what looked like petrified moss. That area was filled with breakdown and there was a lead to the right that we didn't follow. We came into a section of passage we called Dismal Arch because of some flowstone that resembled a crown. Sam got his foot stuck here, but we got him unstuck. We found satinspar and flint here. The passage goes down somewhat here to a pit we called Robbers Cave. There were several leads out of the pit and little adjoining rooms. Next to this spot we saw some flowstone that looked like a sugarloaf, and a large hollow stalagmite you could crawl into--like the hut of a Hottentot. There were also some formations that looked like the backbone of a mammoth (pendants?). We continued climbing over breakdown and came to another belly crawl. When it opened out again into an area we called Pilgrim's Camp because we planned to camp there. After eating supper we left all of our extra stuff and moved on. After about 300 feet the cave opened up, but it was still rough going. The breakdown was so hard to get through we called this section of cave The Rocky Mountains.

          In this vicinity we saw a large column of rocks, a stalactite that looked like an elephant and the most beautiful stalactite we've seen so far. There was also a clear spring nearby that filled up a hollow in the rock like a washbowl. Several places through there contained large  breakdown, rock masses and fissures that didn't seem to be all that stable. It was a bit scary. I fell near there and knocked my light out. Sam said he would never come back to such a hellish place again. Going through the 1200-foot or so of the Rocky Mountains section was hard going. We were traversing fissures and pits in the rock, climbing up and down cliffs, jumping from rock to rock. We couldn't see how deep the pits were we were traversing. Sometimes our road steeply descended for a short distance and then ascended with the same angle to a great height. We had to go over great benches of rock, or around them, or under them or occasionally move along their acclivities like two cats on the roof of a house. We were crawling, stooping, kneeling, climbing, sliding, jumping and sometimes falling. We frequently encountered pits and fissures too wide for us to traverse and had to turn back and seek another route. We also met dead ends among the huge breakdown blocks. There was a small stream going through that passage as well, and we occasionally followed its winding course, wading in it. We called the stream section Watery Tunnel. The roof was out of sight in places there and the stream passage was filled with scallops and potholes. There was a large shelf near the end of water tunnel that was large enough to hold 100 people.

Finally we were through the Rocky Mountain Section. Here the passage opened out in width, height and magnificence. We called it Superior Hall because it surpassed any other room in the cave. There were three leads out of this room. The one to the right led to a large dome-like room filled with hibernating bats. There were thousands of them hanging from the walls and ceiling in great clumps. They woke up pretty easily and swooped at us, blowing out our lights. (Hmmm. Sounds like Indiana Bats) They kept up a continuing breeze and with their flapping wings they made it colder in there. We saw what we believed to be two or three separate species. Of course, we called this the Bat Room. We continued through narrow, crooked passage that got lower and lower. We passed through a few small rooms until we came to a slot through which we could not fit. We could see more cave on the other side, but we lacked the tools for breaking through.

Returning to Superior Hall, we went about 100 feet down a hill of rocks to the lead to our right. It was level passage with high ceiling, but the stalactites looked as if they had been broken off. We ourselves were guilty of that sort of sacrilege, having taken specimens, sacking (the cave's) sacred treasures and defacing its monuments. This turned into a very narrow passage that was clearly carved by flowing water, but there was no evidence of any recent water flowing through there. Above, great rocks were stuck between tooth-like rocks on wither side of the ceiling. The whole thing looked none too solid so we hurried through its sinuous path. It finally came to a curiously formed rock that seemed to block our path. There were two tight holes that led around the rock. The higher was the least tight, but it was hard to get to, so we squeezed through the lower one, adding more mud to our already unsightly clothes--which had been made raggedy by the cave and were literally caked with mud. When we got to the other side of the rock we found a curious thing. A large stalactite had fallen from the ceiling and was just hanging there between the walls, although we could not discern what was holding it up. It is just hanging there fifteen feet above the ground with no visible means of support that we could see. The cave seems to end there, but we found a hole that led down. It was somewhat of a squeeze. This was such an awful bit of passage we named it the Devil's Entry. It led to a small but nicely formed dome. A few hundred feet further on there was a large dome 25 feet in diameter. From there we followed a side lead, but it got too low and narrow to continue. We went back to the main passage and climbed a small bank to another dome, although this one was smaller than the first. That was as far as we could go in the cave. (What happened to the stream passage?)

 

Notes on the Length of the Cave

         In Caverns of West Virginia, Davies says that Jordan's cave "was reported to consist of a main passage over 30,000 feet long". That is incorrect. Jordan gives the following lengths:

 

From High Roof Hall

    to the Specimen Room........200 feet

The uninteresting passage......600 to 900 feet

Long Tunnel...............................500 to 600 feet

Charon Avenue.........................900 feet

River Styx..................................2640 feet (1/2 mile)

Stygian Lake............................1320 feet (1/4  mile)

Pilgrims Camp.........................330 feet to the Rocky Mountains (1/2 furlong)

Rocky Mountains.....................1320 feet (1/4 mile)

 

No distances are given for other areas so I will guess:

Long Hall.................................300 feet

High Roof Hall........................300 feet

Specimen Room...................200 feet

Crooked Tunnel.....................200 feet

Dismal Arch..........................100 feet

Robber's Cave......................200 feet

Superior Hall and Beyond....500 feet

Extra just in case...................550 feet

                                           10, 560 feet or two miles of passage

 Two miles is a maximum in that these are the higher of his two estimates (That is when he says "200 to 300 yards"). Also, some of these measurements actually co-occur--for example, Stygian Lake starts halfway through Charon Hall. A better guess for the distance of Jordan's Cave would be a mile to a mile and a half of passage. They did not go a tremendously long distance. From start to finish, their exploration was just a one day trip in--with a late morning start, with extremely heavy packs, time out for temperature taking and writing notes, specimen collecting, route finding, a two hour raft trip, lights being blown out, two meals, checking leads and Sam getting his foot stuck.  

 

Most people believe the "Great Cave of Dry Fork of Cheat River" is the Cave Hollow/Arbogast System which is gated and closed all year.

 

The Mountains
by Porte Crayon (David Strother)

A semi-historical memoir of the Dry Fork/Gandy Creek/Blackwater area in the 1850's, the names in The Mountains are familiar to all cavers who know the Dry Fork/Gandy Creek/ Blackwater area: Nelson, Teter, Mullenax, Armentrout, Fanchler, Yokum  and others. (Armentrout Cave, Mullenax Cave, Nelson Cave, Fanchlers Pit, etc. The Teters owned the Sinks of Gandy in 1855. I believe they still own it today.) 

These links lead to the complete series in GIF form as it originally appeared in Harpers. Unfortunately, you can only load one page at a time--but you can save them to your hard drive.

The Mountains I (The coach trip from Berkeley Springs to Slanesville, Ice Mountain, Romney to Moorefield)

The Mountains II (On horseback from Moorefield to Petersburg, to the Yokum's empire, overland to Dolly Sods--then called Big Plains--where a bear is killed by Stack Rock.)

The Mountains III (Travelling what is now Rt. 28 to Adam Karr's place and Karr's Pinnacles --probably Champe Rocks--down to Adamson's store at the Mouth of Seneca.)

The Mountains IV (Up the pack horse road along Seneca Creek, over Whites Run to Gandy Creek, to Armantrout's--where the Gandy meets the Dry Fork--To the Hettericks and then the Teters, then to the Sinks of Gandy)

The Mountains V (Laureate beats Tom Mullenax in a shooting match. Soldier White tells the tale of how Miss Dilly Wyatt saved the life of a hermit. There is a goose-plucking and a dance at Soldier White's)

The Mountains VI (A reunion of fellow travelers, another dance, fishing, back to the Sinks, Laureate shoots a wolf, Rattlebrain pretends to disappear in the Sinks.)

The Mountains VII (Rattlebrain falls in a sinkhole that leads into a secret room in the Sinks. He is captured by a mysterious gang. Laureate pays Tom Mullenax a bounty. The party goes downstream and stays with the Roy family. A fallen tree rises again. A jug of applejack hangs high in a tree.)

The Mountains VIII (To Red Creek for lunch with Washington Roy, then via a high and narrow path on to Fanchler's at the base of Backbone Mountain. Travelling up the Blackwater without any path or road they enounter many resurgences, a storm and gnats. To Blackwater Falls and back, then to Tower's Store at Horseshoe Bend.)

The Mountains IX (Up what is now Rt. 72 to the Winchester-Parkersburg Turnpike, now known as Rt. 50. Rowzey tells a bear story. Then south from Romney to Moorefield)

The Mountains X (A tournament at Ice Mountain. The Black Knight wins. Laureate crowns Rhoda.)

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