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Copyright © 1998-2022 D. A. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.



Danny Wilson


Once upon a time, about 3000 years ago, there was a large volcanic upheaval.  The eruption was so large its lava covered an area more than 17 miles long. As the lava cooled many lava caves were formed and the whole surface of the land took on the appearance of a broken and jumbled ruin. However, as the years passed, time and weather softened the rocks and the landscape was gradually covered by forest and bushes, until it looked very much like the rest of the forests in the area. When Mineral Mountain Park was formed this area was included. No one suspected what secrets were concealed beneath its forested surface.

* * * * * *

It was a hot midsummer day in 1961, and the geological research team led by Tad was about ready to quit for the day. They had already covered 15 miles mapping and sampling as they went, and the combination of heat and heavy packs had considerably shortened their tempers. It was therefore a somewhat careless Tad who forced his way through a tight group of pines and mysteriously disappeared before the others astonished gaze. A cautious investigation soon showed them that Tad, luckily unhurt, had fallen through the open top of a vent of a cave. This looked interesting!

The group gathered around the vent of the cave. It was decided that Jim and George would join Tad and investigate the cave while John and Harold stayed on top to pull them out. Leaving behind their packs and taking only their flashlights the trio disappeared into the blackness.

They had to move very slowly because of the fallen boulders which littered the floor of the cave. It was amazing how inadequate the lights from their flashlights seemed in the almost total blackness of the cave. Tad raised a hand and motioned the rest of the group to stop.

“Notice that peculiar smell?” he inquired.

“Yeah. That doesn’t come from rocks. I wonder what’s down here.” replied Jim.

“Probably just bats.” said George.

“No, bats have a musty smell. This is different.” said Tad. “Let’s go on.”

As they picked their way deeper into the cave the smell got stronger. The walls of the cave began to glint from the flashlights beams, indicating that there was a lot of moisture and soon they heard the rush of running water. Suddenly Tad stopped short.

“There is no more floor ahead!” he exclaimed. “It drops off here.”

“Can we climb down?” questioned George. “Not without light.” replied Tad.

“Let’s go back then and get the lanterns.” said Jim. “We should be able to go down there if we have rope and light.”

Back at the vent the group decided that it was a little late to explore any more that afternoon and they decided to make camp for the night. They would return to the cave in the morning.

“We better wear our jackets tomorrow.” said Jim. “That cave gets cold as you get into it.”

“Yeah, and we had better figure a way to mark the way we’ve been.” said Tad. “I had the feeling I was getting lost on the way back today.”

“Speaking of feelings, I had the feeling we were being watched while you guys were down in the cave.” said John.

“Let’s get to sleep.” said George. “I imagine that tomorrow is going to be a mighty full day.”

* * * * * *

After breakfast the next day a well-equipped group of cave explorers returned to the vent. This time it was Jim and George who waited on top while Tad, John and Harold went in. As the three picked their way carefully over the rubble strewn about the cave floor Tad was struck by a curious fact.

“That strange smell is gone.” he said. “Now it just smells like any other cave.”

A little further on he had another surprise. The cave was plugged solid, from floor to ceiling, with the same type of rubble that littered the floor. Though they tried to dig their way through they could not move it and at last had to give up.

“It didn’t look as if the roof had fallen,” said Tad, “but I guess that’s what happened. Those rocks were so tightly placed they almost seemed to have been set by hand.”

He and the others were resting at the vent as they told Jim and George of their efforts.  George motioned towards a small opening in the wall behind them, in the opposite direction from the main tube which they had been exploring.

“There seems to be an extension of the tube up here. It opens up just inside the opening, but I didn’t follow it very far. Let’s check it out next.”

Jim and Tad elected to stay behind this time, while George, John and Harold explored the new cave. The three were gone for nearly an hour and when they returned it was to report that the tube was passable for about a half mile, all generally up hill. Towards the upper end it pinched and narrowed until it became too small to get through. The same strange smell seemed to come from further up.

While they had been exploring the cave Jim and Tad had been examining what they knew about the caves and the country in general. These caves were lava tubes, formed by a gully full of lava cooling on top while the center was still molten. The molten lava had run out leaving a cave. As the ceiling cooled still more it shrank and cracked, and pieces of ceiling fell causing all the rubble on the floor.  Lava caves seldom occur singularly. As the lava flows outward from the volcano every deep gully fills.

“If we can find the source of this tube we should be able to spot the general course of the others. There are bound to be other vents.” said Tad.

“Let’s get looking.” said George. “After all, we’re hired to map this park, and caves sure belong on the map.”

* * * * * * *

They followed the course of the tube up the hill, and from a high promontory surveyed the terrain. It was immediately apparent that finding those other vents was not going to be so easy. The ground was fairly flat, and when the lava had filled the gullies they had come to look like everything else. You could not follow them from the surface. The thick timber made it worse, as you couldn’t get above it to look over the area.

“I still have that feeling I’m being watched.” said John. “This whole place is creepy.” “Hey, isn’t that a crater over there?” said George. “That could be our source.”

The crater did indeed prove to be the source, and they found several tubes leading directly away from it.

“With this to give us our bearings we should be able to find all the vents.” said Tad.

And then the accidents began.

* * * * * * *

They were following the first tube away from the crater… John, Jim and George. John was leading and George was bringing up the rear. John and Jim had just climbed down to a lower level and were waiting for George when he pitched forward and sprawled face down beside them, unconscious. There was blood welling from a deep wound on the back of his head, and he lay on the floor, unmoving.

“How in hell did he bang himself there?” exclaimed John as he bent over his friend. “Whew. That’s a deep wound.”

They finally revived him and helped him from the cave. Back at the crater it was apparent that they weren't the only ones with problems. Tad and Harold told them that while they were gone several rock slides had inexplicably occurred from the walls above them, finally forcing them to take refuge in the cave.

“Like I said, this place is creepy.” said John.

They made their way back to camp as soon as George felt able to walk and settled down to hold a council of war.

* * * * * *

“It seems to me that something must be causing these accidents.” said Tad.

“Not something—someone.” said George. “I didn’t hit my head—I was hit.”

“I tend to agree,” said Harold. “This is too much to be coincidence. There’s a mind behind it.”

“I’ve been feeling watched since yesterday.” said John. “The point is, what do we do about it?”

“Well,” said Tad, “I recommend we keep exploring until we find him. He is evidently associated with caves since he never bothers us unless we are in or near them. If we keep looking we should find out why.”

“You mean them. There must be more than one to hit George and roll the rocks at the same time.” said John.

“How do we keep from getting killed while exploring?” asked Jim.

“We wear hard hats and watch each other carefully.” said Tad. “So much for tonight. Tomorrow we hunt.”

* * * * *

The next morning they returned to the crater, but instead of entering the tubes they sighted in the direction of the second tube and set off in search of other vents. About one and a half miles from the crater they found an opening. The vent was very deep and required the explorers be lowered on a rope. It was decided that only two would enter the cave and the other three would stay above ground to help hoist them out.

Tad and Jim, equipped with flash lights, jackets and rock helmets set out walking down the tube. That same strange smell was again in the air, stronger now but still illusive and hard to identify.  The tube dropped fast, with several steps to lower levels. Soon there was water, first shinning from the walls, then running as an ever enlarging trickle on the floor of the tube. It was very cold.

“The floor of this tube seems to have been cleared into a trail.” said Tad. “Look there, someone has used dirt to fill in between the stones.”

“Do you suppose that smell could be cooking?” queried Jim. “It has the elements of smoke, herbs and roasted meat.”

“That’s it!” said Tad. “This cave is actually some ones front hallway. And they don’t particularly want visitors. No wonder the tube was blocked after that first day.”

“Yeah, and that explains the accidents.” said Jim. “It all falls into place.”

By this time they had penetrated over a mile into the cave and the stream had become fairly large. Over its noise they could hear the sound of a much larger stream, the same one they had heard on their first cave search. All at once they came to an opening into a lower level. From the sound of the water, this one contained what amounted to an underground river, and was an extremely large cave.

“We better leave the rope here.” said Jim. “It will mark the exit and also make the climb out easier.”

“Smell those cooking fires.” said Tad. “We must be close to the kitchen.”

The main cave was about 100 feet wide and the floor fairly flat. They couldn’t see the ceiling. A light breeze carried the cooking smell toward them. It was warmer. As the two were about to set off in the direction from which they had come, Tad thought he heard a slight noise from the direction of the cave they had just left.

“Probably just a bat.” said Jim.

“Bat nothing. They don’t make noise you can hear. I’ll bet it’s the rope.” said Tad.

Sure enough the rope was gone.

“What now?” said Jim, “It’s a cinch we can’t get back up there without the rope.”

“Who ever made those cook fires gets in and out of here.” said Tad. “Let’s go find out how.”

* * * * *

Back at the cave entrance the three fell into a discussion of how to get to know more about their unseen watchers.

“Why not two of us go away and the third pretend to fall asleep. Then he would come in closer and the two could circle him.” said John.

“Good idea, John.” said George. “You and Harold go and I’ll fake a nap. Stay close though, because I can’t fight very well with this hole in my head.”

Harold and John got up and loudly bid George fare well and left the cave entrance. George stretched and lay back against a tree. Soon his eyes began to close. After about 15 minutes the brush behind his tree began to wave slightly and a sun-bronzed hand holding a stout club raised above his sleeping head. As the club began to descend a shout rang out. George rolled smoothly to his left and came to a crotch, facing his assailant. He launched himself in a low flat dive and tackled the stranger around the knees. John and Harold moved quickly in and soon the three of them had the stranger securely bound.

The stranger was an Indian, dressed in the clothes of Indians before the coming of white men.

He was about average height and build and much stronger than any of the three white men. His face was painted and he had feathers in his hair. His eyes burned with a fury that indicated that though roped he was not defeated.

“Who are you and what’s the meaning of these attacks?” demanded George.

“I don’t think he understands English.” said Harold. “He doesn’t indicate any comprehension at all.”

“What do we do with him now?” queried John. “We sure don’t want him loose with that club, and if we can’t talk it will be hard to explain to him that we needn’t be enemies.”

“You are right about not being able to explain to me about not being my enemies.” said the Indian, “I’ve known white men before and none have convinced me yet.”

“So you do speak English.” said George. “What’s the idea of trying to club me?”

“And to roll rocks on us?” said Harold.

But the Indian sat, his face impassive, refusing by his silence to speak any more. And the three friends were left with their problem—what to do with this hostile captive.

* * * * * *

Jim and Tad moved slowly towards the smell of cooking. They used their flash lights sparingly so as to not alarm whoever lived in the cave. Soon the river moved over and touched the wall on their side and they were forced to cross over. A faint glow became visible ahead.

“I think I see the fire.” said Jim.

“Good. Turn off your light and we’ll move up quietly.” said Tad.

However, a moment later Jim, who was in front, stumbled over a rock and fell loudly to the floor of the cave. Tad was able to see the flitting shadows of moving figures around the fire for a moment—then all was still.

“They’re all hiding.” said Tad. “I guess we had best walk on in and announce our friendliness.”

The two stood erect and walked toward the fire. No one moved to greet them.

“Hello, my name is Tad and I want to be your friend.” Tad announced to the seemingly empty cave. Still nobody moved.

“Whoever they are, they don’t seem impressed by your friendliness.” said Jim.

Suddenly rude hands seized the two and after a brief struggle they found themselves bound and faced by a growing crowd of shadowy figures. The Indians spoke to one another in a language quite unknown to the two friends, but their gestures made their meaning plain enough. It appeared to be but a matter of time before the Indians clubs finished what the accidents had only hinted at.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, after some deliberation George, Harold and John had reached a decision.

“We can’t expect this fellow to trust us when we keep him trussed up like this.” said Harold. “Let’s turn him loose and take our chances.”

They untied the captive and he rubbed his wrists.

“You may go if you wish.” said George. “We have no right to keep you tied.”

“You don’t fear my club?” said the Indian.

“Why should you club us when we’ve shown you we mean no harm by untying you?”

The Indian considered this thought for some time before replying.

“My name is Grey Cloud.” he said. “I am a sub chief of my people, who once were related to the Nez Perce tribes. We were driven out of the council before the coming of the white man and have lived in these caves ever since. You are the first people to have stayed around here long enough to find out about us.”

“And yet you speak excellent English.” said John.

“I went to live on the Nez Perce Reservation when I was six. They don’t know about us, but it’s a large reservation and many of the Indian families are strangers to each other. We speak the same Indian language.”

“I hate to change the subject,” said George, “but it’s been three hours since the others left and that’s too long.”

“My people have planned to trap and capture them.” said Grey Cloud. “You see, we think a lot alike.”

“Is there anyone else in the tribe who speaks English?” queried Harold.

“No one but me. I guess we better get down there and have a powwow.”

He got to his feet and led the way down the hill.

* * * * * * *

Jim and Tad were roughly dragged to the fire and were tied to large stones just outside the circle of warmth. After several attempts to communicate with the Indians they realized that no one spoke English and gave it up. The Indians were holding a council in which it seemed that about half were in favor of settling with Tad and Jim quickly. They kept gesturing at the two with their clubs and it took no knowledge of the language to guess their meaning. The whole search of the caves suddenly had taken on a new and ominous tone and the friends were only too aware of their danger.

It appeared that the figures around the fire were reaching a conclusion, and one that bode no good for the two white men. They were dragged closer to the fire’s light and the apparent leader of the Indians, a wizened old man stood before them and shook his club. He began to shout and gesture in a very threatening manner. After several minutes of this they felt steel like fingers again on their arms.

“I guess this is the finish.” said Tad.

But the hands were untying their bounds, and soon they found themselves free.

* * * * *

At that moment George, John and Harold came running up led by Grey Cloud. Grey Cloud held a rapid conversation with his people and then turned to the white men.

“I guess we are a lot alike.” he said. “My people have decided that they must stop short of killing and that the only way to bring peace is to free your friends and show that they wish you no further harm.”

Then the whole crowd turned and headed for the lower entrance to the cave.

* * * * *

Several days later as the five friends took their leave of the Indians, Tad looked back at the mouth of the cave with a speculative expression.

“I wonder if they can keep their culture, now that they are found.” he said.

“Perhaps they can save at least the best parts.” said George. “The park will protect their lands and this area isn’t likely to attract many people. Anyway, it’s their only chance.”

And with that the five shouldered their packs and headed into the west.


By Danny Wilson as told to John O. Wilson on November 8, 1973 and January 11, 1975



[Editor’s note:

Daniel had the idea for a story about lava caves with a hidden tribe of Indians living in them, and that guys would explore them and they would have fights, and cool stuff like that. He related this to John O who put the story on paper and provided the details and the structure. The majority of the story was written in one evening, if I recall correctly, straight through and with very few edits. I can remember Daniel sitting with John O while he wrote. The story was not finished, and I took charge of the manuscript, and pestered John O to finish it, and he finally did on January 11, 1975. His distinct –END- at the bottom of page 14 on the MS. was John O’s declaration that the project was over. So I put it away in the family archives for 40 years. It’s been a real inspiration working with The Living Cave, and has given me some new project ideas of my own.

Although they are gone, I continue to find comfort in materials left behind by my little brother and my father, and I am so grateful to have them, and be able to share them with the world.

– D. A. Wilson, San Francisco, March 24, 2015.]


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