Wind Cave is the fourth longest cave in the world. Explorers have mapped over 110 miles of passages and the unique feature about this cave is that it has boxwork. It is the largest display in the world. In 1881, some cowboys discovered a cave that the Native Americans termed as a “hole that breathes cool air.” Exploration began in that year, but it wasn’t until 1903 that Wind Cave was the first cave in the world to be termed as a national park. Even after all these years of exploration, they have not reached the end of this cave. New passages and rooms continue to go on.
The two cowboy explorers were Jesse and Tom Bingham. The whistling noise coming from the ground is what drew their attention. When they got to the area, Tom’s hat was blown off his head from the cave’s entrance. When they went back to that area days later to show some friends, his hat was not blown off, but sucked inside the cave. According to the story, a man by the name of Charlie Crary went into the cave in 1881 in the fall. He proved that he went in by leaving a trail of twine to mark his path. Later explorers found his twine-marked path. In 1890, J.D. McDonald was hired by the South Dakota Mining Company as the manager at Wind Cave. It didn’t take them long to discover that this mine wasn’t for mining. Therefore, they turned to another idea. J. D. McDonald and his family filed a homestead claim over the cave’s opening. They made an entrance, enlarged the passageways and started to give tours of the cave. J.D. had a son named Alvin and he began to explore the cave. He kept a diary and made a map of Wind Cave. Alvin explored the cave until January 23, 1891 when he gave up on finding the end of Wind Cave. While business continued to grow, Honest John Stabler came aboard. Together they formed a partnership and Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company was established. The two families worked together. Passageways were widened and they added wooden staircases so people could easily get through the cave. A stagecoach would arrive with passengers and they could stay at the hotel that was almost right beside the caves entrance.
In 1893, J.D. and Alvin went to advertise their venture at Chicago’s to the Columbian Exposition. It was during this trip that Alvin came down with typhoid fever. He never regained his health and he passed away that same year.
Bickering between McDonalds and Stablers started. The McDonalds thought that the Stablers were stealing some of the profits and they wanted to be reimbursed. This feud escalated and they went to court. Peter Folsom had control over the caves mining claim so he and the Stablers filed a claim against the McDonalds for total control over the mine. This action served no purpose because in December 1899, the Department of the Interior ruled that no one had legal claim to the cave. In 1901, the cave was no longer part of the homesteading act.
To date, members of caving clubs explore Wind Cave. The explorers who found various rooms or passageways named those places. Many of the names tell a story of what was happening when they found that spot, or it was named after someone involved with Wind Cave.