Wind Cave Exploration

Posted by Brian Gevik on

Wind Cave National Park is located in the southern Black Hills, 11 miles north of Hot Springs.

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Native Americans had known about the cave for a long time before European settlers arrived. Some tribes considered the site sacred. According to National Park Service and other records, there are no known accounts of Native exploration of the cave.

In 1881, Jesse and Tom Bingham became the first white people known to have located a natural entrance to the cave. The brothers were pursuing a wounded deer when they heard a whistling noise and felt a stiff breeze coming from a hole in the ground.

That same year, a Black Hills settler named Charlie Crary became the first person known to have descended into the cave and returned. (A trail of twine left by Crary and found by later explorers has been considered confirmation of his claim). The first written account of a trip into the cave was penned by Frank Herbert, another Black Hills settler.

But one early explorer did more than most to expand what was known about the cave. Alvin McDonald kept a diary of his subterranean travels and drew maps of where he'd been. McDonald also scratched his name and other information into the walls of the cave in several locations.

alvin mcdonald imageAlvin McDonald

The video clip below is extracted from "Wind Cave - The World Below," a 1990 documentary produced for the National Speleological Society in cooperation with the National Park Service. The clip begins with 1990s explorers looking at an etching left by Alvin McDonald. The clip also provides a brief history of Wind Cave exploration and features scenes from a trip to Wind Cave's deepest reaches.

Images of the Past Wind Cave Exploration Clip from a 1990 program about early exploration of one of the world's largest caves.

Much has been written about Wind Cave and it's history. Links to many of these histories and records can be found on this National Park Service Web page


The Black Hills is home to many other caves, large and small. Jewel Cave, west of Custer, is another very large cavern that continues to draw cavers from around the world. With 173 miles of known passageways and ongoing discovery and mapping efforts, Jewel Cave is currently the third longest cave in the world.

SDPB has produced a number of TV features and documentaries about Black Hills caves and caving.

Exploring Wind Cave  and Water in Wind Cave  - Dakota Life segments, 2009. (Clips require Flash player.)

Learn more about Jewel Cave in this 1991 SDPB documentary. (Flash clip.)

Learn more about Black Hills Cave formation in this clip from "Wind Cave - The World Below"

Images of the Past Formation of Black Hills Caves Clip from 1990 describes how Black Hills caves were formed.

For Teachers: Activity idea is available at SDPB's Digital Learning Library

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