In An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill by Colonel W. F. Cody, 1920 he writes of his fur trapping adventures on the Nebraska plains around 1860 when he was about 14 years old. On page 37, Col. Cody describes how he and his friend Harrington were fur trapping when one of their two oxen were killed and then later Cody broke his leg. With winter upon them, Harrington left to get help at the nearest settlement, 125 miles away. Harrington figured the trip to take about 20 days. Cody writes of encountering Sioux Indians during this time in the cave by himself and barely making through with his life.
Now it is well known that Cody would embelish his story telling, so just how many days he laid there in the cave, and his experiences with the Indians during that time is questionable. Also, Fort Kearny was closer to 60 miles away, not 120. Regardless of the exaggerated details, he was documented to be in Harlan County Nebraska, and did take refuge in a cave.
Buffalo Bills Cave - located west of Indian Hill Road,
south of Republican River. Picture taken about 1908-1910.
In 2001 Kristi Kreuscher, Grand-daughter of the late Harlan County Historian, Erma Kammerer shared this photo with me of Buffalo Bill's Cave. The photo was in Erma Kammerer's Harlan County history collection.
In September 2006, Jerry McClain took my husband, my parents and me on a tour to show us Buffalo Bill's cave as it is today. Below are some photos I took of the cave. Jerry originally found the cave in the 1970's while tending sheep. If you didn't know where to look for the cave, you would have a hard time finding it. We drove on a dirt road to get as close as we could, then proceeded to walk through an unbroken sod pasture just west of what is known as Indian Hill. It was a good half mile walk, through one ravine and up over to the next ravine where we came to the cave.
The original cave location listed with the original photo above was correct. The cave is located on the south side of Harlan County Lake on federal property. It is west of Indian Hill Road. More particularly, it is between the farthest west Indian Hill and Prairie Dog Cove.
The cave faces west to a deep draw filled now with many trees. There is a fresh spring in the ravine that apparently feeds the vegetation. It is presumed that in the past, prairie fires kept the trees and brush to a minimum along the spring, creeks and river. Today there are pieces of a large fallen tree trunk (36+ inches in diameter) laying in front of the cave. I believe these are the last remains of the tree in the 1908-1910 photo above. The boulders are still there, with maybe even a little more rock exposed. Besides all the trees now grown up around and infront of the cave, the cave is still there. The inside of the present cave is about 6 feet in height. By the tracks left in the dirt, deer and other animals visit the cave frequently. It is guessed that the animials have licked the salty rock enough to erode the cave further back. In both the 1908 photo and today in 2006, you can see the front part of the cave's ceiling laying on the north floor of the cave. Today the cave goes back in the ground about 10 feet in an easterly direction into the draw. The ravine, trees and foliage prevented me from taking a photo from the same angle that the original 1908 photo was taken. Even if I could have climbed to that point, the trees and vegetation would have blocked the view of the cave's entrance.
Buffalo Bills Cave in September 2006
A big thank you to Jerry for taking us on this adventure!
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