Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park has one of the world’s longest and most complex caves. It is 28,295 acres of mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest. Its mission is to preserve and protect the natural resources.
The cave is large and extremely complex, with the 108.60 miles (174.78 kilometers) of known cave under just over one square mile of land. The boxwork is rare and found in few other caves. Wind Cave has undergone many geological changes, and the processes continue.
The first recorded discovery of Wind Cave was in 1881.
Jesse and Tom Bingham were attracted to the cave by a whistling noise. There was a wind at the cave entrance. It is related to the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface.
The first person reported to have entered the cave was Charlie Crary in the fall of 1881. The early explorers were the first to see a rare cave formation called boxwork.
Several mining claims were established at Wind Cave, but mining proved to be unsuccessful. However, J.D. McDonald and his family, who had a claim, realized they could make money by giving cave tours and selling formations from the cave. They filed a homestead claim over the opening and worked on improving a manmade entrance and enlarging passageways for tours.
In the summer of 1891, a man known as “Honest John” Stabler formed a partnership with the McDonalds. The two families created the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company.
Cave passages were widened and wooden staircases were installed. A hotel was built near the cave entrance, and a stage coach provided rides to the cave.
In December 1899, because of disputes between claim-holders, the Department of the Interior decided that, since no mining nor proper homesteading had taken place, no party had any legal claim to the cave. In 1901, the land around the cave was withdrawn from homesteading.
On January 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill creating Wind Cave National Park.
It was the seventh national park and the first one created to protect a cave
In July of 1935, the adjacent game preserve became part of Wind Cave National Park. In 1946, 16,341 additional acres were added, enlarging the park to 28,059 acres.
During the 1950s and 1960s, park wildlife was the focus of much attention. Because of the lack of large predators, the bison and elk herds had overgrown, creating a food shortage for them.
To solve the problem of overgrazing, the bison and elk herd sizes were reduced. Park rangers began an active program to manage the herd size.
They began rounding up the animals and shipping the excess live from the park to other parks and reserves.
Rangers also worked to improve the grassland by reseeding overgrazed areas with native grasses and controlling exotic plant species.
The reintroduction of fire as a natural means to improve the range and to limit the expansion of the forest onto the prairie was researched. An active fire program was started, with the first prescribed fire occurring in 1972.
See map of the park.
We would like to thank Phyllis Cremonini, Assistant Chief of Interpretation, Wind Cave National Park, for information sent to us for this page and the National Park Service for the use of the Wind Cave website lists.
(This page was updated in November 2012.)