Wednesday, September 12, 2007
We stopped that night at a tavern in Smithland. Leaving this place after dinner the next day, on foot, we struck through the country, into the bottom lands of the Cumberland River traveling leisurely, lingering for hours in the course of a circuitous tramp of only a few miles. Although it was the month of December, the climate was mild and balmy. In my former home, a similar time of year would have been marked with snow, sleet, and ice, and I could not but draw a contrast between the two localities. How different also the scenery from that of my native State. Great timber trees, oak, poplar, hickory, were in majestic possession of large tracts of territory, in the solitude of which man, so far as evidences of his presence were concerned, had never before trodden. Prom time to time we passed little clearings that probably were to be enlarged to thrifty plantations in the future, and finally we crossed the Cumberland River. That night we rested with Mr. Joseph Watts, a wealthy and cultured land owner, who resided on the river's bank. After leaving his home the next morning, we journeyed slowly, very slowly, my guide seemingly passing with reluctance into the country. He had become a very pleasant companion, and his conversation was very entertaining. We struck the sharp point of a ridge the morning we left Mr. Watts' hospitable house. It was four or five miles distant, but on the opposite side of the Cumberland, from Smithland. Here a steep bluff broke through the bottom land to the river's edge, the base of the bisected point being washed by the Cumberland River, which had probably cut its way through the stony mineral of this ridge in ages long passed. We climbed to its top and sat upon the pinnacle, and from that point of commanding observation I drank in the beauties of the scene around me. The river at our feet wound gracefully before us, and disappeared in both directions, its extremes dissolving in a bed of forest. A great black bluff, far up the stream, rose like a mountain, upon the left side of the river; bottom lands were about us, and hills appeared across the river in the far distance-towards the Tennessee River. With regret I finally drew my eyes from the vision, and we resumed the journey. We followed the left bank of the river to the base of the black bluff,-" Biswell's Hill," a squatter called it,- and then skirted the side of that hill, passing along precipitous stone bluffs and among stunted cedars. Above us towered cliff over cliff, almost perpendicularly; below us rolled the river.
I was deeply impressed by the changing beauties of this strange Kentucky scenery, but marveled at the fact that while I became light-hearted and enthusiastic, my guide grew correspondingly despondent and gloomy. From time to time he lapsed into thoughtful silence, and once I caught his eye directed toward me in a manner that I inferred to imply either pity or envy. We passed Biswell's Bluff, and left the Cumberland River at its upper extremity, where another small creek empties into the river. Thence, after ascending the creek some distance, we struck across the country, finding it undulating and fertile, with here and there a small clearing. During this journey we either camped out at night, or stopped with a resident, when one was to be found in that sparsely settled country. Sometimes there were exasperating intervals between our meals; but we did not suffer, for we carried with us supplies of food, such as cheese and crackers, purchased in Smithland, for emergencies. We thus proceeded a considerable distance into Livingston County, Kentucky. I observed remarkable sinks in the earth, sometimes cone-shaped, again precipitous. These cavities were occasionally of considerable size and depth, and they were more numerous in the uplands than in the bottoms. They were somewhat like the familiar " sink-holes " of New York State, but monstrous in comparison. The first that attracted my attention was near the Cumberland River, just before we reached Biswell's Hill. It was about forty feet deep and thirty in diameter, with precipitous stone sides, shrubbery growing therein in exceptional spots where loose earth had collected on shelves of stone that cropped out along its rugged sides. The bottom of the depression was flat and fertile, covered with a luxuriant mass of vegetation. On one side of the base of the gigantic bowl, a cavern struck down into the earth. I stood upon the edge of this funnel-like sink, and marveled at its peculiar appearance. A spirit of curiosity, such as often influences men when an unusual natural scene presents itself, possessed me. I clambered down, swinging from brush to brush, and stepping from shelving-rock to shelving-rock, until I reached the bottom of the hollow, and placing my hand above the black hole in its center, I perceived that a current of cold air was rushing therefrom, upward. I probed with along stick, but the direction of the opening was tortuous, and would not admit of examination in that manner. I dropped a large pebble-stone into the orifice; the pebble rolled and clanked down, down, and at last, the sound died away in the distance.
" I wish that I could go into the cavity as that stone has done, and find the secrets of this cave," I reflected, the natural love of exploration possessing me as it probably does most men. My companion above, seated on the brink of the stone wall, replied to my thoughts: " Your wish shall be granted. You have requested that which has already been laid out for you. You will explore where few men have passed before, and will have the privilege of following your destiny into a realm of natural wonders. A fertile field of investigation awaits you, such as will surpass your most vivid imaginings. Come and seat yourself beside me, for it is my duty now to tell you something about the land we are approaching, the cavern fields of Kentucky."
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