Smallin Cave

Civil War Cave

Useful Information

Location: Near Ozark.
Open: JAN to FEB Mon-Fri 14-16, Sat 9:30-17, Sun 13-17, after appointment only.
MAR to MAY Mon-Sat 9:30-17, Sun 13-17.
JUN to AUG Mon-Sat 9:30-17:30, Sun 13-17:30.
SEP to DEC Mon-Sat 9:30-17, Sun 13-17.
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
Fee: Adults USD 15.95, Children (4-12) USD 8.95, Children (0-3) free.
Off-Trail Wild Tours perPerson USD 50, Equipment rental USD 10.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Mississippian-age Boone Formation
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: D=60 min, L=168 m.
Bibliography: Jonathan A. Gillip, Phillip D. Hays, Joel M. Galloway (2008): The Effects of Land-Use Change on an Ozark Cave System: A Paired Study of Civil War and Copperhead Caves, USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5023
Address: Smallin Cave, 3575 North Smallin Road, Ozark, Missouri 65721, Tel: +1-417-551-4545. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1818 discovered by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.
1898 first study of the blind crayfish at the cave.
1923 article by the National Geographic on Missouri includes a photo of the entrance of Smallin Cave.
1948 descibed in the Ecological Society of America magazine.
1958 survey by Oz Hawksley, Jack Reynolds, and George Dieke.
1962? first opened as a show cave by Joseph Bolger.
1970 purchased by a church named Central Assembly of God.
03-APR-2010 reopened to the public, re-named Smallin Cave.


Smallin Cave was opened to the public in 2010. This does not mean it is the youngest show cave in the Ozarks, actually it is a show cave which was known under the name Civil War Cave during the 1960s. When the former owner sold it to a church named Central Assembly of God, it was turned into a church camp. So it was still accessible, but only to members of the church, not as a show cave. Now the cave was sold again, and purchased by Wanetta and Kevin Bright. They renamed the cave Smallin Cave and after investing a lot of hard work and all their savings, the cave was finally reopened as a show cave.

This cave has a long history. The huge entrance portal is really impressive, and was useful as a shelter over the centuries. First it was visited by Native Americans, they shaped thong trees (Indian marker trees) to point to the cave entrance. One can be seen close to the ticket office. They used the place for arrowhead manufacturing.

Then the cave was discovered by the early settlers. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (28-MAR-1793 to 10-DEC-1864) explored the White River Valley and the Ozarks in winter 1818/19. He discovered the cave and named it Winoca, an Osage Indian term meaning Underground Spirit. He wrote about it in his journal in 1819, so this is actually the first written mention of a cave in the Ozarks.

The name Civil War Cave is a result of local folklore, telling that it was an ammo dump for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Actually the cave was used during the war, but probably not to store anything, because of the cave river. The town of Ozark actually was an important location of union activity during the Civil War, there is a genealogy journal which documents the use of the cave as a hideout for an Union spy. Other legends tell it was a source for potter's clay, and an easy place to wash the laundry. Both seems rather unlikely, as cave clay is not suitable for pottery and it might have been too much work to transport the laundry to the cave, just for the shelter on rainy days. More plausible is the use of the cave clay for building houses. However, the huge portal was a popular picknick area, cool on hot summer days and a good shelter in the case of rain. It was frequented by various schools and colleges of the area.

We do not know when the cave was renamed Smallin Cave, or why it was named so. It was actually renamed Civil War Cave in 1962 when the cave was opened as a show cave. At this time the path and the electric light were installed. It seems the cave was purchased in December 1961 or January 1962 by Thomas Young, an oil speculator from Wichita, Kan.. Formerly the ground was part of the Judge Martha Crain estate, then the ground with the cave was sold for $150,000. The whole thing immediately collapsed as Young was sentenced to five years in prison for fraud, pertaining the sale of fake oil wells. Joseph Bolger was either working for Young or he purchased the land from him, but it seems he developed the cave and opened it to the cave in the same year. A railroad car was brought to the site and declared to be the railroad car of the Lincoln funeral, another fraud which fits Young.

Only one decade later the show cave was sold to the Central Assembly of God church. It seems, it was now again known as Smallin Cave, but also as Civil War Cave. There were no tours in the cave, the church used the surrounding park for youth camps. There are descriptions by visitors of the camp who went to the cave on their own. Without light those trips often ended where the cave passage becomes dark. However, during this time the gate at the end of the developed passage was broken, probably by trespassing cavers. The cave and ground were sold to someone who tried to continue the camps, but actually this did not work out, and soon the furniture of the camp was auctoned and the ground sold again. This time it was purchased by the Brights, who reopened the cave in 2010 as a show cave.

The cave tour visits the main passage of the cave. A 168 m long trail winds up the river passages, elevated above the cave river and more or less flood proof. The passage starts very big, and becomes continually narrower. After the second bend there is no daylight any more. From this point the water of the cave river is home to the white blind crayfish, Cambarus setosus. Visitors may be able to see one of those ghostlike white animals. At the end of the trail, the cave becomes narrow. The far reaches of the cave are mostly low, with frequent crawls, for some 750 m.