There are so many incredible facts about our historical caverns that it's difficult to pack so much information into your tour. Here are some rare facts you may not have heard about our cave that we'd love to share with you.
Did you know there is a legend about a jaguar in the cave? Later historians share that it was known as the black cat of Alabama and in likelihood was smaller than a jaguar. Here is the record from “A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians.” In 1500 “When the Creek Indians arrived in the neighborhood of Kymulga Onyx Cave (Lun Hamga), they were told by the people of Coosa that an adventure-some stray jaguar was making his den in the Cave. They killed the gorgeous animal, dreaded foe of man, and reserved his bones which they carried to war for over 300 years. The Creek Indian name of the jaguar was “Isti-pap” meaning person eater.”
This story is both exciting and disappointing! DeSoto Caverns leadership decided to transform the 162 steps into DeSoto Caverns into a ramp in order to make DeSoto Caverns one of the earliest caverns to have a handicap accessible entrance. This took a great deal of engineering work to accomplish and involved removing clay and then repacking it under the current tunnel inside the caverns. We finished the tunnel in 1995 and when completed, we had a pile of left over clay that we hadn’t used to fill in the tunnel ramp. As we moved the clay we were astonished to find a huge bone that didn’t belong to a human!! It was tested and we found that it was an ancient young mastodon’s bone! We searched the rest of the pile to recover the full skeleton only to find that the rest of the skeleton lays under our finished tunnel into the caverns!
In 1931 DeSoto Caverns is described in the State of Alabama Senate as being the “nation’s most historic cavern.” Not only have we found the prehistoric bones of a mastodon and Native American bones dating back over 2,000 years, but the Caverns was designated as America’s first Cave on record thanks to Benjamin Hawkins, who reported the caverns to our first President, George Washington in the 1700’s!
Ida Mathis, an incredible leader, was the first to purchase the underground rights to the cave. Ida Brandon grew up in the Florence community, where she was prepared for a quiet domestic life. However, after marrying Giles Huffman Mathis and inheriting money of her own, Ida set out to do something radically different from what her upbringing had prepared her for: she decided to revolutionize the American agricultural system. Through her innovative ideas and careful teaching, she did just that. Ida Mathis purchased the caverns in 1920 and has been inducted into the Alabama’s women’s Hall of Fame for her incredible contributions to our state. Here is a quote from her induction: “Alabama's foremost citizen and the greatest woman in the United States.” It also said that Mrs Mathis was “The greatest woman farmer in the United States. That's what they call Mrs. G. H. Mathis in Alabama. And no wonder, just to talk to her is an inspiration. But she will laugh at you if you tell her that. She will probably laugh at you anyhow, for she loves laughter, and green things growing, and cows that give rich creamy milk and pigs that weigh what they ought to weigh, and farmers that make good."
DeSoto Caverns’ light show is considered one of the top underground light show experiences in the country! We also offer a variety of shows throughout the year including our God & Country Light Show, Christmas Light Show, Valentine’s Day Light Show and our year-round favorite Legends Light Show. In our popular Legends Light Show orchestra music immerses our audience through the passage of time highlighting the historic moments of our caverns through music from sacred Native American experiences to Patriotic notes of the Civil War. One these shows will take place on every one of our hour-long guided tours! Our calendar will share which show is taking place so that you can prepare for your underground experience. We also offer a year-round cave pass which allows you to experience and share these additional shows for an upgrade of only $9.99 for use throughout the next 365 days!
At DeSoto Caverns, we developed a program called “local love” that uses a percentage of our company funds and money donated in our wishing well by our guests to support initiatives proposed by our local schools! Thanks to our team members, guests, and company focus, we have been able to partner with schools and participate in installing an agriscience center at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, a VEX Robotics Classroom & Competition Project at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, an outdoor classroom complete with a garden at Childersburg Middle School, a Cool Koi Habitat at Watwood Elementary, and new books and a reading nook at Childersburg Elementary and many more wonderful projects!
Al Mathis, grandson of Ida Mathis, was the first owner of the land to operate the caverns for the public. He lived in the back of the old gift shop with his dog, Kay, and gave tours to anyone who walked up to the caverns. He prayed for funds for a parking lot, as the full property was overflowing with trees and there was no place for guests to park, and that week a tornado came through the property and carved out the perfect parking lot. He studied the history of the caverns and made plans for all the property currently seen at the Caverns. He married Danielle in the 1970’s and together they worked the small gift shop and took turns giving tours. He read books and studied from others and humbly worked towards the facility DeSoto Caverns is today. He drew plans and created our 3/4 acre maze by hand in the 1980’s, This business is very much the blood, sweat, and joys of a family drawn together. He, along with his wife, Danielle, had three sons and a daughter who played various roles in helping out with the family business from maintenance to every position you see in the park. For all his efforts in preserving and turning this Alabama gem into a destination for the State, Al was inducted into the Tourism Hall of Fame in 2018. He has received numerous awards throughout the years for his hard-work and dedication, but if you were to look at his office you would see that the most prominent pieces are photos of his loved ones.