THE DEVIL’S KITCHEN | INDIAN CAVES

by | Bryson City, Nantahala National Forest

Image source: Margaret Marr

Across the Nantahala River and over the railroad tracks, up a slight incline sits the Indian Caves. It consists of a smaller chamber with two bigger chambers. If you squint and let your imagination run wild, the caves resemble an ancient sunken skull with two dark eyes staring down at you. Perhaps, that’s why they are sometimes referred to as the Devil’s Kitchen. However, no documented stories include tales of witchcraft and devil worship carried out in the Indian caves. The name was most likely coined to attract the many tourists who float by them on their way down the Nantahala River on a whitewater rafting adventure, though most remain oblivious of their existence.

Image source: Margaret Marr

A cave system runs all through the Nantahala Gorge. Some believe that the caves are interconnected and contain spacious caverns, and were most likely used by the Cherokee Indians as shelter or places to hide from the Army during the removal act of the late 1830’s. Nevertheless, the Cherokee did not favor caves. They preferred familiar overhanging rocks to seek shelter from the elements. Cherokee legend speaks of the “Little People” inhabiting the Indian Caves. These one to three feet tall beings were a mischievous lot and liked to throw rocks at passersby. Mostly, they looked after the Cherokee children who wandered off and got lost in the woods.

Some of the cave entrances have been blocked off or gated because of the danger they present to amateur cave explorers as Gary Lynn Adams found out in late fall of 1996. He was exploring at the Blowing Springs Cave in the Nantahala Gorge when he lost his grip on the rope and plunged 44 feet to the bottom. It took rescue operations 24 hours to get him out. Mr. Adams survived with no broken bones, but with badly bruised ribs. It serves as a cautionary tale for those tempted to go spelunking with little to no training. The Indian Caves are shallow and only go back into the mountains for a few yards, so you’re not likely to get lost or injured in them, but always use caution in whatever you explore.

Image source: Margaret Marr

Caves are fascinating and a bit spooky. Tales of haunted caves abound across different media outlets, and the Indian Caves have their own ghost story. In the late 1920’s, an anthropologist named Frans Olbrechts recorded a tale called “The Dancing Ghosts” about hunters who had spent the night in the caves. One hunter decided to belt out the song “The Women’s Dance.” The women who dance in the song wear box turtle leg rattles sewn as pebbles into their leggings. When they danced, they created a mesmerizing rhythm. As the hunter continued to sing, they began to hear the creepy sound of rattles in the next chamber over. Scared out of their wits, they fled the caves.

Image source: Margaret Marr

Construction of the railroad through the Nantahala Gorge began in the late 1880’s. Prisoners were brought in to construct Hawknest Trestle (which no longer exists today). The prisoners were housed in the Indian Caves and watched over by armed guards. Every Sunday morning, Reverend Joseph Wiggans rode his horse from Graham County and preached to the prisoners. Sometime after the Civil War, Reverend Wiggans was warned by area bushwhackers (a form of guerrilla warfare fighters common during that time) that he would be “ridden on a rail” out of there if he dared to preach at the caves again. He calmly placed his pistol on the pulpit and said, “I do not ride rails.”

Image source: Margaret Marr

The Indian Caves are located on highway 19/74 across the Nantahala River accessed by a swinging bridge. They are easy to get to if you don’t mind a short hike (about a mile) along the railroad tracks. In the fall, they are easily located. Spring and summer hide them from view, so you’ll have to look a little harder.

Visitors and locals alike travel by those caves while passing through the Nantahala Gorge in vehicles, on a train excursion, or on a whitewater rafting trip down the Nantahala River. Most do not know that a short distance across the river and railroad tracks is a geological place of mystery, echoing with the history of ancient times on down to modern times—a haven for those seeking shelter, a place of ghost stories, and Cherokee Legends. It’s a mystical place that leaves you in awe as you stand inside and listen for the ghosts of those who once stood in this very spot. Oh, the stories not yet heard, that they could tell. Pay a visit. It’s a pleasant walk along the railroad tracks to enjoy alone or with a friend or loved one.

Image source: Margaret Marr

Source for some of this article is attributed to “Mountain Passages: Natural and
Cultural History of Western North Carolina” by George Ellison.

Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 

 

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