Indian Cave State Park
Named for the huge sandstone cavity that is the main geologic
feature of the area, Indian Cave State Park straddles the Nemaha-Richardson
County line in south-eastern Nebraska. The first tract was acquired
by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 1962, and the park now
covers some 3,000 acres, including 2,386 acres of timber.
Although still under development, there is much to enjoy at Indian Cave, and the park has a bright future. Interior roads and the water system have been completed, along with a modern campground with up-to-date facilities. Horseback riding, hiking and other back-country adventures are now available. Long-range plans call for a swimming pool and visitor center. While Indian Cave will be a first class recreational area, a large part of the park will be kept in its pristine state as a retreat for back-to-nature enthusiasts.
Although its actual age has not been determined, it is possible that
Indian Cave has existed for several thousand years. It is a natural
formation, created by silt and fine-grained sand deposits in a Pennsylvanian
rock channel. Petroglyphs or ancient Indian picture writings etched
on the walls of the cave are the only known example of their kind found
in Nebraska. However, their cultural origin and period in history remain
Approximately 300 feet south of the cave is a coal shaft. It was originally worked by a Mr. Deaver, who lived on the bottom ground and used the coal to heat his house. The coal was very poor quality.
Indian Cave offers exceptional experiences for campers, hikers, backpacker anglers, horseback riders, winter sports enthusiasts, and picnickers.
Camping areas can accommodate 225 units and are equipped with picnic table, firerings, showers, restrooms, and electrical hookups. There are two Laundromats located at the showerhouses. A fee is charged for camping, and stays are limited to 14 days. All camping is on a first-come first-served basis, and there is an extra charge for electrical hookups. Check-out time is 2 p.m., and campers planning to stay over must re-register by that time.
For hikers, there are some 20 miles of trails. The north road trails are recommended for day hikers, since there are several picnic shelters, many tables, and toilets located along the way. The rest of the park trails are better suited to overnight users. However, hikers are welcome to explore any of the trails through the parks.
Horseback riders will enjoy the trail ride through the park. Rides start at the corral near the St. Deroin Schoolhouse and cover about three miles. Tickets are available at the Booth and should be purchased early in the day.
Although there are no boat ramps at the park, bank fishermen find plenty of action from the mighty Missouri River for catfish, bass, bullheads, carp, and occasionally, a sturgeon. Three parking lots offer handy access to the river for anglers. For boaters, there is access to the Missouri at Brownville State Recreation Area, just 15 miles north of the park.
Winter sports are becoming increasingly popular at Indian Cave, with its picturesque and semi-rugged terrain. Some 16 miles of trails are marked for cross-country skiing, and the best snow cover usually occurs in January and February. Since park roads are closed during the winter, they offer some excellent sledding, as do several of the steep hillsides.
Weekend visitors will want to take in the program at 9:15 p.m. each Friday and Saturday during the summer season at the amphitheater. A cookout is offered at 6-6:30 p.m. Saturdays at North Shelter Area. Tickets are available at the Booth. Live entertainment is provided until 7 p.m.
Group camping is available to organizations, such as the Scouts, 4-H, churches, and the like. Such groups are assigned an area without electrical hookups, but there is ready access to drinking water. Groups should contact the park office in advance to make arrangements for their trip.
Overnight backpackers will find several parking lots strategically located for their use. Adirondac shelters are situated on the ridges overlooking the park, while more, primitive campsites are located along the hiking trails. To accommodate large backpacking groups, there is a group camp area atop Rock Bluff Ridge. It has three Adirondac shelters, firerings, tables, and toilets. There is a water pump just a half mile away. However, large groups who want to use the group camp facility should contact the park office in advance of their trip.
About the Trail
Indian Cave State Park is a real treasure for hikers, backpackers and others who like to stroll amid the beauties of nature. Bear in mind, however, that the very things that make this rugged area so picturesque also require stamina in the walker. Trails range from 3/4-mile to 6 miles in length. They wind up and down hill and can be quite strenuous. Steep inclines are not uncommon. Those who are not accustomed to walking are urged to try one of the short trails first to test their abilities. Good walking shoes or hiking boots are also advised. This is a fascinating area with scenic vistas, hundreds of birds and other wildlife, and many varieties of plants that are unique in Nebraska. Indian Cave offers walkers and hikers a real opportunity to view close up some of nature's many and varied wonders.
If history is your "thing," you'll find plenty to stir the imagination at Indian Cave. In addition to the petroglyphs left by those mysterious inhabitants of long ago, you'll find the reconstructed mid-19th Century river settlement known as St. Deroin, the first townsite in Nemaha County.
In 1804, Lewis and Clark recorded that they passed a small trading fort, located about 23% miles above the mouth of the Big Nemaha River. On July 15, 1830, 125,000 acres were set aside by the Treaty of Prairie du Chien for the homeless offspring left behind by traders and trappers who married Indian women. Son of a French man and an Otoe woman, Joseph Deroin moved onto the tract from the Platte River in the early 1840s. He set up a trading post and, in 1853, laid out the village that bears his name.
In its early days, St. Deroin had 232 mixed heritage residents, including 50 Iowas, 47 Omahas, 21 Otoes, 3 Sioux and 111 orphans. The village was one of a chain of small settlements that served as trading and supply posts for river traffic in the 1870s. A bustling town of 300 people before the turn of the century, it was doomed by the ever-shifting river channel and an apparent outbreak of cholera. By the 1920s, St. Deroin was virtually abandoned except for the one-room school.
Legends, however, abound about the once thriving village. Apparently, the "Saint" was attached to the name sometime after it was established, in the hope of attracting more settlers. Joseph Deroin himself was evidently a colorful and controversial character. Described as "overbearing and tyrannical," those traits eventually proved fatal. Deroin was determined to collect $6 for a pig from a settler despite a warning to stay off the man's land. The settler dropped him with one shot and was ultimately acquitted of any crime. Local tradition holds that Deroin was buried astride his horse in the town cemetery.
Another "graveyard" legend centers on a fellow named A. J. Ritter, who lost an arm while doing- a little "fishing" with dynamite. His arm was buried west of the town. Later, when Ritter died, he was buried in the St. Deroin Cemetery. Some locals say that on certain nights, Ritter still rises to search for his lost arm. You can learn more about this fascinating area at the interpretive log cabin, located near the original townsite. Although built recently, the cabin was carefully constructed by methods used in the 1850s. Note the split wood shingles, handmade iron hardware and the fireplace built from limestone found on the park.
The son of a French trader, Amable Deroin, and an Otoe Indian woman, Joseph Deroin was born about 1819 near Bellevue. He lived with his parents until 1836, when he moved to the main Otoe village near the mouth of the Platte River.
He married an Omaha Indian woman, Meek-Ka-Ahu-Me, and their only child, Mary, was born about 1841 near Council Bluffs, IA. In 1842, the family moved to the tract in Nemaha-Richardson counties, created by the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. They were among the first to claim land on the tract. Later that year, Joseph took two more wives -- sisters Julie and Soula (Su-See) Baskette, the daughters of a Frenchman, Balone Baskette, and an Iowa Indian woman. He had 8 children by the Baskette sisters. About 1843, his first wife left to return to the Omaha Reservation.
Although the first record of his trading post was in 1854, he undoubtedly operated one much earlier. He also ran a trading post at the Otoe Reserve in Gage County from the mid-1850s until his death at the hands of James Beddow, the settler he had quarreled with over the pig. Deroin died April 21, 1858. At the time of his death, he held notes totalling $4,079.06 (quite a sum at that time), including one for $1,500 by 11 Otoe chiefs at the Reserve. Most of the notes were uncollectible, including that of the Otoe chiefs.
In 1862, Soula and the children moved to the Iowa Reserve in northeast Kansas, and the children attended the Kickapoo Training School at Horton, KS.
American Heritage Program
Indian Cave is special in a lot of ways, but one of the things that truly intrigues visitors is the American Heritage Program. Beginning Memorial Day weekend and continuing throughout the summer, you can see such old-time crafts as how to make Granny's Lye Soap and candle dipping at the old Log Cabin. Broom-making demonstrations, using an 1879 machine, are given at the St. Deroin General Store. The St. Deroin Schoolhouse is also open to give visitors a glimpse of how the "Three R's" were taught in days gone by. The one-room brick school was built in 1908 and restored to its original state in 1978.
Rules and Regulations
A park entry permit is required at Indian Cave. Permits are available at the park office, at any Game and Parks Commission office, or from any hunting and fishing permit vendor.
The park gates are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 15 through October 31. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year, weather permitting. Quiet hours are 10p.m. to 6a.m.
Remember to be careful with fire. Fires are permitted only in stoves or the firerings provided, although you may use your own camp stove. Discharging firearms is prohibited.
Removing or picking plants, animals, rocks, or artifacts is prohibited. Please place trash in the cans provided, and, backpackers, please carry out what you carry in.
Camping is limited to 14 days, and all pets must be on a leash. Swimming is not allowed in the Missouri River or its oxbows, since the river can be extremely treacherous. Drinking of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on the park.
Vehicles must stay on the paved roadways, parking lots, or campgrounds. The speed limit is 25 mph, unless otherwise posted.
Indian Cave State Park