Lewis Cave

Lewis Cave, Ripley County

In 1945, Cora Ann Pottenger wrote a Master’s thesis, “Place Names of Five Southern Border Counties of Missouri,” University of Missouri-Columbia in which she mentions Lewis Cave. Her thesis contains the following information.

“In Kelley Township three and a half miles from Current River. It is at least twenty feet high and fifty feet wide at its mouth, and a large, spring-fed stream flows from it into Big Barren Creek 1/2 mile east. There are several rooms in the cave and boats can go back for some distance. Mushrooms are cultivated, and the cave is noted, locally, for its stalagmites and stalactites and blind (cave) fish. Mr. James Lewis, the owner who came from Tennessee in 1877, has put in electric lights and the place is popular with tourists, fishermen, and picnickers. It was earlier known as Big Cave on Barren or Big Barren Cave.”

New Gate Protects Lewis Cave

Today MCKC manages Lewis Cave for the current owner. The cave is one of the top 35 most biodiverse in Missouri. Both the southern cavefish and Salem cave crayfish, which are found in the cave are considered “species of concern.” The southern cavefish is found caves in nine Missouri counties. There is evidence that Lewis Cave was a large gray bat site, but is not currently used by grays due to the cinder block wall “gate” that was on the cave prior to construction of the new bat-friendly gate in March 2014.

Roughly, half the cave has been surveyed. Its length is estimated at a mile long.

How J Harlen Bretz Described Lewis Cave

In the Caves of Missouri, a book Bretz wrote in 1956, he said, “The mouth of Lewis Cave is almost at the foot of the valley slope of Big Barren Creek. It has no cliff above or alongside, and before the entrance house was built, it was inconspicuous because of a nearly complete talus blockade. The slope of the blockade in the cave is relatively gentle and covered with old flowstone.

One traverses 850 feet of capacious cave back to a chert bridge which crosses the cave at about mid-height of the walls. Only a little stooping is required to walk under it. Beyond the bridge, the chert layer has broken down into a rubble of big blocks on the floor, under and through which the cave stream noisily finds its way. Beyond the blockade, the cave floor is essentially at the level of the top of the bridge and requires stooping double, even creeping, to traverse.

Most of the cave is easily traversed. It must be 30 feet wide in places and has an unusually smooth, flat ceiling which lacks good evidence for either solutional or fracture origin. Along the sides, there are banks of gritty red clay mounting up tight against the ceiling. The clay contains tiny bits of chert here and there and clearly shows stratification. It should be considered a vadose water product. The stream today, however, is leaving sand bars; not clay or mud bars. The stream crosses the main chamber twice, each time to disappear or partially disappear under overhanging rock walls and re-appear farther along. The clay deposit into which it has trenched was made before the present regimen of the stream was established. Because no stream emerges from the cave mouth, its exit must be somewhere through or beneath the talus and below the level of the floodplain of Big Barren Creek. But no one seems to know of a fairly large spring in the valley nearby. (Actually the spring is located 500 feet south of the cave entrance and is quite obvious. We’re not sure how Bretz missed it.)

The upper half or more of the main chamber is probably phreatic, despite the lack of spongework, wall and ceiling pockets, joint slots, and all other criteria for phreatic origin. The change in size and pro- portions and character, from the chert bridge back into the cave, is very marked and this inner part of the cave probably is wholly vadose. The dolomite walls have current etching and fluting from bottom to top, and the chert layer constitutes the floor. This interpretation calls for the entrance of a vadose ground water flow through the wall of an older and larger phreatic chamber, and requires a continuation of the phreatic chamber above that point of entry. That continuation, now completely clay-filled, probably exists on the north side of the cave, where for 50 feet or more there is no sign of wall rock, although the clay bank slopes back rather gently in places. If there were rock ledges behind it, they should show. The cave has been commercially operated.”

Surveying Lewis Cave

Preliminary fieldwork in Lewis Cave in 2014 resulted in 3100 feet of survey. In July 2015, two dives though the terminal sump and a subsequent sumpyeilded another 1000 feet, with more to go.

Eignmann’s Ozark Cavefish Sightings

The survey team was also able to make and confirm our first sightings of the stygobitic Eigenmann’s Ozark cavefish (Typhlichthys eigenmanni), formerly classed as, but now considered taxonomically a species distinct from the southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus.) In fact, there were three independent sighting of the Eigenmann’s Ozark cavefish during three separate trips.

July 2014 Surveying Lewis Cave
July 2014 Survey Team
Aug. 2015 Exploration
New Territory in Lewis Cave
OCDA Dive Team

Exploration Extends Beyond 4000 Feet

On August 1, 2015, Ozark Cave Diving Alliance divers discover unseen world deep in Lewis Cave

Take a Virtual Tour

MCKC member Matt Bumgardner has created several photosynths of the cave. For a virtual visit to Lewis Cave, click on the photosynth links below. Lewis Cave Part 1 by Shawbum on Photosynth Lewis Cave Part 2 by Shawbum on Photosynth

For more information about the cave, email the Lewis Cave manager at lewismgr@mocavesandkarst.org.

If you have questions about our organization, would like a permit to visit an MCKC managed cave or need help managing a cave on your property, we invite you to contact us.