heart

The Cave

by Shelly Kneupper Tucker on March 21, 2010©

Your lungs feel as if they might explode, if your heart doesn’t give out first. You stumble on rocks you can’t see in the darkness. You can taste the fear at the back of your mouth. Fear is all you have eaten for days as you stumbled across this unfamiliar terrain. But, there is not time to rest. You have to escape! You have to find that cave … you heard the whispers and you know it is there … somewhere. It has to be near.

A tree limb slaps your face as you push through the underbrush, keeping close to the shadows. Though your cheek stings, you cannot cry out for they might hear. Clutching your child closer to your breast, almost smothering his whimpers, you cannot croon to him to soothe his fear. Yet, as you make your way south, you whisper, “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…”

Are they close behind? Are they on horseback? Do they have dogs? If they do, it’s all for no use. When they capture you, as surely they will when the bloodhounds whiff your scent, they will send you back to a life of slavery — after they have had their “sport” with you. And, Master will beat you within an inch of your life, though he won’t injure you so badly that you are no longer able to work. After all, you are valuable property. Perhaps to punish you, he will sell your baby away from you. He won’t kill you, you will just wish he had.

Ahead … is that the cliff you heard about in the stories? Your eyes scan the face of it and there it is! A crevice in the rock, you can just barely see it in the moonlight. You scramble up the rocks, skinning your knees in the process and tumble into the cool darkness of the cave. Resting on the sandstone floor, you rock your baby and listen. No baying hounds or pounding hoofbeats. Despite your best efforts, you fall asleep.

Suddenly, you waken in terror. Fingers of sunlight stretch across the cave floor, you can see the spider webs above you … there must be millions of spiders! And, you hear a sound of rustling in the grass below! You hold your breath … and then you hear it.

A little boy is singing, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Coming for to carry me home …”

Yes! It is the right place. The safe place, just like the stories said. Soon, the little boy peeps in the mouth of the cave. His smile is big and gleaming in his ebony face as he whispers, “Brung you some buttermilk, cornbread, and beans with ham hock. You hungry?”

For the first time, the tears start to flow.

****

On the shores of Grapevine Lake, in what is now Southlake, there is a cave that supposedly has ties to an “underground railroad” — an escape route for slaves on their way to Mexico in the 1800s. Of course, the lake wasn’t there then. It wasn’t built until around 1952 when the Corps of Engineers dammed up Denton Creek (a tributary of the Little Elm Fork of the Trinity River). I imagine that in the 1800s, that crevice, with its sandstone walls, was nestled in a hillside. The land surrounding it was rocky and rough, probably covered in mesquite and post oak trees.

I’d read about this cave which is occasionally submerged by the lake, in the Fort Worth Star Telegram back in 1996. My heart began to race in fear as my vivid imagination conjured the scenario above. Sure, my version is fiction (except that little boy was real), but I imagine that it is not too far from reality for escaping slaves who came through Texas.

In a story written by Leslie Hueholt (who wrote many intriguing stories of the North Texas area history), a descendant of that little boy in the story above told about the cave. Marylyn Elizabeth Miles, one of that boy’s great-granddaughters, took Hueholt to the cave to tell the legend passed down in her family.

The boy was John Dolford “Bob” Jones, who was born a slave … the son of the white master. Starting when he was about 10 years old, Bob Jones took food to escaping slaves who hid in that cave. The family estimated that nearly 600 slaves eventually took refuge there.

Marylyn was trying to get the Corps of Engineers to designate the cave a historic site, to protect it from vandals. However, I don’t know if that ever happened. I called a lot of people back in 1996, trying to find out more about the story. I wanted to see the cave with my own eyes so that I could “feel” the experience, but I never got that far.

In my henscratching, I recorded that Bob Jones was given some land by his white father at the end of the Civil War. He then began to amass more land, eventually owning some 2,500 acres where he built a church and a school for his family. When Grapevine Lake was created, most of that land wound up underwater. What was left got sold away and covered in “McMansions.” There is a park named for Bob Jones, and a road named after him, but the black history of Southlake is mostly forgotten except during February for the Black History Month celebrations. You can read an article about Bob Jones in the Dallas Morning News but you’d better do it before they put it in the archives.

For several days I dug in the different search engines trying to find out more about the story. I can find no documentation that the tales of the Underground Railroad are true, but I’m willing to believe the family stories. In fact, I couldn’t find record of the cave on-line until I dug for hours in the archives of The Fort Worth Star Telegram and ransomed the tale for $3.00.

If you came to my neck of the woods, you probably wouldn’t get to visit the cave. I don’t think you would be able to see it except from a boat on the water of Grapevine Lake. It’s my understanding that it is surrounded by private property. If this bit of history is true, it’s a shame that The Corps of Engineers hasn’t done more to preserve it.

Personally, I want to believe the stories are true … and that there was a little bit of a safe haven for the persecuted right here in north Texas.

{ 10 comments }

Robin from Israel March 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

What a story, it sent shivers down my spine. I could taste the fear, too.
.-= Robin from Israel´s last blog ..Desert Sunset, March 2010 =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker March 22, 2010 at 7:32 am

Good! That’s what I was aiming for :twisted:. Coming from a writer as good as you are, I consider it high praise. Thank you, Robin.

Van Sutherland March 22, 2010 at 9:18 am

Great story, and great history. I’m really surprised there isn’t a Texas Historical Marker to commemorate this location. Thanks for sharing, Shelly.
.-= Van Sutherland´s last blog ..Spring! =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker March 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Could be because it’s just “family stories,” Van. I don’t know if they have any documents that record the info … which would make it difficult to justify. I wish that the reporter had followed up, though. It’s one of those stories (like so many in the media) where you want to know “the rest of the story.”

Anne March 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

You certainly made it come alive for me! I could feel the terror of that young mother, and her feeling of relief that she had found a safe place to hide. Living as I do within hailing distance of the Mason-Dixon Line, I had never thought of enslaved people fleeing to Mexico. But it certainly makes sense that they would have done so.

We have a cave like that on the C&O Canal, not far from the town of Sharpsburg, where the Civil War battle was fought. It not only served as a refuge for slaves fleeing across the nearby Potomac, but as a refuge for local townspeople fleeing that terrible battle. It’s called Killiansburg Cave. It has no marker, but it’s on National Parks land.

As for McMansions, it’s horrible to have to say that the battlefield at Sharpsburg (Antietam) is under threat from developers. So is the battlefield of Gettysburg. Somebody wants to put up a resort or casino on part of that land. I hate to think of it. I sort of view it as hallowed ground, and I think it should be maintained so that people never forget what happened on it.

I hope that a marker can be put near that cave.
.-= Anne´s last blog ..Fáed Fíada – The Cry of the Deer =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker March 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

When I searched for Underground Railroad, Texas wasn’t even on the map. But, you know the slaves that were in this direction (and yes, Texas had it’s share) went South and not North. I’m sure that documentation of it is difficult to do more than a century later, but I wish I knew how to find any that might be there.
Killiansburg Cave sounds intriguing. I must get out of Texas and visit :-)

Jamie March 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm

You got me curious so I did a little cursory search. Here is a picture of Bob Jones http://southlakehistory.org/index.php?option=com_easygallery&act=photos&cid=22&Itemid=8

The Bob Jones Nature Center now sits on his former property and the historical society in the area honored him as part of celebration of Black History Month http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/02/26/2001174/leading-settler-in-southlake-area.html

There’s lots more info out there.
.-= Jamie´s last blog ..Take This Tune – Black Velvet =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker March 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm

So cool. That’s what I’m talking about … YOU are the researcher. of course, I admit that I was only looking for the cave & it’s connection to the Underground Railroad, but I never know what keywords to try :-) Thanks for those links. It is amazing to see a picture of the man, no matter how tiny.

Rob Jones October 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I can share a little history on Bob JOnes that I’ve found. Despite the name I’m not a relative, but I did live at the end of Bob Jones Rd where it terminates into the lake area on land he once farmed. Got curious and did a bit of research on him. He was a pretty amazing guy. His duaghter’s place (long since burned down) was just yards form the house I lived in.

Have scoured that area on horseback for half a decade. Curious if you ever saw the cave. Wasnt aware of it, but from the description I’m pretty sure I could find it… not that many cliffs in that area that’d match that descrip. Sounds like it’s on the wall of the slough facing west just across from a spot on the trails called John Wayne Lookout (for reasons unknown to me). Let me know if you saw it.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker October 25, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Rob, I never saw the cave myself. By the time I found out about it, there was a lot of erosion. Some of my Big Bubba’s friends had seen it. Bob Jones was indeed an interesting man! I love getting to read about him. Let me know if you figure out where the cave was!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

The Authenticity Pledge