Allegheny Outdoor Adventures Bradford, PA

The Alma Hill Cave

AKA The Indian Lead Mine

Many, many years ago, before I was "into" caving, I was shown the location of a cave on Alma Hill. I was with members of our cycling club out for a ride. I can't remember exactly who showed me the cave, but maybe it was a guy named Lance (last name escapes me) or perhaps the English brothers (Rich and Dave?) who rode with us.

I was led into the woods a short distance from the road at a point of a very obvious (modern) landmark. When you know the landmark you can't miss the location (this is a hint).

We came to a very small rock outcrop with a small overhang and a fire-pit. It looked like a hunters rest stop or a party place for teens. Not much there except for some rocks and boulders.

Then I was led down into the woods further, into or near a ravine or deep cut in the hill. Near the top of this ravine, what looked to be above a spring or creek was a smaller group of rocks or boulders.

Among the boulders was a small hole. I was told this was a very deep cave. At the time, not being a caver, BUT being afraid of snakes (there were rattle snakes in the area), I chose not to explore any further and made a mental note to come back at a later date! ......WAY LATER !

Now, as fate has it (twenty years later), I'm a leader of cave trips, and after having located and/or explored over 100 "wild" caves, this is right up my alley.

Funny how things change. When I was shown the cave, I wouldn't have gone in it for a million bucks, but now that I'm searching for caves to explore, I'd pay good money to find the exact location of the hole.

Actually, I'm fairly confident I can re-locate the rock out-cropping and the cave entrance. With a "crew" I'm thinking we can re-locate this and explore the cave in one long day.

More often than not, my 20 year old memories are dead on when it comes to directions in the woods.

Note: March 4th 2006 we did in fact locate the cave/lead mine/ice cave thanks to my crack crew, and especially Dave Ray.

Here is something interesting I came across on the internet. I'm quite sure this is talking about the same cave or "mine".

A Seneca Legend 

‘Secret’ Mine Still Eludes Allegany Man


KEEPS SECRET – Alma Hill, proud summit in southern Allegany county near the Pennsylvania line, still withholds its secret from Elmer LaVern Watson, who has spent most of his 74 years in the valley below.

Others, too, have searched for the ancient lead mine the Seneca’s are believed to have worked there, and some have been at it off and on for years. One man claimed to have stood in the entrance of the mine and seen the dull, heavy metal in seams.

Elmer lives in a weather-beaten little house just south of Pikesville, and the front windows face up to that hemlock-studded, forbidding slope.

INDIAN TALE – As a boy he used to scamper all over the hill, hunting and exploring, but he was a youth before he heard about the legend through Chief White Fox of Salamanca.  The latter had been told of the mine through descendants of CORNPLANTER. White Fox said he could lead young Watson to it.

The story was that several times a year a band of Indians, usually several braves and three of four husky squaws, would leave their lands on the present Allegany Reservations, and follow the river eastward for a journey of two days. They’d stop overnight at a tavern in Bloody Corners, near Honeoye, and early the next day resume their trip.

Men used to follow them, hoping to detect their destination, and the Indians would enter Four Mile Woods walking single file.

VANISHING ACT – “Well,” Elmer says, “one by one the Indians would drop off the trail, vanishing and the followers would finally find themselves alone in the woods.  A week later the Indians would reappear, each weighted down with slabs of lead on their backs, heading for home.”

No one knows now how the tribesmen utilized the metal, Elmer declares, and later they gave up the trips to the hill.

But some of the younger Indians remembered the mine and talked about it. A doctor in Shongo who had befriended the Seneca’s was asked by the latter what token of appreciation they could give. “Just show me the lead mine,” the physician said promptly and the Seneca’s agreed.  They took him there blindfolded, Elmer says, and then revealed the entrance of the mine and the lead deposits. It was night and all the medical man could recall of the surroundings next day was a fringe of pines.

DISBELIEF – Another man, a newcomer, got friendly with an Indian on the train to Salamanca and the Seneca gave him directions for locating the mine. But the stranger thought the whole thing was an invention and didn’t pay any heed.

Elmer himself worked on the oil rigs around Alma Hill and in the sawmills, and then went to Cleveland as a glasscutter before he had the chance to take up aging White Cloud’s offer.

For years he followed his trade to Ohio, and finally returned to the homestead to care for his parents and their small farm.

HUNTS BOULDERS – Between chores he used to search the hill, now much changed form his boyhood. “The thing I looked for was a bed of smooth, round boulders. It covered about as much space as a teepee, and was atop a hogback. When I was a kid, I used to bring pebbles and drop them there. They’d bounced from stone to stone down and down and I’d put my ear to the ground to hear them. Those stones could have hidden the mine.”

Elmer hasn’t found the circle of boulders yet, although he believes it lies not 500 feet from the spring that provides him with water.

According to the old story, the Indians camped near a spring on the hillside and smelted the lead ore in an iron kettle.  Then they’d pour it into rough clay molds, bringing home only the refined metal.

PLANS STEPS – A widower, Elmer lives alone, mends clocks and works a small oil lease lower in the valley.  His exploration of Alma Hill is less frequent, and he spends more time planning his steps.  He believes that erosion or an accumulation of brush may have covered up the pocket of boulders.

Gas from an oil well fires the stove by which he sits, white haired and peering up at the hill through rimless glasses.  “I’ll get up there come spring,” he says. “If I ever find those rocks, I’ll hoist them out..”


Originally Published in the Buffalo Courier Express - 1/12/1964; Obtained from archives of Catherine Schuyler Chapter D.A. R. and transcribed by Mary Rhodes 3/5/2005)

Our recent visit to Alma Hill Cave:

Saturday March 4th -

This was a trip to TRY to re-find a cave I've been to many, many years ago. I had my doubts about finding this cave. When I was showed this cave, I was not into caves at all, and I had absolutely no interest in it. It wasn't until years later that I became interested in exploring caves. My memories of the area were old, but amazingly accurate. Or, should I say, accurate enough to locate the cave!

Before I attempted to re-find this cave, I did some research on the internet and came across an interesting story about the Alma Hill Cave it seems this cave had a Seneca Indian legend attached to it. It was supposed to have been a "lead mine", that was mined each year by the Seneca Indians from the Cornplanter Reservation.

Because of the local geology, THAT should be an impossibility, but hey, there isn't supposed to be gold and silver around here and there were/are gold and silver mines around, so what the heck, a lead mine shouldn't be as strange and impossible as a GOLD mine!

Today's trip was me (John), Dave Ray, Amy from Allegany, Mary, Katherine and Jen. A real great crew. Why we get more woman then men on these type of hikes (exploring), I'll never know.

My memory told me that we entered the woods and found a rock outcropping with an overhang cave in the front of it, and then the main cave was west or south west of this first rock outcrop. We walked right to the first outcrop! It was further in the woods than I remembered it. ... Now to find the main cave, or lead mine.

After the first rock area we walked in the direction that I thought we should head, but we got twisted and ended up back toward the road. After checking the map and re-directing the group we headed toward the right direction.

We came upon a second rock outcrop with several promising holes to check out. Mary found a few interesting holes. We found several that might be "bat caves" and porcupine dens. Within minutes, Dave found "THE" cave. But in all fairness to the Indian Gods, I was carrying my "Indian spirit walking stick", the one that saved my life at Zoar Valley. Just before anybody found the cave, I had tripped on the rocks and my walking stick pointed uphill directly to where Dave ended up locating the opening. Was this just a coincidence? I DID bring my Indian walking stick specifically to use to locate the cave. Do you believe the Indian spirits led us to the cave? ... OR was it just dumb luck, a coincidence, and my 15 to 18 year old memory being not so bad after all!

We really lucked out! Factor in, that when showed this cave, we were on a bicycle trip, and I was not interested in the cave or caves at all. But then, many years later, became interested in caves, and specifically locating wild caves. Over the years I have located and visited over 130 caves and rock areas similar to this one. It's absolutely amazing to me that I was able to get us "into the ballpark", let alone walking up to the cave.

I was at first doubtful about weather this was the cave that I visited, some 15 or 18 years before. I may have remembered it differently, but finally I concluded this was in fact the cave. I reasoned that after all the years of people looking for this specific cave, if there were others around (the Alma Hill area) rumors and stories of them would have surfaced. They did not. There are only stories of one cave on this side of Alma Hill.

As we approached the cave, I told Jen that if this was the cave, we would find old carvings outside the entrance and sure enough, we did. In a protected, dry overhang we found a date of 1911 and then we found some obviously older writings with the date 6/'97 ... and YES it meant 1897! It was way too old to have been 1997. There are several old carvings that are likely the date in roman numerals (like outside Hermit's Den Cave).

The opening was an "ice cave" with ice on the floor and around the entrance. Then it dropped into a room, with passages off of that room. Mary and Dave saw a passage that went into another room, but it proved to be impossible to get into, but we may come back, more prepared and try to push the passage again. I got a solid GPS reading outside the cave.

Mary, Katherine, Dave and Amy all went into the cave. Jen and I waited outside.

Was this the infamous Indian Lead Mine? Well, we did see some gray colors on the cave walls that were definitely lead colored. No, we did not find any lead or any traces of lead.

Given the geology of the region and the way rumors and history sometimes tend to "twist" things, it's my educated guess that somewhere along the line, somebody entered this cave and saw the convincingly gray-lead colored rocks in a room that was unreachable and called this a "lead mine". Then to spice the story up a bit, added the Indian story about this being mined by famous Indians.

The photos below really show the lead colored rocks real good. Even though I'm convinced that we DID find the correct "mine", and all we found was lead colored rocks, I am checking with Dar and Sandy Dowdy from the Faithkeepers School in Steamburg NY to see if they have mention of this Indian legend.

I really hate to be the one to de-bunk such a legend as the story of the Cornplanter Indians making the trek from Corydon, all the way to Alma Hill each year, to mine lead from a sand-stone cave, but I'd say the rumor or legend was definitely untrue. NO, there was no lead or evidence of lead or any other heavy metal, BUT there were many rocks colored "Lead-Gray".

I am going to ask everybody who was on this trip with me, to please keep this place a secret, until I find out if my Indian friends have any interest in this. This MAY have been called the "Lead Mine" or "Lead Cave" (incorrectly), BUT still have had some significance to the Indians.

This cave is well hidden, and if you don't know exactly where to find it, it could take many years, or a lifetime to find, like in the instance of Elmer Watson who searched for this cave his whole lifetime without finding it, God rest his soul.

This was an exciting trip and it's a shame some of you, who I know would have loved this, missed it!

There are a few nice flat "table rocks" near by so watch for a spring, or summer "picnic" trip to this location!

Here are a few photos:

Katherine and Mary


Jen outside the cave


Ice formations outside the cave entrance


More ice formations


Dave exiting, followed by Amy


Amy climbing out, note the ice flow


Mary followed by Katherine


Katherine, what a great young explorer!


Some of the old, weathered carvings outside the cave entrance


See more of our past trips on the all new "Past Trips Page" at:

Past Trips

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