Allegheny Outdoor Adventures Bradford, PA

From the Summer/Fall 2001

Caves as Shelter

By John Stoneman

Caves as Shelter

Today, many people enjoy going into, and exploring local caves for recreation or scientific study. Our forefathers used caves as an important tool for survival. The cave offered shelter from wind, rain, and cold as well as  a place to hide and be secure from attacking enemies.  All the caves around here have evidence of usage by Native Americans, up until the "White Man" moved in and "claimed" the land.  What most people,  don't  realize, is that most of our local caves have  evidence of the "mound builders" living near them.  The "mound builders" are "Native Residents" that are reputed to have been here as long a 3000 years ago, way before our "modern" day Indians of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds.  We think of the seventeen hundreds of being a long time ago, but just try to imagine three thousand years ago!

First a little geological history! The caves around this area are called "tectonic caves". Tectonic caves are formed when the thick solid rock "plates" of the crust of the earth moved into place. Actually, the plates are continuing to move, but at a pace so slow it's nothing for you or I to worry about. Millions of years ago, the many different pieces of the rock plate moved around and collided. The hills and mountains were formed where the plates "buckled" as they heaved hundreds and thousands of feet into the air. This also caused cracks and void areas that are now our present "tectonic" caves. The caves were formed by the tectonic movement of the rock "plates" of the earth. Hence, the name "tectonic caves".  The "other" major form or type of cave, is the "limestone cave" that was eroded out of limesone by water. There are no limestone caves around here.

Our "bedrock" if you will, the rock that comes to the surface in spots around here, is called "sandstone". It's this "sandstone" that forms our caves. The sandstone that we have here came from a beach in an area where Brazil is today. Our sandstone was formed over 300 MILLION years ago! To be more specific, a lot of the rock around here has quartz pebbles in it and is called "quartz conglomerate".  Sometimes you will see "veins" of a certain size pebble, or distinct layers of different sized pebbles. It sometimes looks like concrete.  To get even more specific, our "field" of quartz conglomerate rock is part of a "field"  that is called "Olean Conglomerate".  Good examples of Olean Conglomerate can  be seen at "Rock City Park" between Olean NY and Bradford PA, or at "Little Rock City" in Salamanca NY. Just as a side note, the Olean Conglomerate field is  the largest "piece" of quartz conglomerate in the world. It goes (approximately) from Franklinville NY in the north to beyond McKean county PA in the south, and from Portville NY in the east, to Jamestown NY in the west. Quite a large beach!

When disguising our rock formations around here, it's important to mention the last ice age.  The last Glacier that moved through this part of north america, ten thousand years ago, did NOT pass over our region entirely. There are spots around Olean and Bradford that were not touched by the glacier.  I believe that the lack of glacial activity in this particular region, is the reason that we have so many "tectonic" caves that are intact, not filled in by glacial debris or soil from erosion. 

Caves, the perfect shelter!

Well, maybe not for you or I, but how about our predecessors?  The caves around here have a year round temperature (10'-15' underground) of about 52 degrees.  I have measured one that has the unusual temperature of sixty five degrees year round!  Wouldn't that be nice in the middle of the winter, say on a cold day in February when it was 10 BELOW zero? A cave that was dry, and 52 degrees WITHOUT building a fire? Or how about in the middle of the summer, on a day, or week, when the temperature is over 90? Wouldn't sitting in a fifty two degree cave, even just for a few minutes be quite the luxury?

Not only would the caves be a welcome relief from the temperature, but also a great shelter from the enemy. The relatively small opening, and  rock walls several hundreds of feet thick, would have  provided not only a secure shelter back then, but how about today? The small opening that is common for our local caves were/are easy to block off or guard, providing the "state of the art" protection against an aggressor. Some of the cave openings, such as our many "pit caves",  are very well hidden and  may have been hiding places, as well as shelters,  undetected by enemy tribes.

Some of our caves are old enough that they may have provided early man, not only shelter from other humans, but animal as well. What better way to escape a charging bear than to squeeze into a small cave opening that you can block with a rock or log door? The caves were also perfect places to get out of a rain, or snow storm.

I have a very old map of the Allegheny River area that shows the "Modern Indian" sites (the most recent Native American inhabitants of the area) as well as the ancient "Mound Builders" sites, some or perhaps all, dating back three thousand years. All the sites are in the "valley" below, or near cave sites. The low land or bottom land in this particular area is at about 1300' elevation (above sea level) and the caves are all located at  about 1900' or above (1900'-2300'). I believe it's no coincidence that we have found evidence that man, from the earliest we can find, right up to the modern day indians, lived in close proximity to the tectonic caves of this area. My belief is that just as the Senica Indians, and more specifically the "Cornplanter Indians" did, was live in the lowlands below the caves in the warm weather, to hunt, fish,  and to farm, and use the caves for shelter in the inclement and winter weather.  Also living in close proximity to the caves, gave them the added security of  quickly going the the caves when attacked by enemy tribes.

Since the Native Americans have vacated the caves, most  have been rarely visited. However there is a small cave in the Marshberg area where a man back in the 1930's or 1940's lived. I'm told that the man lived in the cave for about 10 years. There are two heavy  steel bars sticking out of one of the flat cave walls. The story is that this is where he hung a "hammock" that he slept in. They are about seven feet apart and have an "L" shaped end on them. There are names and dates carved outside the entrance, but it's very worn and hard to read.

I, as many people do, enjoy exploring these "homes" of  Native American and early man, and it's nice to know they are there, if ever we need the shelter of 200' of solid rock!


John "Stony" Stoneman,  is a local  cave explorer, and  author of a guide map of the "large rock, and cave areas" of the Bradford, Olean and Allegheny Reservoir area

Here are all the links to "Caves In Pennsylvania" you will ever need!

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... To: Subject: Re: [IP] More on: Rendell caves and signs ... Gerry Faulhaber
Wharton School, Univ of Pennsylvania currently on leave, Penn Law School ... interesting-people/200412/msg00015.html - 7k - Cached - Similar pages

USGS Pennsylvania -- Digital Datasets
... PA District Map FAQ; Emap PA - Online viewable map of Pennsylvania -- includes
watersheds, flood plains, mining, caves, and sinkholes; ... - 9k - Jan 18, 2005 - Cached - Similar pages

Brookville Society of Natural History
... Cope has been reported from Wyandotte and Bradford caves, Indiana, Carter and Zwingler
caves, Kentucky, and numerous small caves in Pennsylvania and Virginia. ... - 59k - Cached - Similar pages

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