Exploring Lincoln's Underground History
Robber's Cave: A Place for Tours and Folklore
After being closed for several years, Robber's Cave is now open to the public for guided tours. Now curiosity seekers, first time visitors, and nostalgic past visitors can roam the tunnels once again to experience the underground world beneath Lincoln, Nebraska. A guide with take you on a journey through the past by recounting the history behind the construction of the cave, the businesses that helped to keep the cave in operation, the families who owned the land for generations, and the folklore behind the legends. My tour was guided by Joel Green, one of the most versed historians on the cave. He showed us around, recounted the history, and added in some funny stories from the past and some heartwarming stories from the present. His passion for the cave is unmatched and his love for sharing the stories he has uncovered through over a decade of research is incredible to hear.
The cave located at 10th and High street in Lincoln, Nebraska by the name of Robber’s Cave is in a sense an anomaly. Very few caves in Nebraska exist and the fact that one still does in the center of a continuously growing city proves that some parts of nature cannot and should not be destroyed. Robber’s Cave has been a place of wonder, mystery, and even a gathering place over the years and the significance of the cave can be found in a rich history decorated in folklore and people gathering together.
The wearing process of years of water coming in contact with the sandstone caused erosion that formed the cave. The cave today is approximately 500 feet long and set up like a maze, which consists of 5,600 square feet and includes five passageways around a circular chimney. The cave is separated into five different sections. Areas such as The Well, The Bench, Fat Man’s Misery, The Question Mark, Robber’s Roost, The Sinkhole, and the Fire pit or Fireplace have been etched in the minds of visitors for decades. The walls are covered in history. The fact that sandstone is easily manipulated provided a way to etch a name and a date in time to remain there for as the long at the cave is in existence. The oldest name and date discovered so far is “Sam Dalton 1875”, but there are countless other names, drawings, and dates left behind during the time period that the cave was open to private visitors, initiations, and picnics and even from the time periods where the cave was cut off and trespassers still managed to sneak inside. Other notable names are “Druckenmiller 1888” and “Gardner Moore”, the former owner of Ideal Grocery, who put his name deep and high up on the wall in 1906.
Uncovering factual and accurate information pertaining to the folklore associated with the cave is difficult, but looking into the history of Nebraska can shed some light on where and why the tales have been passed on through the years. Pawnee Indians resided in the area near the cave around the 1860’s. The cave has been rumored to hold Pawnee ceremonies and initiations, which could be linked to Pawnee legends such as “the ‘Nahurac’ spirit cave that medicine men held mystic sacred rites, and neophytes were proven and initiated” (Pound 7). Links to the cave in regard to Pawnee Indians may have also come about when former owners of the cave reported finding arrowheads, tanning materials, and bones while clearing out the cave. Recent visitors to the cave have reported hearing chanting echoing through the tunnels, which could be remnants of the past still remaining after all these years.
The most prominent claim associated with folklore tales is the one about Jesse James.
During the 1870’s and 1880’s, “after the cave was abandoned, a rumor quickly took root placing Jesse James and his band at the cave in September of 1876” (Soule 3). Although James was in the area at the time and had family in Rulo, Nebraska, none of the stories have ever been proven. However, the folklore actually helped to create the name that the cave holds still today, Robber’s Cave.
The cave has had multiple uses over the years. The first possible uses for the cave were related to Pawnee Indians who resided in the area and later for pioneers seeking shelter. Although the previous reasons are possible, there is documentation that the cave has been used for ceremonies, initiations, picnics, private tours, as a place for local youth to sneak into as a dare, and as a brewery years ago and currently is being used for guided tours and as storage for Blue Blood Brewery.
People have reported hearing laughter, whispers, and chanting throughout the tunnels. Others have heard the sound of a woman crying in a specific area of the cave. One boy saw a shadow cast beneath a white light while he stayed the night in the caves. Joel Green experienced flickering lights while setting up for a tour one evening. When he reached the center of the first tunnel, the lights stopped flickering and a single light above his head was the only one that remained on. Although people have experienced ghostly activity while in the cave, the area is peaceful and worth visiting.
Currently the cave is open for guided tours and the brewery is open for business offering a selection of beers that are brewed next to the entrance of the cave in the basement along with a restaurant that provides a menu of food that ranges from appetizers to entrees. Tours are conducted on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sunday’s at various time periods throughout the day. Tours are 10 dollars and come with a 5-dollar voucher that can be used in the brewery after the tour is completed for any food or drink item on the menu. Tickets are available at the brewery or can be purchased online and each tour can take up to 30 people at a time. All tours are guided, which provides an overview of the brewery and the history of the cave. Although some areas are closed off from the public due to accessibility, safety, and the preservation of the endangered bats that reside in the cave, the tour provides a great experience with access to multiple areas full of rich and exciting history and ghost stories.
Robber’s Cave has a rich history connected back to Pawnee Indians all the way to a successful local brewing company. The mystery of the cave has caused people to linger into the darkness to uncover the secrets hidden beneath the surface of the city of Lincoln and the gatherings that have taken place have created memories that some are able to reminisce about now that the cave has been reopened to the public. Searching through the names carved into the walls, the history speaks for itself, leaving a lasting impression on the people who have visited the cave over the years while open or otherwise and for those who are now able to experience the wonder of the cave for the first time. Robber’s Cave is a gem that has created a place for people to gather, create friendships, share history, and build stories about in the city of Lincoln for generations and who knows perhaps a spirit will follow along on the tour.
Check out Robber's Cave tour information at:
Check out Joel Green's book on the history of Robber's Cave at: https://www.facebook.com/robberscavebook/
Green, Joel. "Robber's Cave Questions." Personal interview. 7 Apr. 2017.
"Nebraska During the Cretaceous Period." Nebraska During the Cretaceous. Geology of
Nebraska, 2017. Web. 28 Feb. 2018.
Pound, Louise. Nebraska Folklore. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2006. Print.
Soule, Gary K. Robber's Cave. Lincoln: Speece Productions, 2015. Print.