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My Recollection of Old Spanish Cave

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My Recollection


Old Spanish Cave

by Junior Warren

Tales of the Spanish Conquistadors making their way through Stone County, Missouri. They carried treasure chests of gold doubloons and rare jewels. This childhood folk tale has a real physical location: The Old Spanish Cave, near Reeds Spring, in Stone County, Missouri.

Old Spanish Cave is NOT an urban legend or Ozarks folklore.

The treasure of Old Spanish Cave ? Will have to be found to be proven.

Childhood Visit

I visited the cave as a child in the 1960s.

I was in the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade at Abesville Elementary. Thus, the years would have been 1964, 1965 or 1966.

My mother, Opal M. DeLong Warren, a farmer, and I went one afternoon to visit the man, who happily mentioned that the land he owned had a cave. As I remember the events, it seems the previous owner had told him about the cave, but had apparently never had any intention of opening the cave to the public.

My mother had went to see the couple about some farming matter and the cave owner brought up the topic of his new cave.

Southwest Missouri’s Famous Caves

At the time, southwest Missouri’s Famous Caves totaled two: Fantastic Caverns, near Springfield, Missouri. Fantastic Caverns gained fame with their ride through jeep tours of this amazing cave.

Silver Dollar City had only been up and running as a tourist attraction for a few years. Marvel Cave, which for a time was known as “Talking Rocks,” near Silver Dollar City, was beginning to attract visitors and became the other major southwest Missouri cave that attracted bus loads of tourists each year. (For information on Silver Dollar City visit the website and to find data on Marvel Cave, check out Wikipedia’s article on Stone County, Missouri’s famous Marvel Cave )

Branson, Missouri had the Baldknobbers musicians and there was talk that people like Buck Owens and Roy Clark might open music theaters in Branson. It was the early -1960s and Taney County’s business optimism was leaking across the county line into Stone County.

Suspicious Stone County Folk Tales

Stone County, Missouri has a wealth of folklore. When I was a child there was the tale that famous Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon journey through southwest Missouri, in search of the Fountain of Youth and thus, Ponce de Leon, Missouri was named in his honor.

There was also the tale that Abraham Lincoln had once journeyed through southwest Missouri. Thus, Abesville, Missouri was named in Lincoln’s honor.

As a child, Old Spanish Cave and the tale of the vanishing conquistadors was told like the Ponce de Leon and Abesville tales – but, Old Spanish Cave had a real physical location to back up it’s story.

Coming Tourist Attraction ?

The man, who talked to us about his cave, mentioned his desire to try and open the cave to the public. The story, we were told is, essentially that Spanish conquistadors took refuge in the cave either from the weather or Native Americans. The story claimed the conquistadors had either one or three treasure chests of coins or jewels.

Mystery takes over and at that point, it seemed people weren’t certain what happened to the soldiers or their wealth. Naturally, Old Spanish Cave was the last supposedly confirmed sighting of the soldiers and the treasure. Folklore suggests that either the soldiers buried the wealth and never came back for it or left the wealth there with the intention to return.

Although it was late in the afternoon, my mother and I did have the opportunity to step inside Old Spanish Cave. There was no grand public entrance. Literally, it was a rough arch shape opening in the side of a rock hillside. To a farmer walking by, the opening would of looked just like a large hole at the base of a moss covered limestone cliff.

There was a small black yard gate at the entrance that the owner used to keep trespassers out. Traditionally, Stone County farmers usually didn’t talk about caves on their property to keep out trespassers and fortune hunters as well as not having to worry about liability issues of someone roaming around their property and falling into a cave by accident.

Unlike southwest Missouri’s famous caves, at this point, in the 1960s, the cave had not been as thoroughly explored or developed. There was still some sunlight, so the owner, momma and I stepped inside the first chamber.

Inside Old Spanish Cave in the 1960s

About 10 feet inside the opening there was a nice deep hole. When you are eight, nine or ten years old a 10 foot hole can look like it is 100 feet deep. My “knee high to a grasshopper “ mind measured the hole at about 20 to 30 feet across and probably about 10 to 20 feet deep – keep in mind – these were the measurements of an excited grade school kid looking down into a really deep hole, with the story of Spanish Conquistadors hiding their doubloons away in the Missouri hills.

I remember to the left of the massive hole in that center chamber was a pool of water about three feet wide and probably about two feet deep. The pool of water, supposedly kept the relative cool temperature throughout the year.

There were some tool shaped pieces of wood that could be seen in the bottom of the big hole, which could suggest someone might have at one time been digging in the cave.

My mother and I only went into the first chamber, while the landowner serving as the proud tour guide told us the story about the cave and explained that he had hopes to explore and open all the cave to the public. The entrance and chamber of the cave, actually seemed spacious. It had no lights, so the setting sun served as the persistent indicator that our time would be limited to look around the cave.

Missouri The Cave State”

Treasure hunters surfing the web and trying to find the location of Old Spanish Cave will be confused by other reported or suspected locations of this cave. One possible reason for the confusion on the location of the cave could come from the amount of caves in Missouri.

Around the late 1960s one of the popular tourism slogans stated: “Missouri The Cave State.” Growing up in Stone County I knew several kids and landowners who mentioned that they had caves on their property. Supposedly the entrances of some caves were wide enough you could easily walk into, while others were holes in the ground that a small dog would have problems going into or out of.

I remember Old Spanish Cave, was on private land, near Reeds Spring. The cave is near the Coon Ridge Coffee Shop before you reach a sign for the city limits to the City of Reeds Spring, as I remember.

Old Spanish Cave – A Tourist Attraction ?

In looking through my Galena Bears yearbooks from 1962 through 1976, I found there were advertisements for Old Spanish Cave for the years 1969, 1971 and 1972, which suggests the cave was open for a time to the public.

Photograph of the Old Spanish Cave ad in the 1969 Galena Bears yearbook

I found stories on by people that also recount visits to the legendary southwest Missouri cave.

Could there be gold doubloons and Spanish jewels in Old Spanish Cave ?

The end of this tale will have to wait until some adventurous treasure hunter gets permission to venture inside the earth and see what lies hidden in the regions of Old Spanish Cave.

Me, I love to think the forgotten conquistadors are resting comfortably alongside their full treasure chest in the seclusion of Old Spanish Cave.

The Treasure Tales of the Lost Loot of Shock Short

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Legend or Legacy ?

The Treasure Tales

of the Lost Loot

of Shock Short

by Junior Warren

As a child my grandmother told me the first stories about Shock Short. Stone County Old Timers in the 1960s would whisper and speculate about the “Lost Loot” that Shock was supposed to have hid in Galena. While most people speculate that the Treasure Tales of the Lost Loot of Shock Short is a local urban legend of the Ozarks. Still, one of Galena, Missouri’s native sons made a living robbing banks in the 1930s.

Tale of Two Brothers

United States Congressman Dewey Jackson Short of Missouri stepped into the international spotlight. George Leonard “Shock” Short, brother of the congressman, earned headlines across the United States for bank robbery.

The Great Depression helped to make Shock Short a controversial folk hero. Local stories point out his Robin Hood compassion and his Jesse James’ bravado.

The Treasure Tales of The Lost Loot Of Shock Short lives on in Galena, Missouri.

President Roosevelt’s Depression Era economic policies drew fire, from Galena, Missouri’s most famous native son, United States Seventh Congressional District Congressman Dewey Short. Meanwhile, George Leonard “Shock” Short, brother of the congressman, handled the redistribution of America’s wealth in the Midwest by robbing banks.

From 1932 to 1935, Shock Short and the Irish O’Malley Gang hit banks in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois , Kansas, and Oklahoma. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics agents were the law enforcement headliners of the day in the 1930s.

1930s – Bankrupt America – Dumbfounded Government

Meanwhile the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation seemed best suited to keep track of official paperwork. The massive numbers of bank robberies since the 1929 collapse of the stock market was forcing Washington D.C., leaders to try and find a way to stop the various mobs of bank robbers that were finishing off the remaining banks.

The Justice Department’s BI agents were years away from becoming professional Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. At the time, Many of the young agents hadn’t even fired a gun and they were being ordered to go after the gangsters of the era: John Herbert Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows.

Bankers Are The Bad Guys – 1930s

Time had given the gangsters a big head start. Public sentiment was against the banks. Banks were the villains Bankers are the bad guys. In the 1930s – Money was NOT the “root of all evil”; it was the banks. Banks foreclosed on homes and farms – people were homeless. Mother Nature added insult to injury – more than a million tons of topsoil blew into the Atlantic Ocean. Nature’s Dust Bowl became an apocalyptic economic event.

Wealthy Americans would call the bank robbers, “hoods, “”henchmen,” and “gangsters.” Homeless penniless, Americans would view the bank robbers as “Robin Hood,” “knights in shining armor,” and basically, “neighbors who had the guts to stand up to banks and big government and fight the system.”

The line of Black and White between Good and Evil and Right and Wrong had been blurred because of the lack of Green. Bank robbers had become “Celebrities” and “Entrepreneurs” While the heroes were bank robbers; the villains were banks, local, state and the U.S. Government. America’s Conservative Hard Work Ethic had been knocked on it’s backside and none of the rules of “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage” seemed to apply anymore. Everyone seemed broke.

The Herbert Hoover Administration’s ideas to save the U.S. Economy had seemed worthless and “Too Little, Too Late.” Americans were broke. Americans had gambled that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democrats might have the ideas to save the economy.

Newspaper headlines of the 1930s reveal that bank robberies in the United States spread like a series of national wild fires from the East Coast to the West Coast and across the Midwest. A bankrupt economy had brought a rebirth of the Days of the Wild West and the six shooters had been traded for Tommy guns. Fast horses had given way to automobiles with V8 engines.

The 1930s had set the stage for the bank robbers. In Galena, Missouri, George Leonard “Shock” Short, had chosen the lucrative career of bank robber. Short and his gang were equally successful, as the other gangs, but, not as famous, or infamous, as the nationally known gangsters of the era.

Revenue Rewards

Congressman Dewey Short’s efforts to get Galena on the map were well known locally. Congressman Short got credit for getting the Historic Y Bridge at Galena built. He convinced the U.S. Congress to make the funds for Table Rock Dam a reality. Even the U.S. Navy commissioned a vessel: The U.S. S. Stone County. The congressman’s actions were instrumental in bringing revenue into Stone County during the Great Depression and into the years following World War II.

Tales of Treasure Tunnels

The local legends always credit Shock Short with being willing to share some of the money with his fellow Stone County citizens. The tales suggested that he would give neighbors money to help clothe their kids and even keep banks from foreclosing on homes and making even more people homeless.

Shock Short and the O’Malley gang were credited with the successful simultaneous bank robberies of two banks in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1934. One of the gang’s jewelry store robberies is reported to have got them $75,000 in precious stones. Chicago Typewriters spit hot lead and the nation’s presses set the cold type that reported the O’ Malley gang’s daring, which included the skills of Daniel “Dapper Dan” Heady – to the jail break assistance of “Pretty Betty.”

Local legends also suggest Shock Short hid bank loot, in and around, Galena, Missouri. Stories credit Shock and his gang with digging numerous tunnels in and around Galena to easily escape law enforcement and to hide the money.

The 1930’s Controversial Gold Standard

21st Century bank robbers traditionally go for the bills because coins are bulky, heavy and not as easy to carry out the door in a hurry. There was nothing traditional about The Great Depression. The Stock Market was smoke. More than 3,000 U.S. Banks failed virtually overnight. Americans were making runs on banks to get their money out before they became penniless. FDR had ordered the “Bank Holiday” to close banks to keep people from withdrawing their money and to buy time for some faith to be restored in the banking system.

The United States of America – The Great Democracy was in a nose dive to Third World Status.

Since the days of Washington and Franklin, the United States had been on the Gold Standard, which meant U.S. Banks had gold coins. The new administration had threatened to take the U.S., off the gold standard, which meant the U.S. Government and not citizens would have gold coins and citizens would no longer be paid in gold or be able to use gold to pay debts.

American monetary tradition – The Gold Standard – was a presidential pen stroke away from oblivion.

FDR signed the Executive Order and U.S. Gold Coins became the property of the U.S. Government. Dollar bills became the legal tender of the nation. Confiscated gold got melted down and shipped to a secure location – “America’s Vault” – Fort Knox.

One Shock Short legend claims that there maybe jewels and gold coins in the stolen loot. The most popular local urban legends and folk tales claim that the long lost bank loot is hidden in the City of Galena or in and around some of the suspected tunnels or known caves.

Sister of Two Famous Brothers

In the 1970s, when Omen’s Liberation swept the country like a runaway brush fire. The Equal Rights Amendment national debate pointed out the differences in wages between men and women, Fashion shattered tradition, especially for men. Conservative national figures were turning in their dark business suits for wide lapel-ed, checkered sports jackets, wide ties and polyester pants. Metropolitan America “lived by the clock” as people used their fast paced lives to become workaholics. There was not enough hours in the day to work. Metropolitan America had no time for the slower paced lifestyle of rural America.

Stone County, Missouri, in the 1970s, was still Rural America – people didn’t lock their doors at night out in the country. They usually left their car keys in their vehicles. In 1972, the Stone County Sheriff had three deputies in his office and they all used their personal vehicles as patrol cars. Stone County was a living, breathing Norman Rockwell painting.

Bess Allman, an elderly Galena woman had a smile for everyone. She called men and women, “honey” or “sweetie.” Known and respected throughout Stone County, Bess Allman always stood ready to help out friends and neighbors. In the decades before cell phones, email and computers, Bess Allman was a living library of information about Galena and Missouri. She seemed like any other woman old enough to be a grandmother, but she had two famous brothers: Dewey and Shock.

Congressman Dewey Short had stood in the international spotlight and his brother, Shock had earned headlines throughout the Midwest. Meanwhile, in Galena, their sister: Bess lived her life as a friend and neighbor in the local spotlight.

When I met Congressman Short it was because Bess Allman had called my mother and told her Dewey was back in town for a few days. Bess Allman made sure I got to meet and shake hands with Dewey in Galena. My mother had told Bess about my interest in politics and I had seen Mrs. Allman around Galena through the years when my mom went to the courthouse or went shopping on the square.

This house in Galenam Missouri was a home for Bess Allman, the sister of a congressman and a famous bank robber. Photo by Junior Warren.

As a kid, I had heard that Bess Allman had a husband. In the late 1970s, while researching some local information I heard the story that the two story home on the other side of the railroad tracks on the banks of the James River had been built for her as a wedding present from her new husband. In my childhood in the 1960s, the house had been known as the Standridge Farm and later, the Bessie Lawrence Farm.

I never had the opportunity to ask Bess Allman any questions about her brother, “Shock” Short. To my knowledge, Bess Allman lived most, if not all, of her life in Galena. Her last home in Galena is reported to have been a white two story, near the courthouse, and across the street from the old Bank of Galena building.

The Tunnel Tales

If Shock Short and his gang had dug all the tunnels that legends credit them with digging – they would of never had any time to rob banks. However, Missouri tourism once promoted the state as The Cave State and there is no shortage of caves throughout Stone County, Thus, the stories about The Tunnels Of Galena may have some basis in fact.

The James River Tunnel

The James River Tunnel is supposed to be around a boat ramp, near the old Bill Rogers Motel, on the bank of James River. Legend states that this tunnel would allow Shock or any member of his gang the ability to use the tunnel to emerge up into the sunlight inside the city limits of Galena.

The tunnel might be there; however, Galena, Missouri experienced severe flooding in 1993, so any tunnel would of probably been washed away or collapsed by the rising waters. Even in the 1930s of Shock Short’s era, poisonous “cotton mouth” and water moccasins snakes were common around the banks of the James River. It would be unlikely a local boy would dig a tunnel anywhere near these poisonous snakes.

The Family Home Tunnel

Another Shock Short legend claimed there was a tunnel in the City of Galena that would allow Shock Short to easily leave Galena if there was news of a posse and he could emerge inside his family’s home.

The Church Tunnel

One Shock Short legend states that one time in the 1930s, someone tipped off Shock Short that the Greene County Sheriff from Springfield was coming to see the Stone County Sheriff with a warrant for Shock’s arrest. The legend states that Shock slipped into a tunnel in Galena and emerged a few minutes later – out of a church on top of a hill in Galena.

This is the Bank of Galena Museum in Galena, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren

The Bank of Galena Tunnel

Before The Great Depression, there was a Bank Of Galena. When the banks of the depression failed, the Bank of Galena was one of the causalities The irony is there is suppose to be a tunnel underneath the old bank building. The story of this tunnel states that it was actually in the bank. It was suppose to allow Shock the ability to disappear into the tunnel and emerge into the sunlight a short distance from the bank into one of two nearby homes on either side of the street.

Are The Galena Tunnels Real ?

As of 2011, no one has admitted ever finding any of the tunnels.

Some Americans were fond of keeping their money in mattresses and in the walls of their homes, even before the Great Depression, thus, the rumors of money in root cellars and basements may have some basis in reality.

Although the East Side of the Galena Square in the 1960s hosted the U.S. Post Office, a beauty shop, a barber shop and the Hog Heaven Cafe, in 2011, that area is now the parking lot and the building of the Stone County Judicial Center, thus, searching for treasure tunnels underground probably will not be happening any time soon.

While the Shock Short legends credit Galena with a spider web of suspected subterranean tunnels, the one place that seems immune to the tunnel tales is the Stone County Courthouse, in the center of the square.

As a child growing up in Stone County in the 1960s, some of the old timers swore that Shock Short had hidden money away in tunnels in Galena. Perhaps, the tunnel tales are stories grandparents and parents told their children to inspire their imaginations. However, newspaper archives document that Shock Short and the O’Malley Gang robbed numerous banks in several states.

While local citizens obviously respected Congressman Short, the treasure tunnel tales have made Shock Short a legendary local folk hero.

Where the heck is Galena, Missouri ?

Galena, Missouri sits on the banks of the James River. Springfield, Missouri is about 40 miles away and Branson, Missouri is around 25 miles as the crow flies. In the spring and summer, visitors can rent a canoe and float the James River.

A 2005 photo fo the James Rivers Outfitters sign in Galena, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren

Campers can camp out at the James River Outfitters by the historic Y Bridge.

The Bear's Den offers fast food and soft drinks, near Galena High School, in Galena, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren.

For hamburgers and soft drinks, tourists can dine at The Bear’s Den, near the Galena High School.

This 2005 photo shows the exteriors of two of the four cabins of Pop's Retreat, on the banks of the James River, in Galena, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren.

This 2005 photo shows the first floor layout of one of the cabins of Pop's Retreat. Photo by Junior Warren.

If you want to spend some time enjoying nature you might want to consider renting one of the cabins at Pop’s Retreat on the banks of the James River.

This 2005 photo shows the second floor layout of one of the cabins of Pop's Retreat in Galena, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren

Bring your camera, especially if you are interested in nature photography – in recent years – eagles are a common sight flying around Galena.

Does the Legendary Lost Loot of Shock Short lie beneath the streets of Galena, Missouri ?

Time will tell.

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