Cave-In-Rock, Illinois: A Natural Wonder With a Dark Past

Cave-In-Rock—situated on the Ohio River—sounds innocent enough. The 55-foot-wide cave has housed countless bandits. pirates, counterfeiters, and even a few of America’s earliest serial killers. Cave-In-Rock’s strategic location on the river made it the ideal hideout for conniving pirates who ambushed unsuspecting boats and so that they could steal their precious cargo. If Cave-In-Rock’s checkered history sounds a little too sordid for your sensibilities, rest easy—because one of Cave-In-Rock’s most recent incarnations prior to becoming a state park was Big Creek Baptist Church. Big Creek Baptist Church utilized Cave-In-Rock’s riverside location to baptize plenty of repentant sinners in the Ohio River’s once troubled waters.

Two of Cave-In-Rock’s most notable criminal occupants were the Harpe Brothers. The Harpe Brothers were British Crown loyalists who devolved into a life of crime in the wake of the American Revolution. The Harpe Brothers are believed to have killed up to 50 people, but they only confessed to 39 murders. The Samuel Mason Gang—which was infamous for robbing flatboats—offered the Harpe Brothers sanctuary at Cave-In-Rock after a particularly close brush with the law. Gang leader Samuel Mason evicted the Harpe Brothers from Cave-In-Rock after they stole the clothes of one too many innocent Ohio River boat passengers and pushed them over a nearby bluff just for kicks. Even the most seasoned river pirate found the Harpe Brothers barbaric behavior too extreme.

Within the cave in Southern Illinois

Cave in Rock

These days, Cave-in-Rock is a sleepy natural wonder that doesn’t house any law breaking degenerates. Visitors are free to roam the storied stone crevice which is rumored to have once housed Jesse James and company when they were on the run from the law. The most frightful thing that you may currently encounter is a grumpy mountain lion who is upset that you disturbed their afternoon nap. Cave-In-Rock features a deceptively serene view of the Ohio River.


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