Perhaps the most impressive attraction is a large dome-like formation called Indian Ladder. Handholds on one side show evidence of early cave occupation. Many signatures on the formation were placed there in the mid-to-late 1800s by people known from local history, including the recently discovered Quincy A. Smallin, son of the original homesteaders, Jerry and Jane Stapp Smallin.
Evidence of human use for centuries is part of Smallin Cave’s story. Studies determined it was used by various people for more than 8,500 years and the cave bares carvings, inscriptions and ancient petroglyphs. The first documented cave in the Ozarks, it was described two centuries ago by explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in early 1819. Since Schoolcraft’s time, there are accounts the cave was used by Native Americans, by soldiers during the Civil War and by 19th and 20th century families for washing and for taking picnics.
Joseph Bulger purchased the property in the early 1960s and opened the cave for commercial tours. After he died in 1966, the land and cave were used privately until purchased in 2009 by current owners Wanetta (who wrote a book about the cave) and Kevin Bright.
The cave and its surroundings were recognized as a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places on March 8, 2018, and today’s visitors can see many of the same wonders described by Schoolcraft in 1819.