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When sixth grader James Murphy travels with his family to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, he meets a new friend, Shanda. The girl and her uncle, Ranger.
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During their life they may have never realized the importance of their existence. However, today they are not viewed as slaves or lower class citizens. Stephen Bishop was unquestionably one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known. He was in his late teens when he was brought to Mammoth Cave in However, Stephen Bishop ventured beyond the toured areas and discovered many miles of the Mammoth Cave no eye had ever seen.

The gateway for modern exploration of the cave could be attributed to Stephen's crossing of a deep vertical shaft known as the Bottomless Pit. The areas he discovered beyond the Bottomless Pit can still be viewed by visitors today. Stephen was a showman and visitors wrote of his speech and singing voice. Perhaps visitor Bayard Taylor described what today's perception of Stephen Bishop was when he wrote,.

He is the model of a guide - quick, daring, enthusiastic, persevering, with a lively appreciation of the wonders he shows, and a degree of intelligence unusual in one of his class I think no one can travel under his guidance without being interested in the man, and associating him in memory with the realm over which he is chief ruler. Stephen gained his freedom in , but sadly died at the age of 37 the next year in leaving behind his wife Charlotte and son Thomas. His cause of death still remains a mystery today. Materson Bransford was the son of the affluent Tennessean Thomas Bransford and a slave woman.

He began guiding at Mammoth Cave in the year , and ultimately became the property of his own half-brother after the death of his father. Mat married a slave girl named Parthena and in time was able to build a small home for themselves and the four children that were born to them in slavery.

As time passed the children grew and to Parthena's owner became marketable. Despite his best efforts Mat was powerless to stop his wife's owner from selling three of their four children into the very institution of slavery to which they were bound. Surprisingly, some abolitionists of the day did not regard such an act as horrendous.

Upon hearing of the ordeal Rusling remarked, "I don't suppose you missed these children much? You colored people never do they say. After emancipation, Mat remained at the cave for the rest of his life. No doubt his eyes often gazed toward the old dusty road bed where his oldest children were last seen, hoping someday to see them return. However, Nick was not the showman that Stephen Bishop or Mat was. Descriptions of Nick as a guide do not exist until after Stephen Bishop's death.

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Perhaps he was not a regular guide until this time. A visitor named F. Stevenson visited Mammoth Cave in and wrote the following regarding Nick,. Despite Nick being a man of few words, he nonetheless still embodied the connection guides have to the cave and visitors as Stevenson writes,. He was as grave and taciturn as some cave-keeping anchorite.

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During our inward progress, he had carefully pointed out every place and object of interest If I paused or made a misstep, he instantly looked around. According to tradition, Nick purchased his freedom by selling eyeless fish to visitors who were intrigued by the unique creatures. Beyond his role as a guide, Nick was also a husband who married Stephen Bishop's widow Charlotte. He was a caring, giving man who donated the land for the Mammoth Cave School where his grandchildren learned to read and write. This quiet soul was also a spiritual man and was one of the first deacons of the Pleasant Union Baptist Church that used to stand in the park.

Nick continued to work at Mammoth Cave until he died in - giving over a half-century of his life to the guiding profession.

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His exact gravesite is unknown, but is in all likelihood shrouded in the woods of the Flint Ridge. Ed Bishop began guiding at Mammoth Cave in For nearly the next three decades Ed was an integral part of the guide force. For eight months Ed and Max visited all of the known sections of Mammoth Cave and discovered many new areas. The fruits of their labor produced a map representing approximately 35 miles of cave passages.

Ed's knowledge of the cave seemed to be the cornerstone for exploration as well as a point of learning for guides. He instructed Hunt how to reach the New Discovery from the Cathedral Dome route and Hunt instructed Bob Lively, but during and it was necessary to wait for Bishop, to make the trip. Ed eventually moved to Indiana and died in Indianapolis.

Black History at Mammoth Cave

He was brought back to Kentucky and buried in an unmarked grave next to his first wife Josie and daughter Chancey. In Mammoth Cave guides, along with many others, had donated enough money to purchase and set a head stone for Ed and Josie Bishop, as well as one for their baby girl, Chancey. Today Ed rests beneath a large cedar tree just a few miles from the cave he knew so well. Ed Hawkins was not exclusively a guide.

Ed was a laborer for the privately owned Mammoth Cave Estate. While Ed did guide tours, many of his other tasks took him away from the cave. Odd jobs such as small structural repairs, chopping wood and plucking chickens were among other labor Ed performed. Black employees during the early 20th century had certain demands of them. Only blacks were porters and waiters, while whites were clerks and managers. Ed Hawkins had to cancel his plans for a planned cave exploration trip because one of the managers needed him to peel potatoes.

No doubt, his ability and familiarity with the cave would have been better served in exploration. In Ed co-discovered a monumental series of shafts known as Cathedral Domes with fellow guide Will Bransford and visitor Benjamin Franklin Einbigler. The avenue leading to this impressive series of domes is was named Hawkins' Pass in his honor. Visitors are still able to view these large shafts on the Wild Cave Tour.

A unique trait of Ed is how recognizable he is in photographs. He secured his clothes with large blanket pins. Tradition says that his hands were so large he could clean a chicken of its feathers in just two swipes. With such large hands manipulating small buttons may have been too tedious a task. Ranked 2 of 11 things to do in Mammoth Cave National Park. Attraction details Owner description: A mysterious limestone cave that has fascinated people for 4, years. Activities for young children, Activities for older children.

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Black History at Mammoth Cave - Mammoth Cave National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

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Geology of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

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