Stephen Bishop

African-American Cave Explorer and Underground Railroad Agent

Article by:
Henry Robert Burke


Mammoth Cave National Park was established in southwestern Kentucky in 1941. Mammoth Cave was discovered in 1798 by slave named Stephen Bishop (1780-1850). In 1835 Bishop also discovered the mummified body of a pre-Columbian Indian in the cave. Other archaeological discoveries confirmed prehistoric Native American exploration of the cave so I guess you should say that Stephen Re-discovered it. During the Underground Railroad Era, Bishop often used the cave to hide fugitive slaves who were on their way north to cross the Ohio River.

The park was designated a World Heritage Site in 1981 and the core area of an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The park contains Mammoth Cave, a limestone cavern that has more than 484 km (301 mi.) of charted passageways extending through five levels and is the longest known cave system in the world. In addition to the cave, the park contains a region of forests and hills traversed by the Green River, which receives the Echo River and other underground streams. Area, 212.1 sq. km (81.9 sq. mi.).

Certain sections of the cave have formations that contain crystals of calcite, gypsum, and other minerals that lend the formations color. Flowing through the cave's lowest level, about 110 m (about 360 ft) below the surface, is a subterranean stream, the Echo River. The river is 1.2 km (.75 mi.) long, with a maximum width of 60 m (197 ft), and it contains rare animals, including blind fish and colorless eyeless crayfish. The caverns remain at a near constant temperature of 12.2 C (54 F).

The owner opened Mammoth Cave to local tourists a few years after its discovery, and for the rest of his life, Bishop was the tour guide. At Mammoth Cave there is a small plaque commemorating Stephen Bishop, the African America cave explorer, who is buried near the entrance to the cave.


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Bennie J. McRae, Jr.
LWF COMMUNICATIONS
P.O. Box 26148
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