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Title: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico - The Story of its Early Explorations, as told by Jim White
Author: White, Jim
Language: English
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                            Carlsbad Caverns
                             NATIONAL PARK
                               NEW MEXICO
                        _Its Early Explorations
                               as told by
                               Jim White_

    [Illustration: Jim White]

               Born—July 11, 1882    Died—April 28, 1946


    [Illustration: Mrs. Jim White—April 1958]

                       HOW JIM FOUND THE CAVERNS

Bats!... millions of black little mammals drifting along the horizon and
seeming to fuse into the hazy clouds of a New Mexico sunset! That was
the spectacle which led Jim White, back at the turn of the century, to
become interested in the colossal phenomenon designated by Act of
Congress as Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

If you could ask him about it today, Jim’s eyes would probably turn
inward as he’d muse and remember. “I thought it was a volcano—but then
I’d never seen one. For that matter, I’d never seen bats fly. I had seen
plenty of prairie whirlwinds during my life on the range, but this thing
didn’t move. It seemed to stay in one spot near the ground—but the top
kept spinning upward. I watched maybe a half-an-hour, and being about as
curious as the next fellow, I started toward the place”.

Jim White, native of Mason County, Texas, grew up ranching ...
surrounded by the cattle-business, without even a grammar school
education. Jim would have preferred bustin’ broncos to books and
blackboards even if there had been a little log schoolhouse on his
native soil. So it was an experienced ten-year-old range-rider who
teamed up with John and Dan Lucas of the X-X-X Ranch in New Mexico,
three miles or so from the entrance to the cave. Jim White spent eight
or ten years on the range surrounding Lucas’ Ranchhouse, and like the
other rangemen, had known of “the bat cave”, but he had felt no
impelling urge to see what was hiding in its darkness.

Then came the day of the bat-flight. Crawling through the rocks and
brush, Jim White approached the spot from which the bats seemed
literally to boil. The incredulous young range-rider made a feeble guess
about the number of bats—could think no further than millions—but
realized that any hole with capacity for that many bats must be a whale
of a big affair. Creeping still closer, Jim finally lay on the brink of
the chasm and looked down ... into awesome, impenetrable blackness.

Torn between awe and curiosity, Jim did the natural thing for a man
familiar with desert ranges.

“I piled up some dead cactus and built a bonfire. When it was burning
good, I took a flaming stalk and pushed it off into the hole. Down,
down, down it went until the flame went out—and I still watched until
the embers sprinkled on the rocks below. Seemed the thing wouldn’t ever
stop, but later it measured about thirty or forty feet from where I
dropped the fire down to that faraway bottom. I kicked the remainder of
the fire into the hole and watched it fall. The bats seemed to be
scared, and for several minutes none flew out. Soon as the embers died,
though, they boiled up again. I watched another hour or so, then went
back to camp.”

    [Illustration: _750 Feet Underground, the Temple of the Sun in the
    Big Room_]

The fence-building crew, camped in the vicinity at the time, heard not a
word from their companion about his observation.

                          JIM EXPLORES FARTHER

Jim White kept his counsel, waited a couple of days for the opportunity,
then gathered together several coils of rope, a kerosene lantern, some
wire and a hand-axe.

“I got back to the cave about mid-afternoon. You know the opening faces
West, and the sun was in the right place to shine down into it. There
was enough light so I could see the bottom of the shaft. Off to the
right I could see the opening of a huge tunnel, and my imagination
started running ahead of me. Where would that tunnel lead? I made up my
mind to find out.”

    [Illustration: _Dazzling White Beauty in the King’s Palace_]

Busy with the hand-axe, Jim cut sticks of wood from the shrubs nearby,
accumulating a sizeable pile. Next, he picked up the rope and the wire
... and with his newly-cut sticks for steps, Jim White’s
rope-ladder-to-adventure was soon lowered into the entrance of the cave.
Cautious rung-by-rung descent led the probing cowboy down into blackness
until his feet touched something solid. Lighting his lantern, he
discovered himself on a narrow ledge—almost at the end of his rope,
literally and figuratively!

From that precarious spot, Jim could see into the tunnel—only a little
farther and he could be on its smooth-looking floor level. Appetite
whetted for exploration, the range-toughened man dared a “human-fly”
approach, holding onto the rough wall for that final twenty feet or so
to wide, level footing!

Standing at the entrance to the tunnel, Jim peered ahead by light from
his lantern ... a sickly glow against a blackness that seemed solid.
Determined to see what was there, dark or no dark, the cowboy summoned
his courage and started walking slowly forward.

“The tunnel grew larger with every step. It seemed to me that I was
wandering into the very core of the Guadalupe Mountains.

“Finally, I reached a chamber—a whale of a big oval-shaped room. Looked
like several hundred yards before there was a sharp curve to the right
and another sharp descent. On the left was another big tunnel leading in
the opposite direction ... and the floor on the left looked a little
more smooth and level, so I tackled it first. It didn’t take long to
discover that this one was the Bats’ Cave, so I went back to the big
entrance and started down the other tunnel.

“I kept going until I found myself in the mightiest wilderness of
strange formations a cowboy ever laid eyes on! It was the first cave I
was ever in, and I didn’t know then that those formations had names like
‘stalagmites’. But I did know, with the kind of instinct the Creator
puts into a man, that there just wasn’t another scene like this one in
the whole world.”

To arrive at this point, Jim White had crept cat-like across a dozen
dangerous ledges and past many a tremendous opening that seemed to reach
downward into the very center of the earth. He dropped rocks to sound
depths; into one opening he pushed a great boulder. It hit something—not
bottom—and kept rolling and rolling until the sound faded into a
haunting memory of sound.

“I walked through more of those ‘stalagmites’, and each one seemed
larger and more beautifully formed than the ones I’d already seen. I
blinked at the sight of giant-size wonders that turned out to be
gleaming ‘onyx’. The ceilings blinked back at me with clusters of
‘stalactites’ ... like great chandeliers. The walls sparkled and

Those walls were frozen cascades of flowstone, with jutting rocks
holding long, slender formations that rang under Jim White’s
experimental touch like keys on a xylophone. Floors were carpeted with
formations with new shapes and new sizes at every turn. Through the
gloom, Jim saw the tall, graceful, ghost-like shapes resembling
totem-poles, stretching upward into darkness. Through crystal-clear
water, Jim White saw that the sides of several pools at his feet were
lined with what appeared to be marble. Lost in the beauty, the
weirdness, the grandeur into which his inquisitive mind had led him, Jim
forgot time, place and distance.

Suddenly, the oil in his lantern was exhausted. The flame curled and
died. Reality descended swiftly, as if millions of tons of black wool
drifted down to smother and choke. With the black loneliness paralyzing
his bloodstream, Jim White tried to refill his lantern from the small
emergency canteen of oil, brought for just such a moment.

    [Illustration: _Twin Domes and Giant Stalagmites in the Big Room_]

“My fingers shook so much that I fumbled the filler-cap and spilled more
oil in my lap than I did in my lamp. Then I dropped the filler-cap when
I tried to screw it back on.

“The inky blackness and the almost ‘deafening’ total silence, save for
an occasional drop, drop, drop of water, didn’ help me stop shaking,
either. It’s hard to describe how completely dark, how perfectly still
it is down in that cave. Seemed like a month went by before I got that
lantern going again and looked around in the dim light to get my

Foresight and range experience had prompted the westerner to leave
landmarks for himself so the retracing of steps would be possible, even
if natural sense of direction failed. Resourcefully using what was at
hand, Jim’s guide-marks were broken stalactites taken from the floors
and placed on top of the rocks, ends pointing to the outbound pathway.
Even so, Jim started feeling a mounting fear that he might not be able
to find the markers he had left behind. It was worse when he realized
that no one at camp knew where he had gone—that his chances of being
found were extremely remote even if his companions had known of his
destination. In the cool depths of the cavern, now known to be 56
degrees day and night, summer and winter, the once-bold adventurer felt
the wild alarm in his veins turn into perspiration and panic-chills.

“Suddenly I was seized with a mad desire to run—to charge like a crazy
bull when he’s cornered. I scrambled along the edge of a black gash in
the rock, and rammed my head against those sharp-pointed critters above
me that all at once seemed unfriendly. Those needle-points pierced my
hat and cut a few holes in my scalp ... and that sort of cooled me off.
I leaned back against the wall and talked to myself the way a lonesome
cowboy does. ‘Here, Jim’, I said, ‘don’t get in an uproar. It won’t get
you anywhere. Take it easy’.”

Maybe those formations up there were not so unfriendly after all,
because Jim seemed to hear his own words of advice returning from every
direction. “Take it easy ... take it easy ... take it easy!”

Grasping the thin thread of courage which remained, the man who now
feared that he would never see daylight again held the inadequate
lantern securely in his hand. This was his last chance to reach the
surface—the oil flickering away moment by moment in the little flame.
Desperation was his strength, determination his guide as he held the
lantern forward in search of those arrow-points to safety. Repeating the
cat-crawl in reverse, narrowly clearing the margins of safety because
nerves were jumpy and jangled, Jim White worked his agonizing way toward
the tunnel’s mouth. The distance seemed multiplied by thousands of
footsteps since he had traversed the distance ... when was it? Hours? Or
days ago?

    [Illustration: _This Massive Growth has been forming for Centuries
    unknown and is one of the most Majestic Formations known_]

Never was there so gratifying a sight as the shaft of sunlight filtering
down through the entrance. Fumbling, eager hands fastened onto the rope
ladder and Jim White hungrily climbed over the rocky ledge to the warmth
and cheer of the New Mexico sunshine.

“I waited a minute till my bones thawed out. Then I turned and stared
back into the cave. It had beaten me—driven me out. I stared at it the
way I’d stare at a stubborn bronco, telling myself that someday I would
conquer it!”

Riding back to camp, busy with thoughts of the adventure and pondering
about the possible extent of the cave, Jim White felt an increasing
desire to see it all. He must see it, he felt, but wondered if it
wouldn’t be better to get someone to go back with him. Somehow the
mammoth, buried fairyland wouldn’t seem so overwhelming if someone else
were along to relieve the silent, dark loneliness. The boys at camp,
however, refused to take seriously Jim’s account of the bats and the
glittering under-ground palace. The more he talked of it, the more they
howled their disbelief.

“When they found out I was serious, they decided I had just naturally
gone ‘plumb loco’, or else I’d set out to be the world’s champion
cow-punchin’ liar! Try as I would, I couldn’t find a single cowboy who
would agree to go with me. They just weren’t the least bit interested!”


At the Lucas X-X-X Ranch there was a Mexican boy about fifteen years old
who worked steadily and said little. He couldn’t speak much English, and
the cowboys were not gifted with much Spanish. Jim White never did know
the boy’s real name or what became of him finally, but during those days
called the young Mexican, as did the others, the “Kid”.

One day, the Kid called the exploring White aside and overcame language
difficulties enough to offer his company on that risky trip into the
cave! Jim accepted the offer readily enough! To return to the scene of
his lonely adventure had by now become a consuming desire. Among Jim
White’s acquaintances, if only “the Kid” would make the exploration with
him, it was still a lot better than going alone.

    [Illustration: _Elephant Ears in the Queen’s Chamber_]

Five days from his first trip into the cave, Jim White and the Kid set
out with a couple of crude torches, a canteen of water, a sack of grub
and a can of kerosene. Right up to the moment of departure, White
expected his volunteer-companion to get cold feet and back out of the
project, but at last they were headed together toward the Big Hole.

The kerosene torches were a great improvement over the lantern used in
the first visit. The torches gave sufficient light to enable fairly good
progress. Now familiar to the man, the startling, dazzling formations
frightened the Kid, but as White expressed it: “He was a game little
cuss, and never whimpered once. I doubt if any man could have stood up
under the strain any better than the Kid”.

For three days, the strangely-matched pair roved and explored the
recesses of the cave, covering about the same territory now open to
visitors who take the guided tours. For Jim White and the Kid, however,
there was not the comfortable element of bright lights—certainty—and
sure-footed guides along well-established paths. Their three-day
exploration was an unbroken chain of hazards and thrills, findings and
fears, adventures which sound exaggerated even when evidence lends them

    [Illustration: _Towering Stalagmites from Floor of the Big Room, the
    Tallest one aptly called the Totem Pole_]

If you could ask Jim White about his biggest thrill during that
unbelievable three-day experience, he would say: “During the last day, I
was over in one corner of what we later called ‘The Big Room’, crawling
along a ledge of rock. I sat down to rest and just looked around as I
sat there. Over on the other side of the ledge, what do you suppose I
saw? Staring right back at me was the skull of a man! Fast as I could I
brought my torch about, and there was the whole skeleton intact. If I
thought some giant could have been living in this cave along with the
giant formations, right there seemed to be my proof! Those thigh-bones
looked to me like the biggest kind of beef-shanks! I tried to pick up
one of the leg-bones and it crumbled in my fingers. Just about that time
a drop of water fell on my hand. Only the Good Lord knows how long that
skeleton had been lying under that drip, but it must have been long
enough for the mineral water to soften the bones. It took just a touch
to crumble the thigh, but the skull was not under the drip, so it was
perfect. When I picked it up, the Kid backed away. I suggested that we’d
take it back to camp with us, or the boys would never believe we found a
skeleton in the cave.”

Jim White’s proposal brought a hesitant question from the Kid.

“How we take it?”

“Oh, we’ll put it in the bag with the grub”, Jim replied.

The groceries had been the Kid’s responsibility, till then. Firmly,
immediately he told Jim White: “Then you carry it!” Jim did. Sometime
later a doctor in Carlsbad borrowed the skull to examine it. Someone
borrowed it from him, and that one in turn loaned it to someone else,
until eventually all trace of it was lost ... a most unfortunate
eventuality, since the skull would have been among the most treasured of
the cave-souvenirs in Jim White’s collection.

Jim finally deduced that the skeleton was all that remained of some
Indian who wandered into the cave out of curiosity, even as Jim himself
had done. Failing to find the way out, the Indian must have starved
there on the ledge. Cowboy White was often heard to muse that this
Indian must have been an unusually brave Red Man, for it is known that
Indians feared darkness and the unknown above all else. That might be
the logical explanation for the fact that there was never found any
trace of Indian habitation within the cavern, even though small groups
lived in the vicinity. An Indian cooking-pit can still be seen near the
cavern entrance, beside the present flagpole.

Other skeletons were found by Jim White, though none had the spectacular
thrill for him engendered by that first sight of a frame-work of a man.

With all their excitement to feed their interest, Jim and his youthful
companion might have stayed longer than three days, but for an untoward
event which Jim would describe:

“I had the oil for our torches. It was in a gallon can ... the can in a
gunny-sack slung over my shoulder. The can started leaking and my
clothes were soaking up kerosene.... Before long my back was sore and
burning, so I was planning to stop as soon as we got off the ledge we
were crawling on at the time. Wanted to fix my back, the best I could in
there. But the Kid, crawling along behind me, brought his torch too near
my back. The next instant, I was hanging on a narrow shelf of rock, my
clothes blazing, and a gallon can of oil on my back!”

If he hung there on the ledge, he would burn to death. If he let go,
he’d be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. If he threw the can away,
they’d be left without oil for the torches on the trip from the
cavern—if he lived long enough to start that journey!

There was only one thing to do—and Jim White did it. He scooted across
that ledge like a cat after a bird. At the first level spot, he threw
the oil-can down and slapped his big cowboy sombrero over it. The Kid
followed from the ledge, and while Jim smothered the flames from the
oil-can with his hat and made fervent prayers that the can would not
explode, the Kid skinned out of his own coat, pressing it around Jim’s
shoulders! Quick thinking bolstered intuition, and the fire was out very
quickly, but not before the heat had gone through Jim’s leather vest,
blistering very badly. The hair was burned from the back of his head.
Arms and hands were painfully burned.

Urgent need for treatment and bandages stopped the two-man exploration
of the cavern, leaving much to be learned—much to be imagined—much to be
told after three wonderfilled days of wandering.

    [Illustration: _The Hall of Giants Section of the Big
    Room—Approximately 2,000 feet long and about 1,100 feet wide_]

But Jim White might as well have saved his breath. Convincing the gang
at the ranch and camp was a hopeless task, and the Kid’s command of
English was so inadequate that he could contribute little except “Si,
si!” and nods of enthusiasm. That wasn’t enough. The story fell on
unresponsive ears.

On the streets of Carlsbad, then called “Eddy”, just a few days after
his fiery experience, Jim White met a friend who had once visited
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The friend countered Jim’s story with the
belief that there just couldn’t be a bigger cave than Mammoth! ... so
before long, two heads bent over encyclopedias and reference books with
pictures and information about caves. The more Jim White learned—the
more pictures he saw—the more positive he became that the cave he had
explored was larger and more beautiful than any cavern then on record!
At the turn of the century, Jim White had talked “bats” and “cave” until
word went ’round that both the bats and the cave were in Jim’s head!

          _Scenes in and near Carlsbad Caverns National Park_

    [Illustration: Stalagmite]

    [Illustration: Shuttle bus]

    [Illustration: Cave touring party]

    [Illustration: Cave entrance]

    [Illustration: Stalagmite]

                       PICTURES PROVE JIM’S STORY

Jim White’s first descent into the cave was in 1901. During the next few
years he was unable to convince anyone of the attractions of the cave
sufficiently to have them pay much attention to its beauty. But as early
as 1903 interest developed in the guano known to be there. In that year
Abijah Long filed a placer mining claim to guano and other mineral
rights for twenty acres around the entrance to the caverns. This claim
is recorded in the Eddy County Mining Records. Again in 1908, and later
in 1910 and 1912, other placer mining claims were filed on land in the
vicinity of the cave entrance. This land was never patented. However,
the land to the east, over the Bat Cave, belonged to the Santa Fe
Railroad and was sold in 1905, and ownership of this forty acres changed
hands a number of times before it was finally acquired by the

Jim continued to work on the ranch for awhile, but when the guano
operations began, his interest in the cave induced him to go to work for
the company removing the fertilizer. Although it is estimated that about
a hundred thousand tons of guano were removed from the Bat Cave between
1903 and 1923, it was probably not a very profitable operation; for at
least six different companies had a fling at it. Jim worked for all but
one of them off and on, and never did any more than just make a bare

Through all these years Jim White made frequent efforts to convince
someone—anyone who would listen—about the wonders he had seen beyond the
cave entrance, beyond the rooms containing the guano. Despite his
failure to win more than casual interest, whenever there was a lull in
the guano business, he would take food and other supplies and explore
more of the cave. In fact, Jim succeeded in getting some of the miners
to explore the cave with him during their spare time, as is proven by
the prevalence of names and dates (1904 to 1911) smudged on the
ceilings, walls and rocks as far into the caverns as the King’s Palace.

One day came the thought that if he could get a photographer to make the
trip with him, he could show photographic proof to the world of his
now-favorite scene of adventure. His first attempt met with failure
simply because the man who had the camera wanted a hundred dollars for
the trip. Jim didn’t have a hundred dollars.

Along about 1920, economic conditions were mighty bad. Jim and Mrs.
White were living in a shack near the cave entrance. Jim was always up
at daylight, following the youthful custom long-ago established on the
ranch. One morning, however, Jim didn’t rise with the dawn. For one of
the few times in his married life, Mrs. White was up first.

She made coffee, then returned to the bedroom door somewhat alarmed, and

“Jim, I’ve never known you to stay in bed so late ... are you sick?”

Jim laughed reassurance. “I’ve just been layin’ here since day-break,
thinkin’. I’ve made up my mind I’m going to get out of this bed and
start showing people that cave, whether they want to see it or not!”

“How are you going to do it?” Mrs. White inquired.

“Right now I don’t know,” Jim stated. “But when I get up, I’m going to

    [Illustration: _The Iceberg—One of the interesting features of the

Jim lay still a little longer. The idea came that if the world could be
made to see the cave, trails and guard-rails ought to be built, to gain
even a relative amount of safety and accessibility. Jim rose, dressed,
ate breakfast and started. He began moving rocks and leveling
passageways through the first chamber. At dangerous ledges he searched
out cracks in the rocks, into which he drove discarded axles from old
automobiles. From one of these to another, Jim strung galvanized wire to
serve as hand-holds. Working alone most of the time, he seemed
tirelessly ready for an endless task, constantly buoyed by the thought
that he was building a pathway over which many others might travel, into
the incredibly beautiful fairyland so far below the hot desert.

Strange how much a man’s vision and energy can drive him to achieve!
Strange, too, that Jim White’s consuming purpose was to lure an
apparently disinterested world to see what he had seen—perhaps in order
to justify his years of insistence that the place did exist somewhere
beyond his own imagination. The world simply had to see this magnificent
spectacle into which he had first crawled.

Working in the cave those countless hours and continuing to explore
until he had visited most of the present known areas, Jim White felt his
awesome appreciation translated into something akin to love. He wanted
to display it proudly to other approving, comprehending eyes—and watch
them light with awe and wonder. Jim was an unlettered man, as were most
of his associates, and no written record of his findings was made.

At last two young men, crossing the country in an old jalopy pulled up
at the cave and asked Jim if there was a chance to see it! Chance? Jim
White would be delighted to show them through, he explained. One of them
had a kodak. When the young fellow asked about flashlight powder, Jim
told him about his effort to get a photographer to record a
picture-story of the cave. At Jim’s suggestion that flashlight powder
might be found in Carlsbad, the youths started back to town, offering to
see if they could find a photographer who would make the trip, taking
for his pay the right to distribute pictures. An early-morning start
into the cave the next day was planned by Jim White and the first two
persons from the outside world who ever expressed a desire to see into
the underground palaces!

Any human being in Jim White’s place would have felt as he did when his
first three guests—the two young men and Ray V. Davis, the photographer
they brought back from Carlsbad—started that stroll down the ageless
corridors! Hearing their gasps of appreciation was to Jim White an
accolade! Seeing their eyes was to find his belated, yearned-after
justification. Listening to them as they tried and failed to express
what they felt showed Jim White that at least three other men in the
world felt about the caverns somewhat as he did. He must even have
enjoyed hearing photographer Davis complain because there was no more
film, for Davis had used all of his two-dozen plates within the first
enthusiastic mile!

When the twenty-four pictures were developed and prints came before the
eyes of former doubters in town, Jim White was besieged by those who
wanted to take the trip through the cave. Red Wheeler and Harry Stephens
persuaded Jim to organize an excursion party for the tour, and so it was
that another “original thirteen” came to be recorded in the centuries
old history of Carlsbad Caverns. Wheeler and Stephens were two,
photographer Davis made three. The others in the original party were
Luther Perry, E. H. Weaver, Dan Lowenbrook, Homer Grabb, Coly Jones, J.
R. Yates, J. B. Morris, John Nevenger, J. R. Owen and C. P. Pardue, all
of Carlsbad. Superstition was relieved by the fourteenth member of the
party—Jim White, now Guide!

In those days, it was an all-day trip across the thirty miles of prairie
and mountain to the mouth of the cave. The party reached Jim’s shack
late in the afternoon, ate the supper Mrs. White had waiting, then
bunked early to rest for the all-day trek scheduled for daybreak. The
first sightseers were lowered by two’s ... Jim White at the winch ...
his passengers in the bucket used by the guano company to get down into
the Bat Cave. Down they went into the black shaft which was the doorway
to beauty.

    [Illustration: _Passageway in the Hall of Giants_]

It never occurred to Jim White that he should charge admission to the
cave, and when the party started back to town he refused to set a price.
The guests insisted on paying something, if only for the food, for Mrs.
White’s trouble in feeding and housing them, and Jim’s own trouble both
in the shack and in the caverns. The discussion ended with each guest
paying a dollar. The thirteen dollars Jim used to buy more materials—to
carry his trail even deeper into the cave.

A few days later on the streets of Carlsbad, Jim was greeted by one of
his “original thirteen” sightseers. “Jim, that cave of yours is the
greatest sight of its kind you or I or anyone else ever saw. You should
charge everybody you take through it, five dollars! Man, it’s worth it!”

    [Illustration: _The Scenic Drive Within Carlsbad Caverns National
    Park to the Caverns Entrance_]

Meantime, the thirteen had passed along the word until it seemed that
everyone was begging to be taken through the cave. Jim was at last
obliged to fix a price of two dollars, since visitors to the then
isolated spot had to be fed, and as the numbers increased, bunkhouses
had to be built. As a moneymaker, Jim White’s Cave was not a success in
those early days, since equipment and accommodations outran the income,
even at two dollars per person for the guided tours. Then there were the
days when Jim would greet some poor old farmer with a wife and bunch of
kids. The family would want to take the trip through the Cavern, now
beginning to achieve local fame, but who obviously could not afford that
two-dollars-each admission price. Since it would seem unfair to admit
them without charge while making others pay, Jim White would simply
declare that day as “A Free Day”.

    [Illustration: _Graceful, Sheer Draperies of Pure Crystalline Cave

Jim White, the Guide, had the pleasure of taking the very poor and the
very rich through the fairyland beneath the New Mexico desert. Jim White
had fought for it so long he had become sentimental about the great

In time people throughout the world learned of the fantastic beauty of
the Caverns, and good roads became the pathways for awe-stricken
thousands who arrived to gaze at what no man could explain
completely—miraculous caverns that defy mankind’s vocabulary to

By 1922 the scenic and scientific values of the caverns were of local
and gradually expanding importance. Newspaper men and writers would
always receive complimentary tours from Jim White, who realized that
printed stories, in whatever publications, would have untold advertising
value. The crowd read of the Caverns at Carlsbad—they heard of them from
friends—and they gathered in increasing numbers to be lowered in the old
guano-bucket. Jim White lifted nervous spinsters across narrow ledges,
and pulled fat ladies up steep inclines. When his parties reached
particularly dangerous spots, Jim’s body was always in a position to
shield their eyes from the perils, so no one would become frightened,
and make a misstep. In spite of the rickety and exciting descent in the
old bucket, and the inadequacy of the trails, there was never an
accident ... never so much as a broken arm or leg. There were some
hairbreadth escapes, with Jim White’s firm hand grasping someone by the
seat of the pants to prevent a sudden plunge into a pit.

News of the wonderful cave out on the desert southwest of Carlsbad
finally reached Washington and the authorities decided to check up on
it. In April, 1923, the General Land Office in Washington sent Mr.
Robert Holley, a mineral examiner to make a survey. Jim keenly felt Mr.
Holley’s original scepticism when the newcomer said: “We didn’t feel as
though this cave was of much importance, but the Department thought I’d
better run down and measure it, so they could know if it is big enough
for them to consider”. Jim grinned and said little. The next morning Jim
White lowered Mr. Holley and his instruments into the cavern for the
first time. It took the government man over a month to finish his very
complete and accurate work and report. Scepticism turned to enthusiasm,
as is witnessed by the opening paragraph of his survey-report in which
Mr. Holley stated:

“I enter upon the task of compiling this report with a feeling of
temerity, as I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to
convey in words the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and
awe, and a desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator’s
work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural
wonders in such a space”. In concluding, Mr. Holley said: “... it
appears that this cave is of such wonderful character as to be worthy to
be established as a national monument....”.

    [Illustration: _Crystal Spring Dome, Largest Growing Stalagmite in
    the Caverns_]

                       THE GOVERNMENT TAKES OVER

Shortly after the favorable Holley survey was completed, Mr. Richard F.
Burges, a prominent El Paso attorney, made a visit to the caverns and
was taken through by Jim White. He, too, was greatly impressed with the
scenic beauties and the majestic grandeur found here and he began
strenuously to exert every effort to bring attention to the cave. He had
caught Jim’s enthusiasm for the project and Mr. Burges’ considerable
influence, both locally and nationally, soon had effect. He was
instrumental in obtaining the 1923 studies of Dr. Willis T. Lee,
government geologist. Dr. Lee returned the following year heading an
exploration party whose finding, published in the National Geographic
Magazine, brought the caverns world-wide attention. Of importance to the
realization of Jim White’s dream was “Major” Burges’ work in acquainting
members of Congress with the beauty and possibilities of the caverns.

Jim White was contacted by the Government for his suggestion as to how
much land should be reserved for the purpose.

Jim White, in later discussing the Land Office request for information,
would say, wryly, “There are several other large caves near Carlsbad
Caverns, and my suggestion was to include all the land covering those
caves. A lot of times I’ve wished that I’d held out one cave for

Resulting from the Holley report and Major Burges’ efforts, and
culminating Jim White’s two-decade battle against indifference and
unbelief, came the decision to make the cave area a National Monument.
President Coolidge’s proclamation of October 25th, 1923, created the
Carlsbad Cave National Monument.

Jim White’s application for the position of custodian of the new
National Monument had the support of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce,
and it was accepted. But Jim was informed there was no salary attached
to that job; so then he filed his application for the job of Chief
Ranger, which carried a salary. That position he promptly received.

One day shortly after he’d been made Chief Ranger, Jim White had a party
in the cave. He pointed to the main entrance high above and said to a

“Lowering people in the old bucket down to the Bat Cave is too slow.
Some of these days I’m going to build a stairway from where we are
sitting, clear up through that main opening.”

Through the kindness, generosity and foresight of several Carlsbad
citizens, Jim White’s stairway was built a few months later. More than a
hundred thousand people used it during the next seven years, until the
National Park Service completed the trail that slopes gently down the
side of the wall ... a means of entrance far better than the old

Dr. Vernon Bailey was sent to the caverns to do the biological survey on
the bats. Seeing the strange mammals hanging aloft in sleep, Dr. Bailey
observed that there couldn’t be more than a thousand in the whole cave.
Jim White told him to stick around and watch them fly. Bailey did. In
his book called “Animal Life of Carlsbad Cavern”, he used the numerical
description “Three million” when he wrote of that first bat-flight which
he watched.

In 1930, the caverns Jim White had explored were redesignated. On May
14th of that year an Act of Congress established the Carlsbad Caverns
National Park, with a resident Superintendent in charge, assisted by a
force of trained rangers, engineers and electricians.

    [Illustration: _Government Buildings and Parking Terraces Adjacent
    to the Entrance to Caverns_]


By 1927 Jim White had begun to see his fondest dreams materialize—those
dreams about showing to the world what was to become Carlsbad Caverns
National Park. People from literally all over the world were hearing of
it, and were arriving in crowds.

Early that summer the Government appointed a resident custodian to
administer the Monument. During the next two years tourist facilities,
equipment and improvements moved so fast it was hard for Jim to keep up
with the progress. Approximately three miles of trails were completed in
compliance with modern engineering standards. Diesel engines and huge
generators were installed, and the soft glow from hundreds of electric
lights replaced Jim White’s crude, home-made kerosene torches. A lunch
room was equipped in the depths of the cave—not far from the spot where
the Kid set Jim afire one day long ago.

    [Illustration: _Elevator Building Which Houses Two of the World’s
    Longest Express Elevators_]

The United States Government charges a guide fee but have appropriated
large sums for developing the caverns along progressive lines.

Jim White said it this way: “It’s like a pleasant end to a long dream. I
like the modernizing, even letting the world see the cavern with all the
conveniences and comforts you might find in a city hotel—electric
lights—trails smooth as floors—food and steaming coffee when you’re
hungry—running water and telephones clear back to the end—even modern
elevators to carry you up if you get tired walking.

“In the spring of 1929 I could see that the job of Chief Ranger was
getting too complicated for me, with my limited education; so I resigned
my position.

“Even a cave millions of years old can go too modern, too efficient ...
and out-grow a common old cowboy”.

    [Illustration: _Jim White, the Cowboy_]

    [Illustration: Jim White]

  “_... and He hath shewed His people the power of His works._”
                                                             _Psalm 111_

    [Illustration: _U. S. Highway 62 near Carlsbad Passes Close to El
    Capitan, the Point of the Rugged Guadalupe Mountains_]

                          High-resolution Map]

    [Illustration: This drawing represents a trip through Carlsbad
    Caverns, rather than an accurate map. It is impossible to draw an
    accurate cross-section of the caverns since some of the rooms are
    behind others. The sketch represents approximately seven miles of
    well-lighted trails through the caverns. Many additional miles have
    been explored, but are not open to the public. Temperature in the
    caverns remains at a constant 56 degrees throughout the year.]

    [Illustration: Hi-resolution diagram (left)]

    [Illustration: Hi-resolution diagram (center)]

    [Illustration: Hi-resolution diagram (right)]

    [Illustration: Back cover]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

—Included a scan of the autograph (Mrs. Jim White) from the printed

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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