Pioneer Family Spends Winter in Lower Cave in Rockport

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Pioneer Family Spends Winter in Lower Cave in Rockport

Rockport, Indiana is a town with a unique beginning. Like many towns, it began with the entrance of one family. This time, a James Lankford and family. But unlike most pioneer stories, this family didn’t live in a cabin or a dugout. They lived in a cave.

Ohio River Bluffs Cave: Rockport, Indiana

Lankford Lower Cave: Rockport, Indiana

Lankford Lower Cave: Rockport, Indiana

The year is 1808. James Lankford and his family, a wife and daughter, are in Rockport. I wonder if they arrived too late to build a cabin. Was the area not what they expected? Is it where they had intended to stop or was it where they ended up due to changing Indiana weather? However it happened, the Lankford family spend winter in a cave underneath the bluff that overlooks the Ohio River.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term “cave,” I picture something that stretches back and back. Something that could comfortably house a couple of bears and a few bats. I picture something that, while maybe a bit damp, dark, and uncomfortable, wouldn’t be the worst place ever to spend a winter.

What I didn’t expect was the actual cave. It is something tiny, small, and seemingly afforded little protection from the elements. How could it?

Rockport Cave Shelters Pioneer Family

Lankford Lower Cave: Rockport, Indiana

Lankford Lower Cave: Rockport, Indiana

This is less of a cave and more of a gouge in the bluff. On the rainy, chilly day that we visited, well, it’s hard to imagine a family surviving a winter here. How did they keep a fire going when Indiana threw her worst at it? What did they do when it snowed hard? How did they stay warm against the ice and dripping water that must have leaked down when the weather changed slowly and began to warm up?

I want to know how they managed to do chores to keep themselves alive. How do you find food and hunt and take care of the mess of it all when you are constantly in the open air? How do you not want to just pile under whatever blankets and coverings you have and not want to move?

I think of the daughter, whose age I can’t seem to find, and wonder how she handled the stress of living in less than an ideal situation, of moving away from a real house with real furniture to a slash of a cave in a rock who knows how many miles away from home?

But somehow, they did survive. The town became the county seat in 1818–and folks started moving in on top of the scenic 200 foot tall Ohio River Bluffs to escape flooding. It’s an incredible piece of Indiana history. It’s also one I would enjoy hearing more about. Do you know more of the Lankford story? Please, feel free to share it below.

Rockport, Indiana Attractions

Mosey on over to this street that branches right out from the courthouse. It’s easy to find and so worth it. Besides taking a peek at the Lankford’s cave, you can climb up into Rockport’s Upper Cave and admire the view. Now you can plan your Indiana travel with ease. Do a simple search on this site to begin.

See all the amazing things waiting in your own backyard? Small towns: destinations, not drive-thrus. I’m Jessica Nunemaker and THIS is Little Indiana.

Just don’t forget to tell them that Little Indiana sent you.

Lower Cave by the Ohio River Bluff
Rockport, Indiana 47635

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About the Author:

Jessica Nunemaker is the Owner of Little Indiana.com. More than a website, Little Indiana is a book, "Little Indiana: Small Town Destinations" (IU Press) awarded first place in the "Best in Indiana Journalism for a Nonfiction Book" by the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Little Indiana is also a bi-monthly newspaper column in a local paper and a PBS segment on the former Emmy award-winning program, "The Weekly Special."

6 Comments

  1. Jessica Nunemaker January 17, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Oh, wow! What an interesting family history you must have! 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  2. Glora Beaman January 16, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    My great, great, great, great grandfather was James Lankford

  3. Jessica Nunemaker November 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Yeah, but I guess “big chunk missing from the rock wall” doesn’t have the same ring. 😉

  4. Ruth Donnelly November 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I love the Rockport pieces, and they are making me nostalgic! I was perplexed by this as a child, because, as you say, it is really not much of a cave.

  5. Jessica Nunemaker July 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Isn’t that something? I know I couldn’t live like that! I like my electricity and warmth. 🙂

  6. Mari July 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    This is a wonderful piece of history! I missed the piece on your tackling the upper cave–love the weekly recap!

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