Howe Caverns, which was discovered 20 years before the outbreak of the Civil War, has a history that follows America’s transformation from a farm-based economy to an industrial nation. It was a time when great fortunes were made by leaders of the Industrial Revolution and a time when man was eager to exert his command over nature.
Prior to the arrival of the German Palatine Settlers in the Schoharie Valley in the early 1700s, the local Native Americans knew what they called “Otsgaragee” or “Cave of the Great Galleries.” In historical records, there is some disagreement as to this translation, which suggests the Native Americans explored deep into the cavern. A second translation is “Great Valley Cave,” which may be more accurate, as many believe the Native Americans’ superstitions may have kept them from exploring the cave.
The first white man to enter the cave did so in the early 1770s. Perhaps Johnathan Schmul, a peddler, had been calling on families in the mill town of Kobel’s Kill (today, Cobleskill) when he sought refuge from a Native American attack by hiding at the entrance to the cave. Schmul later confided in a local pastor, Rev. John Peter Resig, “I found a cave when the Indians were after me. That’s my home. But be mum about this. Should war break out, then flee to this cave and you will be safe.” Schmul and Resig vanished quite suddenly from the historical records, as did the Native Americans of the Schoharie Valley, who fled the area with their Tory counterparts at the end of the American Revolution.
*Please note: historical excerpts taken from The Remarkable Howe Caverns Story by Dana Cudmore, The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY, Copyright 1990.