The Unbelievable True Stories of Longhorn Cavern

About 50 miles west of Austin is Longhorn Cavern State Park. Since the 1940s, it’s been open to the “oohs” and “aahs” of a winding, one and half mile public tour. The cave is home to a few bats and a lot of stalactites and crystals. But it’s also full of something else: stories.

By Jacqui DevaneyJuly 29, 2015 7:07 am

The tour begins just 52 stairs underground. Already though, the air is cooler and more damp. The quiet is broken by the clang of the entrance gate… and then by the tour guide. Today, our guide is Al Gerow.

“The cave was discovered by Comanche Indians about 350 years ago. The Comanche were very fierce warriors, but did not like the dark. They were very superstitious. They had council meetings during the day, and they made arrowheads and spearheads out of the flint they found in the area. They were here in the daytime when it got dark at night, they left the cave,” Gerow says.

That’s the first of several stories we’ll hear. They date back to times before Texas was Texas — and shortly after.

“This is the entrance used by Confederate soldiers storing gunpowder, 200 yards ahead of us. It’s also the entrance used by Sam Bass and his gang and other bandits who used the place as a hideout, I’m told they actually rode their horses right into the cave,” Gerow says.

But the cave wasn’t just a storage unit. It was also a speakeasy in the 1920s, called the Underground Ballroom run by savvy Texas businessman by the name of Sherrard.

“People ask us all the time why Sherrard never got arrested for having a night club that was illegal, and the locals tell us it’s because he let the sheriffs and constables in for free. Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but a good tip for people that are going to have an illegal nightclub,” Gerow says.

But one of this cavern’s stories tends to stick out above the rest. It’s so full of valor and Western glamour that it makes you wonder. could these things really have happened?

“190 years ago settlers began getting to this part of Texas,” Gerow says. “The settlers ran into the Comanche who were here first. This was their land. The settlers pushing the Comanche off their land, and that’s the cause of all the Indian rage you hear about. We actually had Indian rage in this part of Texas up to 20 years after Texas became a state. Well, three years after Texas statehood, 1848, the Comanche were raiding just south of here. They kidnapped a beautiful, 18 year old girl named Muriel King. Her father was a wealthy land owner. So she was the perfect person for the Comanche to kidnap and hold for ransom. Settlers didn’t pay ransom money, they didn’t trust the Comanche. In this case, they somehow talked three Texas Rangers into coming down here to see if they could rescue Muriel King. They came in the dark, knowing they’d be outnumbered up to 50 to one. So, now you have three very brave Texas Rangers lowering themselves here on a makeshift rope ladder, sneaked up on the Comanche, opened fire with their pistols, had a big knife fight and gun battle, drove them back enough to grab the girl and run for it. Brought her back up the rope ladder and saved her life. So, it has a happy ending.”

And the best part is, the story ends with Muriel marrying one of her Texas Ranger heroes. It sounds like a movie plot. But the guides here swear…

“Believe it or not, it’s a true story,” Gerow says.

And the story goes that Longhorn Cavern is called that because a huge opening at the top used to cause the deaths of grazing cattle that had the bad luck to wander over its edge. It’s one of about 13 public caves in Texas.