Garden of the Gods cave plan on hold
Parks Board in dark on official Indian position
Lacking support from the American Indian community - at least for the time being - a proposal to reopen a cave in the Garden of the Gods was postponed for two
months by the Colorado Springs Parks Board July 9.
The proposal is by Westside historian Dave Hughes, who believes that what's known as the Spaulding Cave contains information and artifacts that have never been fully documented. These include possible inscriptions by members of the 1858 Lawrence Party, which has been immortalized because it included “bloomer girl” Julia Archibald Holmes, the first recorded woman to climb Pikes Peak. The idea would be to take scientific experts into Spaulding, which has been sealed since 1935 - except for a brief search for artifacts in 1965 - record and study what's there, then seal it up again.
The cave is on the western side of the Garden's North Gateway Rock off Juniper Way Loop. It is estimated at 100 feet high and 200 feet across, with unusually distinct acoustics. With support from City Parks staff, Hughes is applying for a State Historical Fund grant of about $8,500 to cover cave investigation costs.
Describing it as an “exceptional geological phenomenon,” Hughes had wanted the investigation to occur in August, synchronized with Colorado City's sesquicentennial Founders' Day activities. Among his preparatory efforts was a June 17 letter to Neal Cloud, the designated representative of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) - a federal law that seeks to protect places and objects that are sacred to American Indians. In the letter, Hughes states that the 1965 opening did not reveal any Indian use of the cave, but he would like Ute cooperation in the matter just in case.
However, without a response yet from Cloud, the Parks Board voted to put the matter off for two months. It was a split vote - 5-3. In favor were Jill Gaebler, Mary Mashburn, Jim Schwerin, Kent Obee and Riach Eastland. Opposed were Richard Stettler, Kira Pasquesi and Nancy Hobbs.
Information about the American Indian situation was provided by Eugene Red Hawk (Orner), a Westsider and American Indian who identified himself as “the representative of the local Native American communities.”
He said that in the spirit of the Perkins gift to the city 100 years ago (which called for the place to be left natural), he was “opposed to any further disturbance in the Garden other than obvious maintenance,” and was concerned that opening the cave would set a bad precedent. He added that responses to the cave-opening plan have also not come in yet from the Comanche, Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes (all former dwellers in this region). Without these approvals, Red Hawk said the necessary Ute cleansing ceremony at the entrance to the cave (prior to unsealing it) could not be performed.
Austin Box, a senior elder of the Ute tribe who was at the meeting, said he believed Cloud should decide and perform the ceremony himself. “If you go in there without the ceremony, something bad is going to happen to you, whatever the Great Spirit does,” Box said. “[He may] cut off everything and you'd be yelling for oxygen.”
In an interview seeking clarification afterward, Red Hawk said, “Hughes does not understand diplomacy. If you ask an Indian elder [Cloud] a question and you don't get an answer, it more or less says no.” He alleged that “Hughes just wants this for his personal satisfaction” and was miffed that during the meeting Hughes had specified that “under law” Cloud represents the Southern Utes. “What are Austin and I,” Red Hawk asked. “Chopped liver?”
Speaking for the two-month postponement, Obee said he was “sympathetic” to documenting the cave's contents for its “early European history,” but believed the quest could wait two months. That would allow time for a yes or no answer, or “we'll have to deal with no response,” he said.
Hughes did not complain about the delay, although he noted that he will now have to find a subsitute for the geological morphologist he had lined up for an investigation in August. “There is no particular urgency except history,” Hughes told the board.
Westside Pioneer article