Mammoth Cave Inside Out

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Mammoth Cave Inside Out


By Joy Medley Lyons, Mammoth Cave Inside Out, undated. Courtesy of Sandi Gorin, Gorin Genealogical Publishing and Michelle Gorin Burris, Barren’s Black Roots Volume 2, (c) Aug 1992, by permission.


“Bransford Family: An Important Part of Mammoth Cave’s Heritage.


“While many Black families once resided within what are now the boundaries of Mammoth Cave National Park, perhaps none contributed more to Mammoth Cave than the Bransford family. During a period spanning more than a century, four generations of Bransfords guided visitors through the rambling passages of Mammoth Cave.


“The Bransford legacy began around 1838 when Franklin Gorin, then owner of Mammoth Cave, introduced three new guides to the cave. One of these was seventeen year old Stephen Bishop, a slave of Gorin’s. Much has been written concerning Bishop and his discoveries in Mammoth Cave. Materson and Nicholas Bransford were hired from Thomas Bransford of Glasgow. These two brothers and Stephen were beginning their Mammoth Cave experiences at about the same age.


“Over the years these three guides added a very positive element to the attraction of Mammoth Cave. Visitors were impressed by the knowledge their guides were willing to share. Matt and Nick participated in many discoveries in Mammoth Cave, aiding various mapping and exploratory efforts. According to sources, when Dr. John Croghan established a tuberculosis hospital inside the cave, Mat and Nick assisted by building huts in the Mammoth Cave to provide privacy for the various consumptive patients. Legend also has it that both of the Bransfords participated in the rescue of near-drowning victims on the Echo River, Mammoth Cave'’ subterranean waterway.


“Mat’s son, Henry, was born in 1849 and followed in his father’s footsteps in the guiding tradition at Mammoth Cave. Henry’s guiding career began sometime around 1872. William, another second generation Bransford guide, began in 1888. According to written records, it was William who safeguarded the cave exhibits at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Like the earlier Bransfords, William loved to explore the many passages and underground waterways of the cave system.


“During one trek to the beautiful Cathedral Domes area of Mammoth, map-maker Horace C. Hovey named one passage after William. “Bransford Avenue: and “Bransfordd’s Dome” are the only features in the cave commemorating the presence of any of the Bransford guides.


“The third generation of Bransfords consisted of Lewis and Matt, children of Henry. Sources state that Lewis began guiding in 1895, while Matt started in 1905. Both of these men probably began prior to these dates as lunch-carriers on cave tours.


“In 1930 there were about eight Bransfords leading visitors through Mammoth cave. Among these were Arthur, Clifton, Eddie, Elzie, and George. By 1935, only Matt and Lewis continued their guiding careers at the cave. Matt retired in 1937; Lewis in 1939.


“Even though the Bransford era has long been a part of the history of Mammoth Cave, the accomplishments and contributions of these men still affect guiding traditions at the cave today. The oil lamps of those early Bransfords have illuminated the path for successive generations of guides. And, if one looks carefully, the shadows of the Bransford guides still fall across the lantern-lit walls of Mammoth Cave.”