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Nameless Cave

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
It figures that the cave in this story – one of an estimated 6,000 caverns in the limestone region of the state – doesn’t have a name. After all, it’s in the vicinity of Nameless, Texas.

Located in northwest Travis County, a half-day’s horseback ride far from a Capitol staffed by anonymous bureaucrats who reported to various elected officials who generally hated to be nameless, the town with no name got used to being Nameless.

Bureaucracy, in fact, helped give Nameless its name. A decade after the first settlers put down roots in 1869, the citizens of this community felt they needed their own post office. The bureaucrats in Washington did not disagree, but they would not accept the name the townspeople proposed. Nor would the feds approve the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth or the sixth name submitted.

Finally, the story goes, someone involved in the civic effort to improve communication in their community said in disgust, “Let the post office be nameless and be damned.” The Post Office Department had far too many decent people on its staff to approve the latter choice, but showing that government can be capable of humor, the post office finally received in 1880 its official designation: Nameless, Texas.

Four years later, Nameless boasted a school, a general store, a church and a population of 50.

That’s about when a fellow named Barrett moved to Nameless from Illinois. Barrett may have been a Yankee trying to make a living in a barely reconstructed South, but folks had to give him one thing – he appreciated a good story.

About the best story Nameless had to offer other than how it got its name had to do with a hermit. The earliest residents of the town told of an old man who lived in a nearby cave, hoarding a treasure.

Hearing the tale of the old geezer and his supposed treasure, Barrett determined to find it. As the Austin Daily Statesman reported on June 18, 1885, “Mr. Barrett with true Yankee ingenuity invented what he termed a ‘mineral rod,’ which he claims possesses the power of indicating to the operator the presence of ‘filthy lucre’ in mineral shape.”

The device had one catch. Whoever held the rod could not carry any loose change.

“I will add just here,” the nameless Nameless correspondent wrote, “nine-tenths of our citizens are eminently qualified to successfully operate the ‘mineral rod.’”

Though the treasure had been lost for no one knew how long, just about everyone in Nameless could name the location of the cave in question. Its opening on the side of a cliff about 200 feet above Sandy Creek, it extended deep into the limestone.

“Owing to the inaccessible situation and the ghost stories connected with it,” the correspondent corresponded, “no one before Mr. B ever had the temerity to explore it.”

But on the morning of June 16, Barrett emptied his pockets and braved the cave. From the top of the cliff, he had someone lower him a basket containing his ‘mineral rod’ and a pick and other tools. Then he began his exploration.

Barrett found a large cavern, full of dripping stalactites “which formed beautiful columns from floor to roof.” That was nothing.

“Situated in the centre of the room in an elevation something like a throne, sat the king of Goblins,” the Statesman correspondent continued with what readers had to assume was a straight face, “our legendary, but now real, hermit.”

Long petrified, the body’s right hand rested “on the head of a small statue representing Louis Napoleon, and his left, pressed to his heart, was a crucifix. At his feet lay the petrified remains of a dog, and scattered around the room, were remains of several things which doubtless once composed his furniture and utensils.”

One thing, however, did not turn up in the underground wonderland: The treasure. At least not on Barrett’s first visit.

“The cave and its contents are of unusual interest, and Mr. B. does not wish to be interrupted until he has made a thorough exploration, after which he will satisfy the public,” the correspondent concluded.

Apparently, the public never got satisfied. No further mention of the matter is made in subsequent editions of the Austin newspaper.

If Barrett or anyone else ever discovered the hermit’s treasure, he must have preferred to remain nameless.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" >
August 18, 2005 column

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