Majestic Caverns

DeSoto Caverns Park - Kymulga Onyx Cave


Useful Information

Location: 5181 DeSoto Caverns Parkway, Childersburn, AL 35044-5663.
Near Birmingham on State Hwy. 75, 8 km southeast of Childersburg.
(33.306713, -86.277527)
Open: Very complicated, see online booking.
Closed 27-NOV, 25-DEC.
[2023]
Fee: Adults USD 30.98.
All prices +7% tax.
[2023]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System LightColoured Light LightSon et Lumière
Dimension:
Guided tours: D=60 min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: partly
Bibliography:
Address: Majestic Caverns, 5181 DeSoto Caverns Parkway, Childersburn, AL 35044-5663, Toll Free 1-800-933-2283, Fax +1-256-378-7225.
E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

~0 AD used by Woodland Indian as a burial site.
1540 first expedition of Don Hernando de Soto.
1723 oldest cave graffiti in the U.S. by I.W. Wright.
DEC-1796 first reported by General Superintendent and US Agent for all tribes south of the Ohio River, Benjamin Hawkins.
during the Civil War became a gunpowder mining center.
1912 purchased by Mrs. Ida Mathis to mine onyx, but it failed.
1919-1933 during the prohibition was used for distilling alcohol and became known as "The Bloody Bucket".
1963 Copena burials discovered by archaeologists from the University of Alabama.
1965 leased by Fred Layton who developed it as a show cave and named it Kymulga Onyx Cave.
1975 bought by Allen W. Mathis III, who renamed it DeSoto Caverns.
19-JUL-1976 added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
JUN-2022 renamed Majestic Caverns.

Description

Majestic Caverns was known to the natives, it was a burial site of the early Native American Copena culture. The Copena culture was a Hopewellian culture in northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It was named after copper and galena, as copper and galena artifacts were often found in Copena burials. This culture used caves for burials as they were a peaceful and protective environment for the spirits of the dead. The excavations by a team of archaeologists from the University of Alabama revealed the skeletons of five Native Americans, one was a child. A group of Native Americans contacted the cave officials, and they were reburied in an undisclosed area of the cave.

The story of the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his expedition in 1540 marks the beginning of European influence in Alabama. It is an important part of the history of this state. At that time the Talladega County, where the cave is located, was inhabited by the Coosa people, who belonged to the Muscogee. They lived on both sides of the Coosa River, their capital was also called Coosa. Official history says that the expedition spent a little over five weeks in the Coosa capital. The Micco (or chief) warmly welcomed de Soto during a ceremony which took place near the entrance of a holy cave, and the chief offered them land. Nevertheless, de Soto took him hostage and took slaves from among the Coosa people.

The large entrance chamber was used by the Native Indians for a long time. A small museum displays Indian artifacts. It was also well known to trappers and explorers following de Soto. Several signatures in the cave date from the 1700s.

During the presidency of George Washington, Benjamin Hawkins was appointed General Superintendent for Indian Affairs. He was responsible for all Native American tribes south of the Ohio River. He visited the Muscogee in December 1796 and wrote a report to the president. As he visited their holy cave, he described the magnificence of this cave, which makes it the first officially recorded cave in the United States.

At the end of the American Civil War, the Confederate Army mined caves for saltpeter, which is needed to make gunpowder. Majestic Caverns became a saltpeter-mining center, the spring was an important asset, as the mining of saltpeter involves soil leaching. Wooden remains from this time are on display, including a leaching trough and a reconstructed vat.

The cave was purchased by Ida Elizabeth Brandon Mathis, a businesswoman and nationally recognized expert on farm economics. The cave has speleothems, which are calcite crystals, but in some parts of the U.S.A. they were called cave onyx. It is also called onyx-marble, although this is also wrong, it has no relation to marble. Real onyx on the other hand, is a variety of quartz and a semi-precious gem. The plan to mine onyx in the cave failed as there is no onyx, only flowstone. However, the official explanation was that Mexican onyx became popular about this time, and they could not compete with its lower price.

The cave was again used during the prohibition (1920–1933) as an illegal speakeasy and dance hall. There were frequent shootings and fights, and the caverns became known as The Bloody Bucket. As a result it was closed down by federal agents.

Finally, in the mid 1920s, Ida Mathis's son Allen bought out the other mining partners. Although he was now the sole owner of the cave, he did nothing until early 1960s, when he began to develop the caverns into a show cave together with Mr. Fred Layton. If he was a partner or a lessee is unclear. They installed high-powered electric lights and named it Kymulga Onyx Cave. There are two different explanations where this name came from. One says that it was named after the Indian village Kymulga, which had been established by a group of Chickasaw Indians a few miles away on Talladega Creek around 1960. Others say it was the name of the cave when Hernando de Soto visited the area. No matter why, this was the name under which the cave was first opened to the public as a show cave.

The cave stayed in the property of the same family, when Allen Mathis' son and grandson, Allen W. Mathis, Jr., and Allen Mathis, III, took over in 1975. They renamed it DeSoto Caverns in honor of Hernando de Soto one year later. Although the cave had been open only a little more than 15 years, they installed new lighting, widened the pathways, and improved the tours to allow larger groups of visitors. The developments continued and in 1980 formerly undeveloped parts were added to the tour. Then they installed a son-et-lumiere (sound and light show), a playground, a gift shop, and a cantina. With continuous additions, like climbing wall and gemstone-panning features the cave became a sort of theme park.

The last change was the renaming of the cave in June 2022. It is now called Majestic Caverns, the owner has even published a statement on the internet, which is full of nonsensical Christian gibberish.