This particular cave entrance had escaped notice for years before the Armys explosive charges collapsed it. The reason can be best appreciated by viewing the rugged nature of the country wherein it lies. Even today, few roads lead into the region.
Originally there were two entrances into this legendary cave. The only one now remaining is near the base of a rocky ledge overlooking U.S. Highway 299, 30 miles west of Weaverville. Known today as Del-Loma Cave, its underground length is estimated at almost 28 miles.
During the mid-1850s, gold miners were plagued by hostile Indians living in the area. By carrying away the miners possessions, including their hard won gold, the Indians hoped to force the unwelcome white men to leave. Time after time the Indians made forays into isolated camps, killing some miners, wounding others, and then vanishing with sacks of gold and armfuls of supplied and guns. Everyone knew the Indians could not carry such loads very far, but where the stolen goods were cached could not be determined. Finally, after many such raids had been suffered, the miners succeeded in getting a detachment of soldiers assigned for protection.
When the next attack occurred, the soldiers were soon hot on the Indians trail. But the elusive trail always disappeared near a ledge known to be used as a lookout by the hostile natives. Searching near this ledge, the soldiers found an opening that led into an extensive cavern.
With the possibility that an Indian rear guard waited somewhere within, none of the soldiers cared to venture very far into the cave. Guards were posted outside but no Indians ever came out.
Then a miner showed up at the soldiers main camp. He told the officer in charge that an Indian he had befriended earlier had just told him the cave had another entrance on New River.
When another attack occurred some time later, the officer immediately sent a small contingent of cavalry to the New River cave. They blasted the entrance shut.
At the same time, the remaining troopers trailed the booty-laden Indians to the caves main entrance. There they encamped, hoping to starve the raiders out. Two weeks went by, at which time a smaller guard was posted. But again, no Indians ever appeared. Evidently the Indians trapped within the cave preferred starvation to the white mans justice.
So far as the miners were concerned, the matter was settled. Their stolen equipment, valuable as it was, could be replaced. As for the gold well, in those days it was much easier to wash nuggets out of adjacent creeks than to attempt recovering them from an unexplored cavern.
In 1948, Charles Erftenbeck heard the legendary story of Del-Loma Caves lost plunder. Of course, that interested him. He gained the interest of some friends and together they began the fist real exploration of Del-Loma Cave.
Once inside, they found an opening which only the slightly-built Erftenbeck could squeeze through. It opened into a large chamber which appeared to extend for miles.
Erftenbecks companions awaited his return anxiously, aware that rescue would be almost impossible should an accident befall him. Erftenbeck himself was reluctant to continue on for very far by himself. Soon he wiggled back through the tight openingbut he emerged smiling, for clutched in his hands were two very old cap-and-ball pistols.
The exciting find was made a short distance inside the larger chamber. It seemed to confirm the story of booty-laden Indians having used the caves passage both as a hiding place and escape route.
Erftenbeck decided to enlarge the last crawl-way so a trusted companion or two could accompany him into the caves inner recesses. One day while occupied, he noticed a peculiar smell. Tracing the odor to a nearby rivulet which ran into the cave from somewhere outside, he found someone had poured a large quantity of gasoline into the stream. Fortunately, he was using an electric light at the time instead of his usual carbide lamp. Its flame undoubtedly would have ignited the gasoline fumes within such an enclosed space.
Erftenbeck was shaken at the prospect of someone stooping to murder just to keep him from exploring the cave completely. Still, he doggedly refused to be intimidated and went back again in 1950. This time he discovered that the narrow crawl-way had been dynamited shut. He blamed this and the earlier attempt on his life on local Indians whose ancestors, he was convinced, were entombed somewhere deep inside the cavern. Erftenbeck now had no recourse but to abandon his search and let the Indians have their cave.
To reach Del-Loma Cave, drive 30 miles west of Weaverille to the Del-Loma Resort. The gray limestone ledge which the Indians once used can be seen high on a mountainside across the highway opposite the resort.
Someday, someone may find the caves other entrance on New River, 12 miles distant, exposed once again by the gradual process of erosion. Who knows what may lay inside.