Always wanted to get in that cave on the Piney

By Larry Dablemont
    First time I ever saw it was something about, or around, 65 years ago. It was just a huge hole in the side of the bluff overlooking the lower Big Piney River, a fantastic looking cave about 50 or 60 feet above the base of the bluff, and likely 15 or 20 feet down from the peak of it. Inaccessible! The face of the bluff was sheer. As I grew into my teenage years, I would float past it in the late fall and winter hunting ducks and squirrels with my dad and I would look at that hole with an awful longing.

    All up and down the Piney I explored dozens of caves larger and smaller, but not that one. It was one I could never see the inside of. All it would take was risking one’s life to drop down on a long and secured rope, and the ability to swing back into the opening. What treasure might be found inside?
    I never saw the inside of it, but Charlie Curran did. Born in 1937, Charlie is one of those Ozark mountain-men who is a human history-book of the Big Piney. I floated the lower Piney with him a few weeks ago and realized how similar our lives had been. Charlie had an uncle who was a well-known riverman. He and my grandfather crossed paths on occasion, and grandpa spoke of him with high regard.
    His name was Wilford Lee, a trapper, trotliner and fishing guide. Wilford and Charlie’s family grew up on the lower Piney and the Dablemont family spent their lives on the upper and middle part of the river. I listened to the stories of Charlie and his friend Jim Barr, who I will write about in next weeks column, and it took me back to a day and time when life and the living of it, was better, and nearly forgotten. A time nearly forgotten but treasured by those who knew it and the simplicity and the peace of it.
    On that float trip last month, Charlie found an old railroad tie in a drift. We know where there are others in the river, so deeply embedded underwater you could never get them out. But never have I seen one on the bank. It was weathered and dark, and likely weighed a hundred pounds. It is likely 110- to 120-years old. When my museum on the Big Piney is finished, that tie will be in it, with the complete story of the men who made them, and how the Piney played such a big part in producing tie rafts by the hundreds and what they were.
    There isn’t enough room here to write the full story of Charlie and Jim, but in my fall magazine, you can read more about the two of them, and see a dozen or so photos of them. Jim Barr is no less of a story than Charlie, though a little younger. He makes fishing lures that I hate to talk about because I am afraid, they catch too many fish. In next week’s column I will talk more about these two, and I will post some of the photos this week on the computer at
    We have accumulated many of the logs for the Museum of the Big Piney, but the heat has stopped things for a while. In the next couple of months we have to decide on a location for it. Our best help has come from Benny Cook with the Lions Club, who is trying to make it possible on Lions Club land just north of Houston. But that is a lot of hoops to jump through to finalize a sale of that kind. There is also some chance we can get an acre along highway 63 at Licking. The Museum will happen, and someday I visualize it being a place that Charlie and Jim and many other old-time Ozarkians can come to talk to travelers and tourists about the Ozarks and the river. It will be free for all who want to come and visit a museum made from all cedar logs.
    I thought for a while our Ozark and Outdoor magazines might be a thing of the past, but some new development have given me hope. We will put out a magazine in the fall with 100 to 120 pages. It will be one publication encompassing both magazines.
    If you are a subscriber, you will be getting a copy in the fall. If you aren’t call us and we will make you one. The number is 417-77- 5227, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.