History

The original entrance to Rushmore Cave.

In the mid-1870s, the government sent Professor Walter Jenny into the Black Hills to study its geology. Legend has it that Jenny pulled up on a rosebush and found gold clinging to its roots. Supposedly, that episode led to early prospectors who searched for Jennys rosebush site, and in the process found Rushmore Cave. This c. 1935 photograph (shown below) shows an early entrance to the cave.

Living the American Dream, Lester “Si” and Ruth Pullen, a couple of farm kids from Iowa, arrived in the Black Hills in 1950 looking for a place to build a future for themselves and their children. As luck would have it, they landed a job as cave managers in the Northern Black Hills. Their life long adventures in tourism became a reality when they put their small savings down on a “hole in the ground” called Rushmore Cave.

Then the work began… painting signs by fireplace light, carving out a new entrance with a pick and shovel. Si awoke at dawn each morning to grade the approximate six miles of dirt road from Hayward to Keystone with Ruth following close behind in their car to remove by hand the loose rocks which the old grader had kicked up. The couple worked hard to draw visitors to their gem inside a mountain. They drove a tunnel from the surface on a decline to the heart of this limestone cave.

Ruth Pullens poses for an early advertising photo.

Starting in 1952 tours were given by kerosene lanterns 24 hours a day, as every dollar was precious! Cement was hand carried back into the far reaches of the cave in old inner tubes slung over strong arms, to build needed steps. Wires were laid and carefully camouflaged to add electric lighting in 1956. These two pioneers in the Black Hills Tourism Industry reached the American Dream and it lives today in their children and grandchildren at Beautiful Rushmore Cave. In this c. 1955 photograph,(below) Ruth Pullen looks at stalactites inside the cave.

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