With over 6,000 caves, Missouri has began to be recognized as “The Cave State”. If you hang around Missouri enough you’ll hear tales of Spanish explores hiding gold, Confederate soldiers hiding weapons, and of course Jesse James and his gang hiding out from the law in some underground hideout. This story however is about some average Joes who found themselves in a serious situation when curiosity and a sense of adventure got the best of them...
It was March 1941 when William Burness Bolton and two friends discovered an unknown cave in the Ozark Mountains. Initially the adventure started in a casual way, they were not expecting much, in fact they only brought a few candles and a flashlight. Growing up in Southwest Missouri, Bolton had explored caves but this one was different, it was the largest he had ever seen. The three crawled up though a small hole in the roof and quickly discovered a labyrinth of tunnels going in multiple directions. As excitement welled up in these men common sense was forgotten and neither of the three made a point to mark the spot where they entered. This mistake was later realized as the last candle flickered, the men quickly knew they were lost. With only one flashlight, the men frantically attempted to retrace their steps. Finally after seven hours, this newspaper sterotyper from the Monett Times (assumed) and his friends emerged from the caverns unscathed.
After the adventure the three men’s story got national attention and newspapers nationwide reprinted the story. Later W.B. Bolton wrote a letter to Energizer telling them how their batteries saved Bolton and his friends. This story was then dramatized in a full page advertisement in many magazines to include Popular Mechanics.
While the friends are unknown, the story of William Burness Bolton is your typical Monett life story. Born in January 25th 1909 to Railway Mailman/Postal Clerk William and Ela Bolton, Burness would later graduate from Monett in 1926 and marry the 6 years younger Margaret Alice Howard on Sept. 23, 1933 in Cassville, MO. Five years later they would give birth to daughter Billie Margaret.
Aside from the sprinville articel, a school photo, and a brief obituary, little else is mentioned about the man how got lost in a cave. Willaim Burness Bolton would later die in a Lenexa, Kansas nursing home at the age of 91 on Christmas Eve 2000. His wife would die a few years later. Both are buried in Monett’s IOOF cemetery.
Sources: Cave State Info http://missouricaves.com/
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