Mammoth Cave highlighting role of black guides in cave's history

Stephen Bishop was an enslaved tour guide who discovered several parts of the Mammoth Cave system.

Throughout February, Mammoth Cave National Park will honor the contributions of African-Americans who have been a core part of the cave’s story over the last two centuries.

Mammoth Cave public information officer Molly Schroer said that in observance of Black History Month, the park will offer numerous tours, talks and video clips centered on the work of Stephen Bishop, Mat and Nick Bransford and other slaves who played significant roles in the cave’s history.

“You can’t even discuss the history of Mammoth Cave without bringing up the African-American aspect,” she said.

Guided tours have been offered at Mammoth Cave since 1816 and some of the first tour guides were enslaved, Schroer said.

“They took visitors from all over the country – all over the world, really – and took them into the cave, and once they got down into that world, they were in charge,” she said.

Schroer particularly noted Bishop, a slave who worked as a tour guide and discovered some well-known portions of the cave, including Mammoth Dome and Fat Man’s Misery.

“People would actually request him (as a guide) because he was known for telling good stories and being brave,” she said.

To highlight the role African-Americans have played in the cave’s history, ranger-led talks will be at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 16 and Feb. 23 at the park’s visitor center, according to the release.

During the talks, rangers will tell stories of the black tour guides’ exploits and contributions, Schroer said.

The park will also offer ranger-led Heritage Trail walks that depart from the visitor center at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The accessible walk will take about an hour and will follow the Heritage Trail to the Old Guide’s Cemetery.

Sunday’s walk will be led by a guide in Civil War period costumes, though both will discuss the contributions African-Americans have made through the last 200 years of the cave’s history.

All events are free, with no reservations required, according to a news release.

Throughout February, two video clips provided by Western Kentucky University’s Public Broadcasting Service and Kentucky Educational Television that focus on the stories of enslaved Mammoth Cave guides will also be shown in the visitor center, Schroer said.

– Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit


General assignment reporter focusing on features and regional coverage.

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