July 24, 2013 — Sam Plummer of Olive Hill will spend this week living in two different eras.
Plummer will guide visitors through a historical tour of Saltpetre Cave, teaching about the importance of a mineral for the war effort in 1810, as well as disinfecting the shoes of his guests to prevent the spread of a modern consideration within the cave systems.
“This was not a very pleasant job,” said Plummer after introducing himself simply as “Col. John” and providing a step-by-step guide to refining saltpetre from the guano-laden dirt in the cave for use in making black powder, or gunpowder.
The first step, Col. John explained, was gathering the cave's dirt and removing all rocks before adding water to create a beer-like liquid called “liquor.” The liquor was hauled out of the cave/mone and further processed before being shipped to Portsmouth. Once there, it was used as one of three crucial components, along with sulphur and charcoal, for gunpowder.
Conditions in the cave, which remains at a constant 47-degrees, were rough for the 30-plus men who used picks, shovels, buckets and wheelbarrows, he said, pointing out one room in the cave which served as sleeping quarters for the saltpetre miners during winter months, or when they were simply to tired to hike out to the cave opening.
At the end of the approximately 90-minute tour, Plummer asked his guests to lift their feet to allow him to spray the soles of their shoes with a disinfectant solution aimed at preventing the spread of spores carrying White-Nose Syndrome, which threatens the park's population of Indiana bats.
At the top of the steps leading into the cave, Mike Little sat on a bench and sharpened a fixed-blade knife while awaiting the group's return for a black-powder rifle demonstration, also part of the ongoing Pioneer Life Weekend, which continues through Saturday.