My fascination with Texas history inspired me to visit Marble Falls and Dead Man’s Hole, the dark landmark south of town.
I started my visit at the Falls on the Colorado Museum, housed in a 129-yearold school building. My education began by peering at the bones of Rockie, a 700-year-old bison whose remains were found on a nearby ranch.
Remnants of the town’s pioneer days include artifacts ranging from saddles to railroad ties. I visited the town’s namesake falls beneath nearby Lake Marble Falls, and I was fascinated by tales of the town’s grim Civil War experience as it relates to Dead Man’s Hole.
Of course, I couldn’t go exploring on an empty stomach, so I stopped by the legendary Blue Bonnet Cafe, which has been feeding hungry travelers since 1929. My chicken-fried steak was made even better by the towering wedge of coconut meringue pie that followed.
After lunch, I drove 4 miles and found the historical marker for Dead Man’s Hole. A few hundred feet away, I saw the hole in the limestone. The 7-foot-wide Dead Man’s Hole earned its grisly name during the Civil War, when locals disposed of the bodies of at least 17 Union sympathizers in the cave.
In those days, after Texas seceded, many Hill Country German communities remained loyal to the Union. Burnet County voted overwhelmingly against secession, but local Confederate zealots, called fire eaters, killed some of those who favored the North. Dead Man’s Hole became both courtroom and cemetery as hasty trials resulted in slaughter.
After Burnet County Judge John R. Scott was deemed a Union loyalist, he attempted to flee to Mexico but was gunned down, his body tossed into Dead Man’s Hole. Even though the historical marker puts the number at 17, legend suggests as many as 36 bodies were thrown into the pit. Whatever the actual number, it troubled me just to stand nearby, even in the middle of the afternoon more than a century later. The cavity is now covered by a steel panel to keep anyone from slipping in. I hopped down onto the metal and felt an unnerving thump as my weight hit the steel and sent reverberations into the depths below. I bent down and attempted to peek through. I dropped a pebble down and listened to it bounce off rocks until it faded away. From the sound of it, the hole went on forever.
The cave was not fully explored until 1951, when a group of Austin spelunkers pulled out multiple sets of bones. Local lore suggests that the last skeleton was brought to the courthouse, and while it was awaiting a proper burial, it disappeared. I stepped away from the hole and made certain I was the only person present that afternoon. As the hair on my neck began to stand up, I decided I didn’t want to find out if anyone was nearby. I began to briskly walk (OK, run) back to my truck.
Chet Garner shares his Texplorations as the host of The Daytripper on PBS.