The Real Speluncean Explorers in 1863: Four Civil War Deserters Trapped in Cave, Ate Each Other in Self Defense, and Last One Alive Left A Note

October 1st, 2014

The February 24, 1896 edition of the Fredericksburg, Virginia Daily Star published a remarkable story of the true to life Speluncean Explorers. In short, four deserters from the Civil War hid in a cave, which caved in. Then, one by one, the men began to eat each other, until there were only two left, and one was killed in self defense. Remarkably, the last man standing kept a diary of sorts, which was discovered thirty years later.

You have to read the entire article to believe it:

The Mystery of a Mine – Skeletons of Four Men Who Disappeared Many Years Ago Are Discovered

Colliers, W. Va., Feb. 24 (1896)

People are much excited in this vicinity over a recent find. David Snyder has explored an old coal mine a mile east of here, and which has not been worked since the ’60s, and discovered human bones. One of the skeletons was sitting upright against a ledge. Beside the skeleton was found a flask containing notes that explained the mysterious disappearance of John Ewing, Ben Ayers, Tom Ackelson, and Joe Obney thirty-two years ago (1863). The notes were written in pencil, but well preserved. They read as follows:

Nov. 2, 1863-Should this ever reach the outside world let it be known that we (giving names) are prisoners here, owing to the caving in of the mine. We are deserters, and were in hiding here when the mine caved in. This is about the eighth day of imprisonment.

Nov. 4- John Ewing and Tom Ackelson have just killed Ben Ayres and are eating him. I have already eaten my boot leg. I only know the day of the month by my watch.

Nov. 6-Ewing has just killed Ackelson. Cut off one of his feet and is eating it and dancing around flourishing his dirk knife like a maniac.

Nov. 7-I am now alone with the dead. I had to kill Ewing in self defense. I have just eaten my other boot leg. Am sleepy. Goodbye. I enclose this note in this flask to preserve it if possible. Joseph Obney.

Several of the old residents hereabouts remember these men. It was generally believed that they had been killed in battle.




H/T Jamison, a former student who studied the Case of the Speluncean Explorers with me last year.