Most folks who visit Springfield’s Sequiota Park never get to explore the time machine in its boundaries known as Fisher’s Cave, yet twice a year a lucky few are afforded the privilege of floating back through time on a cave tour with the Springfield Park Board’s Outdoor Initiatives.
For years I’ve wanted to make the trip, and so on a warm Saturday in March, I threw on my rubber boots, a hard hat and a life jacket to make the journey back through the microcosm of Ozarks history that is Galloway.
According to legend, the name Sequiota is a Kickapoo word which means “many springs.” There is evidence of that tribe’s presence in the area and in the cave, most notably through the presence of Chert deposits used to make tools for scraping animal hides.
As the Kickapoos were removed from southwest Missouri to make room for American settlers, Sequiota Springs was settled by Jacob “Jake” Painter, a noted gunsmith and early settler of Springfield.
The cave soon became a storehouse for George Galloway, a Mexican War veteran who opened a store in the settlement that would bear his name.
Like many of his neighbors, Galloway and his small settlement would soon know the horrors of Civil War. Major Galloway would serve in the First Arkansas Cavalry, a regiment raised from exiled Arkansas Unionists.
After the war, Galloway’s settlement saw the opening of a lime quarry, and then a railroad line known as the Chadwick Flyer, which began to bring the first tourists to the cave at Sequiota.
In the 1920s, a fish hatchery was built near the cave, designed to produce rainbow and brown trout, as well a smallmouth bass, which were attracting anglers from places like St. Louis and Chicago to the Ozarks.
The fish from Sequiota Lake were stocked in Ozarks streams via rail car, and the hatchery was incorporated into the Missouri State Park system in 1925.
Its grounds were a favorite spot for Springfield residents to ride “the cars” down to Galloway for a picnic lunch, walks around the lake and boat tours of the cave.
With the construction of Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery near the newly-created Table Rock Lake in the 1950s, the state park was sold to the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, who has managed it ever since.