In the mid-19th century, there was a strange character by the name of Parson Keithly who roamed the Ozark countryside. On Sundays, he preached, but on the other days, he walked aimlessly throughout the area with his gun on his shoulder and his dog at his heels. Sometimes disappearing for days, his family would hear nothing from him until suddenly he would return as quickly as he had gone.
By the time the news of the California gold rush hit Missouri, Parson Keithly was already an old man. But, one day he walked out of the house and wasn’t heard from for months, until his family finally received a letter telling them that he had gone to California. For two years and eight months, they heard nothing further until the Parson suddenly reappeared and returned to his old habits.
Over time, the family learned that Keithly had found gold in California, estimating its value at the time at about $6,000. Never knowing where the Parson had hidden the gold, the family speculated that it might have been in a garden with an apple tree some distance from the house. They also wondered if it might be kept in a cave near there property. Both the garden and the cave were places that the Parson often liked to visit.
Over the years, Keithly would often pull from his pocket a $10 gold piece, and as he handed it to his daughter he would say, “See here what I’ve found.”
The Parson’s visits to the cave became more frequent. Entering the cave to meditate, he was there so often that the cave became known as Keithley’s Cave. Shortly after the Civil War ended, the eccentric Parson was sure that his death was imminent and he made it known that he wanted to make the cave his final resting place. The preacher began to make plans for his tomb by walling off a room built of rocks and an entrance of five feet leading to it. At the entrance, he built a double stone door inclined at an angle. When the Parson entered the room he was able to pull the door shut, with the weight and angle of the door securing him snugly. When the Parson finally passed away, he was more than 90 years old.
The cave is located near Galena, Missouri in Stone County.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.