I ran across a photo of 40 Horse Cave in an old family album and decided to find out more about it, mainly why it is called 40 Horse Cave.
There are two schools of thought about the name. One is that two men climbed up to the cave and commented to the other that you could put 40 horses inside. The second is that there actually were 40 horses in the cave on one occasion, that occasion being when horse thieves hid them there while being pursued by a posse.
To my disappointment, I could not find any documentation or early mentions of the cave that might have given me a clue as to the derivation of the name. I can only say that the horse thief story seems highly unlikely. The cave is about one hundred feet from the bottom of the canyon where the road is today. There was likely a trail through the canyon in the same location going back long before European settlers.
The climb up to the cave is steep and the slope has a lot of loose shale to navigate. Getting one horse, let alone 40, up into the cave would require several men or several hours. Each would have to be led up the steep slope, parked (a well-known equestrian term), and settled inside. They could not possibly be driven up the slope and into the cave even by the most persistent thieves. Further, even if one could drive horses up the slope and hide them in the cave, the resulting disturbance on the slope would be quite obvious from below. Need I mention that 40 horses standing around inside a spooky space would likely make some nervous noise?
The cave is certainly big enough to house horses, though it isn’t very deep. It goes back only about 50 feet.
I look forward to better horsemen than I am speculating about how to get horses into the cave. Maybe we could make it an annual reenactment. I’ll buy the first ticket.