. . Crystal Onyx Cave . . . We're Not Mammoth, but we are Spectacular

History of the Area and Cave

Picture of the bones from an early brochure

First People

This area has been occupied by people for millennia. Bones and other artifacts have been found in many of the caves, including this one.

Although Crystal Onyx Cave was “discovered” by Cleon Turner in 1960 after many years of searching, bones dating to 600 BCE were found here, and were on display during the cave’s early years. In some advertisements, the cave was listed as an active archaeological site.

Out of respect for those early peoples, the bones have been interred where they are no longer on display.


Cumberland Trace

Named by early pioneers traversing through the region, this designated Indian trail led settlers into this area during Western migration. This mainly Cherokee trail, (although used some by the Shawnee), originated at Rockwood in Roane County, Tennessee. The trace reached its’ end at the Indian settlements on the Green and Barren Rivers in Southern Kentucky. Daniel Boone followed the Cumberland Trace during his explorations through here. It was the trail traveled by the pioneers who came through the Cumberland Gap to settle the then new lands of Kentucky and Tennessee. Many were claiming the bounty lands that were granted them for service in the Revolutionary War.

The route of US 31W and the railroad tracks roughly follow the Cumberland Trace in the Prewitt’s Knob area.

From Be Safe and Keep Your Powder Dry, by Daryl Skaggs. 

“The Cumberland Trace was originally made by the buffalo and legend says it was two to four feet deep at places and wide enough for the space of two wagons to pass one another. Since the herds ranged as high as 5,000 in number, and some over 2,000 pounds in weight, it is easy to comprehend how such a natural trace could be encountered. From the Knob Lick, in Lincoln County, as reported by the members of the party, they beheld largely over a thousand animals, including buffalo, elk, bear, and deer, with many wild turkey scattered among them; all quite restless, some playing, and others busily employed in licking the earth. The buffalo and other animals had so eaten away the soil, that they could, in places, go entirely underground. Within an area of many acres, the animals had eaten the salty earth to a depth of several feet.” 

A station on the Cumberland Trace
Old map showing the area.
This is a map of the 1862 Battles

Civil War Battles

From Wikipedia:  “Eighty percent of Kentucky counties had voted for secession after the Union Army occupied Louisville and seized the state capitol in Frankfort. Upwards of 400,000 Union troops occupied Kentucky at times, using firing squads, conscription and martial law orders. Still, about half of all Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy, some in Virginia and Tennessee units, as well as Kentucky units. Kentucky had called for support from the deep south during the early secession period. The lower south failed to respond at that time. Bragg and the lower south did respond later. Kentucky had a star on the Confederate flag, and seats in the Confederate Congress. In addition many Confederate leaders were from Kentucky like Jefferson Davis and Breckenridge and many others. For example, most of Mrs Mary Todd Lincoln’s relatives from the Lexington, KY area were Confederate officers.”

In September 1862 a  battle was fought at Munfordville. 40,000 Union forces under General Buell camped at Prewitt’s Knob near the railroad tracks. After the war, Buell was investigated because it was thought he wasn’t agressive enough.  Google “Prewitt’s Knob” and you’ll find much more information.

How Prewitts Knob Got It's Name

This is the story of the naming of the Knob, from personal histories published on RootsWeb.com and Ancestry.com:

Thomas Prewitt was born in England in 1616 and emigrated to Virginia where he married Sarah and had four sons including Henry (1654-1722). Henry married Rebecca and had 5 children, including Thomas (1695-1759). Thomas married Mary second and had  5 children including Abraham (1722-1806). Abraham was unmarried and died at Prewitt’s Knob of old age.  Prewitt’s Knob is not named for him.

Henry’s first wife was Anne, before she died they had 2 sons including James (1684-1721). James married Mary and 7 children, including Martin and William (1714-1817). William was a Revolutionary War soldier along with all of his sons. William had 10 children, including twin sons Abraham and Isaac, born in 1763. Abraham died in 1794: 

Abraham was killed in the Indian Wars of East Tenn. about 1794. He was one of the advance spies in crossing the Hiwassee River in Sevier’s Campaign vs. the Cherokee. It is related in family records “that before going into the battle in which he lost his life, Abraham asked his twin brother, Isaac to marry his widow and rear his children should he not live through the battle.” Isaac did.”

Prewitt’s Knob is named after this Abraham.

Prewitts Knob
This William may have been Abraham Prewitt's father.

William Prewitt

William was listed in the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina (Rowan Co.) in 1761.  

According to William’s grandson, Solomon, “In 1767, when my father, Martin Prewitt, was 15 years of age, he went to the wildwoods of Kentucky in company with his father, William Prewitt, and Daniel Boone, John Findley, Isaac Belcher and other hunters. They camped on the Kentucky River and stayed nine months. Then they returned to North Carolina with their pack horses, pelts and furs.” William moved to Botetourt County, Virginia, by 1770. William followed the new settlements into eastern Tennessee from Virginia, probably as early as 1780. Prewitt’s Knob is named after one of his sons, Abraham.

Prewitt vs Pruitt: Family tradition says that because of the similar names of the sons of William and the sons of Martin the family decided to separate and adopt different spellings of the last name. When their sons became involved in various “indiscretions,” it was very confusing to the peace officers to know who was guilty because of all the buck passing. William, his son Jacob, and his daughter Mary Grayson, and their families, moved to Madison County, Alabama, in 1807.

Brief history from Camprate.com

After years of searching, and with a deep conviction that a cave was there on Pruitt’s Knob, Cleon Turner entered what became Crystal Onyx Cave on June 23, 1960. Turner’s persistent search to find an entrance succeeded even though attempts had been made since the early 1930’s. In June of 1960, Turner and a friend found a promising spot on the side of the Knob and, after several days of digging with shovels, Turner dynamited an entrance. He found beautiful formations, cave bacon, rimstone, stalactites and stalagmites. Soon after that, Crystal Onyx Cave, acknowledged by “cavers” as one of the most beautiful in the cave country, was opened for tours.

Click the buttons below for more detailed information:

Bones” is an official analysis of the bones found in the cave.

 “Discovery” includes some of Mr. Turner’s autobiography and discovery story.

Trapped” is the first person story of being trapped at the bottom of Crystal Onyx Cave in 2001

Road Cut is a newspaper article about a young guide rescued in 2001.

“Undeveloped Caves” includes maps of Little Niagara cave, Rookie Drop cave and a rescue from Roger’s Discovery cave.

News” includes pictures and the articles from the Glasgow Daily Times in 1960. Also the article and many pictures from 1985 when the cave had its grand opening.

Cleon Turner
March 25, 1980

Now Open Daily

One of the most beautiful caves in Kentucky!

Open from 11 a.m. to the last tour at 8 pm.  Come and visit us!

Crystal Onyx Cave * 425 Prewitts Knob Road, Cave City, KY 42127 * (270)773-3377