When visitors come to the small, picturesque town of Dubois, Wyoming, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, “What’s with the dug-out cave in the middle of town?”
Although the town was once known as a famous hideout for Butch Cassidy and his Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, the prominent natural-looking formation in the center of town was never a stronghold for criminals.
Instead, the open-mouthed hill was used as … a giant refrigerator.
Gary Keimig, a local artist and historian, told Cowboy State Daily that while most people in this community of 1,000 people think the opening in the hill is the mouth to some sort of underground tunnel system, the real story isn’t that mysterious.
“It was originally carved out for the town’s refrigeration system,” he said.
Keimig said a man named Appleman built a bar in Dubois, and to store his inventory, he blasted out a large opening in a nearby hill.
“He freighted booze by wagon to Dubois and stored it in his blasted-out cave,” Keimig said.
The idea of cold storage in the hill had merit, Keimig said, because of the natural properties of the sandstone. The opening of the cave, which Keimig estimates to be about 20 feet by 20 feet in area, was an ideal size for the community’s ice house.
“I know they used to cut ice blocks off of Torrey Lake, which is about maybe 8-10 miles southeast of town,” Keimig said. “They’d bring them in by wagon and stick them in there for the cold, and they’d last well into the summer.”
For general store owner Frank Welty (the first – Frank Welty III is the current owner of the store), the cave was a convenient place to keep perishable inventory.
“It was designed to keep stuff from from freezing in the winter and keep things cool in the summer,” said Renny Suda, owner of the local Stagecoach Inn.
As the 20th century advanced and the community no longer needed a central ice house, the Welty family repurposed the downtown cave as a tourist attraction.
“When I was a kid growing up, and Frank II was still in business, he had it set up for a novelty,” said Suda.
Tourists could walk up the wooden stairs to the the entrance of the cave, which was covered by a steel cage door. Inside, a life-sized diorama of the Old West was set up, complete with mannequins dressed in period costumes.
“There was a couple of poker tables with some guys sitting around playing poker,” said Suda, “and they had aces up their sleeves.”
The setup, which was meant to represent the “Wild West,” included a bar, dancing girls and even an American Indian armed with a knife in the back of the room.
“It would probably be pretty politically incorrect today,” Suda admitted.
The attraction was permanently closed in the early 1980s, though, after vandals stole money out of an old whiskey barrel in which people could throw coins.
“They boarded it up, and it’s been boarded up ever since,” said Suda.
Closed To The Public
The website duboiswyoming.org explains that the cave remains boarded up for safety reasons because the ceiling is soft and crumbling.
Although the cave isn’t open to the public anymore, it’s still a source of curiosity for visitors to the community.
“There are probably more questions asked about the dug-out cave in the middle of town by our visitors than anything else,” Keimig wrote on his Facebook page.