Manitou Cave of Alabama

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The  Manitou Cave of Alabama  (MCAL) is located near the town of Fort Payne, DeKalb County Alabama, in the base of Lookout Mountain.

The area around the cave was once a major Cherokee settlement. The cave was discovered and probably used by early residents of the area. Manitou is not a Cherokee word–it is Ojibwa, which means “Spirit”. Manitou Cave is the Caucasian name given to this site.


Probably early in the 19th century, the most famous Cherokee, George Guess or Gist, better known as Sequoyah, moved from Tennessee to Willstown with his mother. In addition to leading an active role in war and politics, he was a veteran of the Creek War. Sequoyah’s greatest legacy to the Cherokee Nation was his development and invention of a syllabary, the written version of the Cherokee spoken language that enabled the Cherokees to record their traditions and establish a native language newspaper. Without this written language, their culture would not have survived. Some significant original Cherokee signed and dated syllabary inscriptions written on the walls of Manitou Cave have recently been researched, translated by scholars from all three federally recognized bands of Cherokee, and published in April 10, 2019 Antiquity Journal, an international archaeological scholarly publication.

The Cherokee presence is still very much a part of this area of Alabama. Many citizens claim Cherokee ancestry, insisting that their ancestors hid and/or escaped to avoid removal. Some people believe that some of the Cherokees hid in the caves, Manitou being one of them. With the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation, Manitou Cave was vacated in 1838. During the American Civil War, it became a troop encampment, and saltpeter was mined from the cave during the later years of the war. Many of the signatures seen on the cave walls have been documented from the payrolls of the miners.

During the “Boom” days, Manitou Cave was opened by the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company in 1888 as a tourist attraction. There was a railroad spur line bringing investors and visitors from the northeast to attend dances in the cave’s “ballroom.” Manitou remained open as a public park through the early 20th century. There is evidence in the cave that Manitou was prepared to be used as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. After years of neglect, steel bridges and concrete steps were built in the 1950’s and a thousand of underground lights were installed in the cave. A visitor center was built and Manitou was reopened as a commercial “show cave” in 1961, and it remained open until the late 1970’s. In the years since it was closed, Manitou has been largely neglected.

In 2014, Annette Reynolds and a relative were told that Manitou Cave and the land surrounding was for sale, so they went to look at the cave. When Annette arrived, she found the breached cave gate standing open. Annette walked in, and found herself in awe of Manitou’s sacred beauty, and quietness. Annette stated that as she walked further through the cave, and saw the damage that had been done, she knew in her heart that someone had to save this historic natural relic.

Although Annette states that she does not have Cherokee ancestry, is not a caver, is not from Ft. Payne, does not have “deep pockets” and is not a “crazy cat lady”, Annette set out on a quest. In 2015, she raised enough funds through donors for the purchase of Manitou Cave, and the 10 acre surrounding land and spring fed wetland pond. She founded Manitou Cave of AL, Inc., 501 c 3 non-profit organization in 2016, whose mission is protection, preservation, conservation, and education.

Are you looking for a brand new kind of book club?

We think we have something you’ll enjoy. Instead of all reading the same book and then discussing, you get to do it your way … Read a book or an article, listen to a podcast or an interview, watch a documentary, or just bring your experiences or opinions and we will then discuss. Clearly, it is “not your Mama’s book club.” We usually meet on the first Tuesday of every month at 2 p.m. in the Boardroom. Because of the Labor Day weekend, we will be meeting on Tuesday, September 10 at 2 p.m. in the Boardroom.

This month our topic is:  Manitou Cave of Alabama

Tuesday, September 10, 2-4 p.m. Boardroom

Join us as Annette Reynolds discusses Manitou Cave & its sacred traditions.

 We hope to see you Tuesday, September 10th at 2pm!

Check out these titles:

Complete Caving Manual by Andy Sparrow

The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance by Ellen Cushman

Cherokees of the Old South by Henry Thompson