Trail of Tears Quarry Rescue


Early the morning of November 15, 1965, I got a call from The Missourian to saddle up my pony and head to the quarry at Trail of Tears State Park to cover a rescue. It must have been too chilly or too early for them to roust Frony out of bed.

I know I saw the negatives from that morning somewhere recently, but I must have misplaced them. I’ll make do with a copy of the front page of that day’s Missourian. Someone other than me drew in the X and apparently “enhanced” the tops of the bluffs. Or, it might just be that the microfilm reproduction makes it look that way.

The Associated Press picked up the photo, probably because of the St. Louis connection. I think it might have been my first Wirephoto. I was excited about it in those days. I was less excited 20 years later when they were still paying a lousy five bucks per photo.

Student spent night trapped on bluff.

You can read the whole story in The Missourian,but you have to work for it. The Google index is messed up, so that link takes you to the November 12 edition. You’ll have to keep scrolling to the right until you get to the front page of the Monday paper. While you’re scrolling, you might want to pause to read the Nov. 13 account of the fire and sinking of the cruise ship Yarmouth Castle. Gordon Lightfoot immortalized it in Ballad of Yarmouth Castle on his Sunday Concert album, arguably his second most famous song after The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Here’s the short version: William A. Erfurth, 22, a SEMO junior from a St. Louis suburb was trying to scale a 300-foot bluff north of Trail of Tears State park on Sunday when his footing gave way. He managed to scramble to a rock about 60 feet from the top of the bluff where he was stuck for about 13-1/2 hours until he was rescued the next morning.

A buddy, Don Powers, 25, of Webster Groves, who didn’t make the climb, built a fire and kept talking to Erfurth though the night. It took longer to get help than it might have because Erfuth’s keys were lost in a comedy of errors. Erfurth had the keys with him up on the bluff. He threw a small rock down so that Powers would have an idea of where to look for the keys. He then wrapped the keys in a handkerchief and threw them down. “They haven’t been found yet,” Erfurth commented. That meant that Powers had to walk out for help.

Rescuers came from Mississippi County

A Mississippi County Rescue Squad eventually made it to a point where they could drop ropes to the stranded youth. The climbers included Joe Lankheit (or Lankhett), Mike Bryant, Dewey Bickford and Ralph Carr. Chief Sam Story said the ascent was made at “considerable hazard” to the four men.

Besides the Sheriff’s Patrol and the Mississippi County unit, members of the Highway Patrol and the Cape Girardeau Auxiliary Police were on scene during the night. Robert Eckelmann, auxiliary chief, said he and Frank Maevers tried to reach the top of the bluff by jeep, but the terrain was too rough. Erfurth was unharmed.

The cliff is located about 1-3/4 north of the end of the Moccasin Springs Road. Most of the rescuers rode to the scene by handcars of the Frisco Railroad. (I don’t remember if I got a ride on a handcar or if I had to hoof it.)

Quarry looks pretty from the air

I asked pilot Ernie Chiles to fly close to Trail of Tears on our way up to Perry County in April to see if I could spot the quarry. It was much bigger than I had imagined. That early morning in 1965 was the first (and last) time I had been there. I’m going to hazard a guess that some of you have been much closer to it than I’ve been.

19 Replies to “Trail of Tears Quarry Rescue”

  1. My mother was raised at Moccasin Springs but I did not even know that the quarry existed. She may have known about it but never mentioned it. Mom died last December so I can’t ask her now. We went there many times as kids between ’55-’57 to visit Mom’s childhood home(s). They lived in at least 3 different places there, but all the old homes were gone. Some of the neighbor homes were still there at that time. You featured one of the neighbor buildings in an article some time back: Grove Gollihar’s barn, I believe. His home was still there when we visited. He was still living then also. But he was living at the old Idan-Ha Hotel before it burnt. His home place was sitting empty I believe. The road into Moccasin Springs was very narrow and at the entrance there was a stream that we sometimes had to drive through to get in there. Sometimes the stream was too deep and we had to turn around and go back home. The gravel road was so narrow that the branches of the bushes and small trees hit both sides of our old Plymouth. My brother, Mark, and I always stuck our arms out the windows of the car to let the branches hit us. Some of our visits were for picnics, some were to take Grover to see his old home place and to gather pears from his pear tree, some were to go into the woods to gather pecans and walnuts for Christmas cookies and candies. Mom & Grandma knew exactly where all the nut trees were out there, as well as the berry bushes. We would also go to drink water out of a clear spring somewhere out there. Everything’s different now with the paved roads and, of course, the old buildings are all gone now. Mom would also always tell us about the Cherokee Princess Ohtaki who died there during the ‘Trail of Tears’ which story has now been partially de-bunked.I guess she wasn’t a princess (Cherokees didn’t have princesses). And her name was actually Nancy Bushyhead! Not nearly as romantic-sounding as Princess Ohtaki. Mom knew where her grave was supposedly. When they built the memorial, it was built in a different location (Mom said to keep people from digging up her grave). I haven’t been out there in a long time but maybe will make a visit soon.

  2. I remember that night vividly. My Dad, Frank Maevers, and good friend Robert Eckelmann took off in that old army jeep to try to reach them. Ironic that I would later get to know all the the Mississippi County Rescue Squad mentioned in the article. What a blast from the past that I had forgotten. Thanks Ken.

  3. Don’t remember the story of the rescue but the story of the Yarmouth Castle is of interest. My wife and her family were aboard the Castle’s sister ship, the Yarmouth only one month before the Castle caught fire and sank. These were the days before the Carnival and Princess lines. Both were apparently and unfortunately, “banana” boats.

  4. I visited the quarry many times for quiet get aways with friends and family. It was a favorite of my wife and nieces. We would take picnic supplies and swimming gear then spend the day in beautiful solitide. It was about a 15 minute walk from the parking area in Trail of Tears.
    Here’s one story from an outing to the quarry. My wife, sister-in-law, and two nieces about 4 and 6 years old were walking on the RR tracks about 3 minutes from the quarry entrance. I heard a train whistle way off in the distance. There’s only one track anywhere around so that train whistle would be coming by us sometime soon and so would the train it was mounted on. I dropped to the ground and put my ear to the tracks and announced I could hear a train coming just like the Indians of old used to do by listening to the rails. My sister-in-law immediately admonished me for acting out old myths in front of the girls. So being a responsible uncle I grabbed the girls and hurried to the quarry entrance getting there when my wife and sister-in-law were still about 150 yards away. Yup, the train was coming South and all the noise was bouncing off the rock formation the quarry is built on, so the first indication we had that it was there was when it popped into site about 200 yards away rounding the rock at about 70mph. My wife and sister-in-law got to watch it go by while standing in head high weeds contemplating old Indian myths. Of course this story is still told by my Nieces 32 and 34 years of age. Time flies.
    Thanks for bringing up old memories Ken.

  5. I hiked up to the quarry within the last year or two, after my mother enlightened me to its existence and led me over there. Doesn’t look like a place I’d want to swim these days. Very deserted and creepy. I may have taken a picture; if I can find it I’ll share it.

  6. My family and I spent a lot of time in the area before it became a state park. Back then there was actually a spring coming out of the bedrock near the river. I found many fosilles in the rocks.
    the marina covered the rocks and the springs so no more springs, no more fossels.
    We used to climb the bluffs of the quarry, from the West side , and sit on the bluff watching the river. Were well familiar with the train tracks and the only dangerus pl;ace was the RR bridge. We always hurried accross because there was no place to get off the tracks if a train was coming.

  7. My friends and I used to go their in the 70’s and party. I was always scared of water mocassins and not making it across the train tressel before a train came. Good times, good memories!

  8. I remember the Quarry quite well. In the 90’s the state park eliminated the trail that went to the Quarry and now that path has grown over.
    The first time I walked into the quarry it was almost like the scene of the goonies when they see the ship for the first time.
    Rumor flew of how people had died from trying to climb the cliffs. But I don’t know of any. Unlike the lake where their were numerous deaths.
    Now there are signs posted about “private property and prosecution” and such. But a very cool place indeed.
    I heard a song called “somewhere only we know” by keane and Immediately I thought of this place.
    Here’s to the happy memories.

  9. I can’t count the numerous times we rode dirt bikes to that quarry in the 70s and 80s. There were well used trails from Indian Creek used by horses, hikers and us.

    I believe the quarry that Sheeter broke his neck in is further up the river. Story has it another guy broke his back jumping from there also. It has been a commercial business for years. I know at least two people who jumped from the top without injury!

  10. I haven’t been to that one since the two of us jumped from the top back in the 60s. Four of us went to it by boat. There were people scuba diving there and they told us there was a large piece of equipment in the bottom under many feet of water. The walls were much higher than the one we used to ride to in Trail of Tears.

  11. Friend of mine actually fell from the top. Turns out an Eagle Scout that was with them that day saved his life. They were skipping classes from Notre Dame. Apparently there is a pretty tough section to climb across at the top. His buddy in front was supposed to jump to the next section but they got mixed up, both in one spot only big deal enough for one. Bryan slipped. Should have died but by some miracle lived. Changed his life forever. Tremendous athlete at Notre Dame up until then from what I have heard. I remember hearing stories in the 90’s about some kid falling. Some said he died, some said he lived. Thought it was just urban myths. Fast forward years later talking to the dad of one of my sons classmates we eventually talk long enough we get to this. Gave me the whole story and all the years of recovery. Turns out it wasnt a myth after all.

  12. It’s a wonder none of my friends or I didn’t have to be rescued from those bluffs. We used to climb around out there a lot back when we were invincible teenagers.

  13. Somewhere, I have a pic of my brother and I diving from about half way up the cliff. Many good times there. No injuries Thankfully.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *