Is it Carver's Cave or Wakan Tipi?

After a lengthy war between England and France (which had laid claim to the area that included today’s St. Paul), they ceded the land to England in the treaty of 1763. Eager to find out the nature of what they saw as their colonial possession, the English dispatched Johnathan Carver to visit. His exploration led him up the Mississippi River and, on November 14, 1766 he came to "a remarkable cave of amazing depth that the Indians called Wakan-Tipi,” which roughly translates as the Dwelling of the Great Mystery.

Carver later wrote a book about his explorations that included information about the cave and, although the Dakota had led him there, he decided to give the landmark his own name. Here, with the original spellings, is part of his descriptions: “The rock at the enterance of the cave is of lightish gray colour and very soft like the grit of a grindstone. I found many strange heiroglyphycks cut in the stone some of which was very acient and grown over with moss. On the stone I marked the arms of the King of England.”

Because Carver published an account of his adventures, later travelers often tried to visit the famous cavern. After the Revolutionary War, the United States gained its independence from England and its leaders also sent people to explore what they considered their new possessions.

The cave was sometimes “lost” when falling limestone and debris covered its entrance, so sometimes explorers were not successful finding the historic landmark. In Saint Paul’s early days, Wakan Tipi was accessible and often visited by early settlers. When the railroads arrived in Minnesota, the front entry may have been destroyed by their construction work.

Over time the famous cavern had been covered by falling limestone and other debris. Then in 1913, a neighborhood group undertook a year-long effort to find it and were able to uncover the entrance. At the time they hoped that it would become a tourist attraction complete with interior lighting.

While the city did buy the area around the cave the grand vision of a national attraction faded and once again Carver’s Cave was mostly forgotten. Recently, however, the significance of Wakan Tipi was once again recognized as it has became one of the area’s high points and although it is protected, it can be seen from the walking trails in the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.