FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Miller Cave, a culturally significant Native American site on Fort Leonard Wood, has been permanently closed to visitors after a recent vandalism incident occurred.
The incident is currently under investigation.
According to Charlie Neel, Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division chief, as a federal property owner, Fort Leonard Wood is obligated to protect Miller Cave and other significant historic and archaeological locations on post.
Neel added that his office regularly looks for signs of damage or looting.
“We monitor all of the sites on post,” he said. “Last week, we discovered damage to the rock art at Miller Cave.”
The art is Native American in origin, Neel said, and is thought to be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 years old — it comes from what’s called the Late Woodland Period.
“It’s clear the cave played a significant role in the Native American occupancy of what is now Fort Leonard Wood,” he said.
After a previous vandalism incident in 2016, Fort Leonard Wood officials required anyone wishing to visit Miller Cave to check in and out via what’s called the iSportsman portal. Anyone hunting, fishing or visiting certain areas on post is required to use the site at https://ftleonardwood.isportsman.net.
“We believed that the additional controls would correct the issue, but after this instance of vandalism, we feel the only way possible to prevent further damage from occurring is by making it off limits,” Neel said.
In a statement released by the Osage Nation, Dr. Andrea Hunter, tribal historic preservation officer, said what is now the state of Missouri was the homeland of the Osage people for more than 1,300 years.
Hunter added the Osage Nation consider “these sacred places to be invaluable and irreplaceable.”
“No assessment of the damage will appropriately reflect the true harm to the sites and to the Osage people,” Hunter said.
According to Stephanie Nutt, DPW Environmental Division Cultural Resources Program coordinator, in addition to making the site off limits, all signs that draw attention to Miller Cave are being removed — these include several educational signs put in place in the late 1990s explaining the archaeological and geological significance of the area.
“It’s been a well-known site since long before Fort Leonard Wood was built in the 1940s, and the signage was an effort to provide an educational component to the public,” she said.
Miller Cave is part of a cave complex in the bluffs above the Big Piney River. Nutt said it was the second archaeological site recorded in Pulaski County, after work done by Gerard Fowke about 100 years ago. Artifacts discovered in Miller Cave are in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington D.C.