Old Man’s Cave – so who is the Old Man? According to the history of the cave, the Old Man was a hermit named Richard Rowe (sometimes spelled Roh) who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century. Legend has it that he was buried under a cave ledge somewhere in the Hocking Hills area. Before settling in southern Ohio, the Rowe family made their home in the Cumberland Mountains in eastern Tennessee. There were two Rowe brothers: David and Richard (born in 1784). They trekked with their father to the Ohio River banks shortly after their mother passed away in 1796. They established a trading post. David soon married a Shawnee bride and they migrated to the Great Lakes, then on to the Black Hills in South Dakota. Richard stayed connected to the family trade business till 1810. After this, he traveled the Scioto and Ohio rivers for two years, watching closely all the happenings of the War of 1812. Following those two impactful years, Richard decided to become a loner and chose to live a quiet and peaceful life in the forest.
There was a time when Richard came up missing from the area for about three years. Many thought that he was dead. He returned, however, and told his acquaintances that he had gone to visit his brother in the Ozarks. He had walked to the Ozarks (740 miles one way today by road), but then found that his brother was dead and his widow had no means of support. Richard shared with her that he possessed a stash of money back home in the “gorge.” He promised to return to the Ozarks to give that money to David’s widow.
One day after returning home, Richard had gone to the stream in the gorge to get his supply of water. As he had done many times in winters past, he used the butt of his musket to break the ice. This time, however, the weapon discharged, with the muzzle pointing under his chin. A few days later, he was found by a couple of other trappers. They wrapped his body in the bark of an oak tree, and buried him in the sand on a ledge in his beloved Old Man’s Cave gorge. There is no one living today who knows the location of his final resting place nor any record of his treasure in the gorge. Richard lived to be 74 years old.
Now, Rowe is an alternative spelling for my family name. I have found relatives that go by this spelling in some genealogical research that I’ve done. For those of you who know me, you can see the family resemblance in Richard’s portrait that hangs in the welcome center at Old Man’s Cave. My introverted genes and my tendency toward “hermit”ism might indeed come from my great-great uncle Richard. I have not yet received the deed to Old Man’s Cave nor any promise of an inheritance if they find Richard’s stash in the gorge, but the hermit personality is almost as good as DNA testing…and the facial resemblance is undeniable. I will continue to wait for official notification from the state.