Located at 10th and High St. in Lincoln, Nebraska, Robber’s Cave is located very close to the state penitentiary and a mental hospital. There is a Subway restaurant very close to the original entrance to Robber’s Cave.
The history of this location is a bit muddled, but I will present the gist of what is often presented as the history of Robber’s Cave below. Robber’s Cave in Lincoln is confused with Pahuk Cave in Fremont, Nebraska…however, I will present the information that I obtained below. Note, however, that most of it is wrong and has been perpetuated as local lore.
Made up largely of sandstone, Robber’s Cave was apparently eroded by water over the years to produce a series of underground caves and tunnels that extend for many miles in all directions.
In 1858, the Pawnee Indians were no longer permitted to use Pahuk Bull, their name for these tunnels/caves. They had apparently used the caves to contact the Spirit Tirawa, God of all things. Additionally, they held initiations and ceremonies in these caves/tunnels.
In the early 1860’s Robber’s Cave became an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
In 1876, Jesse James hid out at Robber’s Cave after a robbery.
Because of it’s location near the penitentiary and mental institution, it is said that many convicts and patients found ways into this tunnel system through the basements of these institutions and attempted to find their way to freedom (or died on their journey)through these tunnels.
The cave is currently sealed off, however, the cave has been open to the public on and off over the years.
Again, I want to reiterate that the above information is muddled in with facts about the history of Pahuk Cave in Fremont, Nebraska.
Robber’s Cave was actually utilized as a brewery for many years. Although it is possible that the cave was once used for Indian rites, it has not been shown through actual historical accounts. Accounts of Jesse James using it as a hide-out also seem to be unfounded.
Indian chanting and drumming sounds have been reported. Also sounds of screaming, crying, laughing, and whispering or muffled voices.
John Brown’s Cave in Nebraska City (John Brown was a famous abolitionish) is a proven stop on the Underground Railroad, which adds believability to the idea that Robber’s Cave was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, however it seems as though these reports are untrue.
I am including a verbal description of the inside of the cave taken from "Nebraska Rules" website just because I found it entertaining to read. I have not verified whether or not the description really depicts how the inside of the cave actually looks and feels yet, however, so read at your own risk. According to Louise Pound, the cave "may cover in all its passages and chambers perhaps 700 feet".:
"Robber’s Cave used to be owned by a little old lady. You would have to knock on her door to get permission to go in (and pay a fee). She would unlock the big door on the cave and let you inside. Once inside, a rickety, old stairway led down 150 feet. There was an electrical line wih light bulbs hung through some of the tunnels and corridors. The lights were spaced so far apart, that you would be in almost total darkness between the lights. They weren’t in every tunnel either, they were only in some of the tunnels closer to the entrance. Shortly after leaving the stairs behind, the tunnel would curve. You would have to watch ot for the "Well", a 200 foot plunge into total darkness caused by groundwater seepage for centuries. It is at the "Well" that you could be guaranteed to find hundreds of bats just waiting to take flight. They could be found elsewhere in the network, but they could always be found here."
"Many other passages woud through the network. As you went through many of these tunnels, water was constantly dripping from above. But the eerie thing about it is that the water was blood red. The bats were always flying about, just missing your face by inches. One of the chambers, almost rarely seen by people in the tunnels was Robber’s Roost. You would have to climb upwards through five feet of narrow openings to get into it. It was a vast chamber and was hidden from view by a rock face in the main tunnel. This chamber was different from the rest of the chambers. It was dry and had a thick layer of sand on the floor. In this cavern, there was a small natural chimney with a firepit below it. It was here that Jesse James was said to have hidden out. THe chamber used to extend much further, but one end of the room had been blocked off by a wall of bricks, block, and concrete. It is here that the tunnels were said to run for miles and connect to the state penitentiary and state hospital for the insane. If you pressed your ear to this wall, you could always hear the voices, cries and screams.
I find it fascinating that this cave has been confused and totally entangled historically with Pahuk Cave in Fremont, Nebraska. Caves are often important elements in folklore in various cultures.
Pound, L. (1913). Nebraska Folklore. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, Nebraska.