By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Wilson’s Cave Inn in Magic Kingdom



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

WILSON’S CAVE INN

By Jim Korkis

Interesting details at Walt Disney World are often hidden within plain sight and taken for granted by guests.

Only visible from a journey on the Liberty Square riverboat in Frontierland, along the north shore of Tom Sawyer Island is a hole-in-the wall labeled Wilson’s Cave Inn, meant to be reminiscent of the infamous Cave-In Rock on the shores of the Ohio River in southern Illinois.

That real 55-foot wide one-room cave was used as a meeting place for river pirates and staging area for raids on flatboats. Once pirates took over a flatboat, the best victims could hope for was being put ashore with no possessions and no way to know where they were. Other times, victims were killed and dumped in the river.

Cave-In Rock was used after the Revolutionary War as a haven for criminals who preyed upon travelers along the Ohio River. In the late 1700s, a fellow by the name of Jim Wilson stocked the cave with provisions and opened a business called Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment.

Unsuspecting travelers stopped there for food and drink and illicit activities like gambling and the company of women, and would find themselves robbed and often killed. Samuel Mason took over the criminal enterprise after Wilson, and renamed the location Cave-In Rock.

The illegal activities were at its peak from 1790 to around the 1870s. Imagineers blended both stories into Wilson’s Cave Inn for the Rivers of America, using the word “inn” to suggest a tavern. In the narration on board the Liberty Belle, Sam tells guests that Cutthroat Corner is the most likely place to find river pirates.

Shortly afterwards, raucous noises can be heard coming from the mouth of Wilson’s Cave Inn. Guests are then told that they should be safe from the pirates because based on the sounds coming out of the cave, “their interests lie elsewhere” implying wild women, drinking and gambling.

That story of the riverside venue might seem familiar because not only was it documented in an episode on the History Channel, but it was used in the movie How the West Was Won (1962).

Why it appears at Walt Disney World is that it was also the basis for the Disneyland television episode “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1955) that was later released along with another television episode as a theatrical movie in 1956.

The Disney story included not only Sam Mason but the Harpe brothers, who took over the location as a base of operations after Mason. Of course, in real life, Davy Crockett would have been just a teenager when Mason and the Harpes were doing their dirty deeds.

Scenes from the show were actually filmed at the actual Cave-In-Rock location, which at the time had become part of a 200 acre Illinois state park. Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen can be seen approaching the entrance to cave just prior to the climactic battle.

As Davy Crockett and his companion Georgie Russell journey down the river on the keelboat commanded by Mike Fink, the men pick up a traveling minstrel, who unknown to them, is in league with local river bandits.

On their way to get horses from friendly Chickasaw tribesmen, Davy and Georgie are kidnapped by a group of Chickasaws because white men have been murdering members of their tribe. Crockett and Fink discover that the river pirates are masquerading as Native Americans as they loot passing freighters from a riverside cave.

The men find their way into the lair, and in the ensuing battle several kegs of gunpowder are exploded, sealing the cave. The victorious heroes escape safely with the captured villains.

Today Walt Disney World guests can enjoy not only a glimpse of vintage river history but also a tribute to Disney’s Davy Crockett.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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