In 1925, Floyd Collins became a household name. People all over America were fascinated, horrified, and deeply moved by his dire plight. This extremely emotional response was naturally even stronger among the Cave City locals. Many of them were inspired to rush to Sand Cave and help in the best way they knew how to. As a result, for too long Collins was left to the zealous, unqualified, and amateurish attempts of the locals, who, because of their stubborn pride, did everything they could to expel the outsiders. Unfortunately, these outsiders were the only ones with the professional skill, rationality, and organization that Collins’ predicament demanded. While the outsiders could have saved Floyd Collins, the locals prevented his rescue.
It is clear that from the outset the outsiders had the necessary skill, rationality, and organization to rescue Collins. For instance, on Tuesday morning Henry Carmichael, a licensed engineer from Kyrock, Kentucky, organized a “systematic and coordinated operation” (Murray and Brucker 94). With his engineering efficiency, he soon realized that a shaft would be needed. However, it wouldn’t be started until Thursday, two days later. Carmichael and his Kyroc crew’s expertise also came into play late Wednesday night. Gerald sought him out for his experience in shoring while his own crew was too exhausted to continue (Murray and Brucker 122). By Thursday morning, outside experts and engineers were dominating the operation (Murray and Brucker 131). They were convinced that Floyd’s release was “no longer a caving problem but an engineering one” (Murray and Brucker 131). Now having free rein, these outsiders imposed discipline at the operation, ran an engineering survey of the Sand Cave passageway, and decided to sink a shaft (Murray and Brucker 141). These measures were effective and may have been able to Floyd’s life, had they been implemented earlier.
However, because of their excessive pride, the natives did everything they could to expel the outsiders. On Monday morning Isaac F. Woodson and Fred and Ernest Kratch of the Woodson and Kratch Monument Company came from Louisville to discuss their plan for rescuing Floyd (Murray and Brucker 93). Among other things, they had planned to survey the area a full four days before the experts-shocked that it hadn’t been already-got it done (Murray and Brucker 93). Johnnie Gerald refused to listen to their argument and immediately sent them back to Louisville (Murray and Brucker 93). In addition, Homer Collins stringently opposed Carmichael’s early scheme to sink a shaft, delaying its start by two critical days (Murray and Brucker 96). The natives even disputed Carmichael’s conservative plan to clear out the upper regions of the cave because of “their continuing desire to keep strangers out” (Murray and Brucker 96). Most of all, though, the natives resented General Denhardt’s arrival, despite the fact that he stopped the rowdiness, pickpocketing, and drinking at the cave entrance and brought authority and discipline to the operation (Murray and Brucker 130). Murray and Brucker attribute their attitude to the fact that Denhardt “showed little sensitivity in dealing with their [the locals'] pride” (Murray and Brucker 130). If the Cave City natives had risen above their petty pride and cooperated with the outsiders, rather than antagonizing them at every turn, Floyd could have been rescued.
Instead, Floyd was left to depend upon the zealous, but unqualified and amateurish, attempts of the locals for seven days. Outsiders arriving at the cave site found themselves in the midst of an effort lacking a sense of direction and coherence. For example, when Carmichael’s original ten Kyroc volunteers arrived on Monday, circumstances were so confusing that one of the workers had to call Carmichael and ask him to come and supervise their activities personally (Murray and Brucker 95). In addition, it took Woodson and the two Kratches all day Monday and part of Tuesday to find the person in charge (Johnnie Gerald) with whom they could discuss their ideas (Murray and Brucker 93). After Gerald left later Tuesday morning, “the rescue work at Sand Cave virtually halted” and “no one was paying the least bit of attention to?maintaining contact with Floyd and getting warm food and hot drink to him” (Murray and Brucker 94). This state of affairs continued through Wednesday. Murray and Brucker tell us Homer entered Sand Cave “angered and frustrated by the confusion and inaction on the surface” (Murray and Brucker 119). This state of disorganization lasted until Thursday, when the state took over, and seriously hampered any real progress in rescuing Floyd.
The locals’ attempts were not only unsystematic and disordered, but also completely ignorant. A major contributing factor to Floyd’s tragic death was starvation (Murray and Brucker 213). This could have been avoided if only the locals had thought to run a feeding tube down the passageway and put it close to Floyd’s mouth before the second cave-in, ensuring that he would continue to be fed (Murray and Brucker 120). The locals also failed to put a portable phone near Collins (Murray and Brucker 120). As Murray and Brucker say, “With light, heat, communication, and food, Floyd’s chance for survival and ultimate rescue would have remained good” (120).
The natives also showed their ignorance by continually entering Sand Cave, often with no clear purpose, until General Denhardt forbade unauthorized entry on Thursday (Murray and Brucker 132). Murray and Brucker report that as early as Tuesday morning Gerald “was more convinced than ever that final success depended on keeping excess traffic out of the cave. Nobody must be permitted to enter” (92). This clearly shows that the multitude of people entering Sand Cave was a problem right from the beginning. Later, the “excess traffic” caused a second cave-in, forcing rescuers to dig a shaft (Murray and Brucker). However, its construction took too long-Dr. Hazlett estimated that Floyd had died no more than three days before rescuers were able to reach him (Murray and Brucker 213). This total ignorance about rescue procedures unquestionably worked to prevent Floyd’s rescue.
It is clear that although the natives were certainly motivated by the best of intentions in attempting to save Floyd Collins, they inadvertently prevented his rescue in several ways. It was the outsiders such as Woodson and the two Kratches, Thomas Carmichael, General Denhardt, Professor Funkhouser, and many others who had the professional skill, rationality, and organization needed to save Floyd Collins. Rather than cooperating with these experts, however, the natives’ pride caused them to consistently defy and antagonize the outsiders, undoubtedly preventing his rescue. As a result, for seven long days Floyd was left to the fervent, but unqualified and amateurish, efforts of the locals. These people were shockingly inept. Under Gerald’s informal command, the operation lacked any organization or coherence. In addition, it is evident that the natives had no idea what they were doing. They not only failed to rig up a feeding tube and portable telephone for Floyd, but also continually entered Sand Cave, causing the second cave-in. I’m sure that almost everyone can understand the natives’ motivations; still, it is important to admit and learn from their mistakes so as not to repeat them in the future. No matter how much you want to help a loved one, it is essential that you leave their care to qualified professionals. As the natives of Cave City learned the hard way, by trying to help you may unwittingly cause harm.