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Desert Folks: Jack Mitchell - Mitchell Caverns

The Saddest Story

The saddest story, the one Jack never got to reshape and tell, is the one about how he came to meet his maker. Over the years Jack and Ida had many visitors that would stay with them; some good like the botanists Mary Beal and Dr. Willis Linn Jepson, photographer Glenn Edgerton and many more. Some didn't work out so well, like the boy who stole Jack's truck and drove it to Texas, and the most dubious of all, Ted Kleinmeyer.

Mitchell Caves postcard

The story, as I heard it, goes that Ted was dating a girl who was staying at the caverns and helping Ida out. Ted seemed to be an awful sort of drunk, and had not had a proper demeanor in Jack's eyes. The girl, respecting Jack as a father figure, confided in him that Ted had proposed. Jack plainly stated he thought he was a lout, and she could do far better. Accordingly, she turned down Ted's offer stating what Jack had said as the reason.

Ted was not one to be so easily dismissed. On October 28, 1954 Kleinmeyer, dressed in his Sunday best and smelling of spirits, came to appeal the young ladies' decision. Maybe having too much to drink, Ted ran his car over a rock wall on his way up to the caverns. Ted, being dressed up, asked Jack if he would bend the fender away from the tire. Jack jacked up the car and crawled under it. He started to pry at the bent metal when the car fell off the jack and started rolling down the hill. Jack was pinned underneath and was dragged down the hill to his death. This was a gruesome end to a fine gentleman. He died in Ida's arms. He was 70 years old at the time. Ida felt that Ted may have helped to nudge the car off the jack. No one will ever know for sure.

That's a terrible ending-- My only consolation is that I believe Jack would have seen some possibilities in the retelling and made it seem not so bad. I'll leave you with one more story about Jack.

Jack and Ida had a water tank they kept full for the indoor plumbing. It was open on top, so to help keep it clean, Jack had put a catfish in there he called 'The General.' The idea was the creature would eat any bugs that found their way into the tank. To supplement the General's diet, every day Jack would climb up the ladder and feed him a worm. The General would take the worm right out from between Jack's fingertips hungrily swallowing it down. One day Jack was busy working and in a hurry. The catfish seemed more hungry than usual, so he emptied all the worms from the can into the tank. Then Jack went back to work. The next day Ida was in the house with a few friends. Jack was outside staying out of the way when he heard screaming coming from the house. He rushed in to see that one of the lady-friends had collapsed on the floor from fainting. Next to her lay a broken glass, spilled water, and three worms. Apparently The General had not been as starved as Jack thought. The worms the fish didn't eat made it though the plumbing to the kitchen through the faucet and into the glass of water. That evening the General made it to the dinner table. He was much easier to prepare and far tastier than the badger.

Before Jack's fatal accident turning the caverns over to the State had already been in the works. Within a few months the deal was finalized and they became State property. Five years later the caverns reopened as a State Park. Ida lived another 12 years before passing away in 1966.

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Jack Mitchell of Mitchell Caverns

Living at the Caverns

Nothing but Jackrabbits

The Saddest Story

View from the Caverns

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