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PHOTO BY RACHEL RICE  Residents tour the Little Barton Creek area April 14 that contains the caves for which Bee Cave is named.

Residents tour the Little Barton Creek area April 14 that contains the caves for which Bee Cave is named.

Bee Cave residents are getting the opportunity to see an integral piece of the city’s history – the bee caves.

Along Little Barton Creek, where the cliffs of limestone and shale rise 15 feet over the water, divots of varying sizes dot the higher reaches of the cliff wall. Heather and Gary Cadenhead of Bee Cave realized what these divots on their property in Meadowfox Estates were when they saw them in an old photo several months ago in the now-closed Springhill Restaurant.

“I saw it and said, ‘Those are our caves,’ ” said Heather Cadenhead, president of the city’s Economic Development Board. “It’s kind of weird that when they were marketing the property, no one made mention of it, you know?”

Cadenhead has now opened up the viewing of the caves to a couple of tour groups. The caves are just one part of a rich history of the area at a time when settlers depended on the land to survive by farming small crops of cotton, corn and beans. In the 1800s, the shallow caves by the creek were buzzing with activity.

“This whole area was known for this series of caves, and up and down Little Barton Creek, the Mexican honey bees had established hives in them,” Cadenhead said. “Settlers in the area would harvest the honey from the hives.”

Elaine Perkins, local historian and author of “A Hill Country Paradise? Travis County and its Early Settlers,” said that at one time, residents would smoke out the bees long enough for the honey to be harvested, and then the bees would return and start making honey anew. In addition to being good to eat, honey was used in home remedies to cure upset stomachs, Perkins said.

No one is certain when or why the bees abandoned the caves, but Perkins thinks it has to do with the changing of the times.

“There was a lot of farming up here, and the bees had a lot of stuff to eat,” Perkins explained, “and once people didn’t farm the fields anymore, the bees all moved on.”

More mysterious are the origins of the caves themselves. Cadenhead said she has heard a few credible theories.

“The cliff was made by water, and as it leeches down, some layers are softer, and so the water leaked through and created those caves,” she said. “There is some sentiment that the caves were helped along by humans to store food, to get food high up and away from wild animals.”

This may have been done by Native Americans, who were quite active in the area when the first settlers arrived, she addedCadenhead on April 14 led more than 175 people on a trek down the creek to look at the caves and take photos. She said the environment was too fragile to conduct tours often, but she might consider making them an annual event.

Resident Rajesh Vargheese said he brought his family down to the caves so they could learn more about their city’s history.

“I’ve lived here 10 years, and I never knew about the bee caves,” Vargheese said. “We definitely want to know more.”

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