The OES visited Tinker’s Cave on April 27, 2002. We arrived to Tinker’s Cave after hiking down a very steep hill. The cave was actually a large rock shelter that was carved by an ancient creek beneath the overhanging rocks. Since its formation thousands of years ago, many animals and humans have taken shelter under its rock roof. It was said that the cave was large enough to house two dozen horses, which is exactly what Shep (or Seth) Tinker did! Living in the area prior to the Civil War, the cave’s namesake decided to use the cave as a large stable for horses. The only thing wrong with this is that the horses were not his.
In the 1850s, Tinker began “borrowing” unattended horses and took them to the cave. Shep kept the horses hidden, letting them graze in a nearby field, until he herded them to horse auctions in Sandusky, 175 miles away. When returning from the Sandusky auctions, Tinker “borrowed” horses from northern Ohio to sell to farmers in the southern counties, mostly in the Athens and Hocking regions. When the Civil War began, Tinker’s legacy varies. Some say that Shep Tinker was a good Union soldier during the war and didn’t even entertain the thought of stealing horses. Others say Tinker continued his questionable business and profited from the war by rounding up horses and selling them to both Union and Confederate troops. General John Morgan, whose southern Rebels raided Ohio, was said to have outfitted his men with horses provided by Tinker.
Once the Civil War came to an end, Tinker continued his Sandusky route, stealing horses and selling horses for a few more years. Shep once fooled Dr. James Dew, the great-grandfather of a former Nelsonville mayor, by placing a white cloth over the nose of a horse he had just stolen from the doctor. Doctor Dew gave chase and when he approached Tinker, asked if Tinker had seen an all black horse with a rider go by. Tinker stated that he had and pointed the doctor in a random direction then himself went the opposite way with the doctor’s horse. Shep Tinker disappeared soon after this. Some say that an angry horse owner caught him in the act of stealing horses and killed him. Others say that Tinker was found to have helped Morgan’s Raiders during the Civil War and was hanged from a tree near the cave, convicted of treason. Whatever the case, legend says if you go to Tinker’s Cave at night, you can hear the sound of horses in the cave and may even see the ghost of Shep Tinker himself.
Thanks goes to Shannon and Rodney for taking us to Tinker’s Cave.
Location Information: Public Park
Tinker’s Cave is located in the Wayne National Forest off of Coal Road near New Straitsville; Hocking County.