Mayhew Cabin

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Mayhew Cabin
Mayhew Cabin from S 1.JPG
Front (south) of Mayhew Cabin.
Mayhew Cabin is located in Nebraska
Mayhew Cabin
Location 2012 4th Corso, Nebraska City, Nebraska
Coordinates 40°40′24″N 95°52′12.1″W / 40.67333°N 95.870028°W / 40.67333; -95.870028Coordinates: 40°40′24″N 95°52′12.1″W / 40.67333°N 95.870028°W / 40.67333; -95.870028
Area less than 1 acre (0.40 ha)[2]
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 11000013[1]
Added to NRHP February 11, 2011[1]

Built in 1855, the Mayhew Cabin and Historic Village in Nebraska City, Nebraska is the only Underground Railroad site in Nebraska officially recognized by the National Park Service.[3] It is included among the sites of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.


The Mayhew Cabin, also known as John Brown's Cave, in Nebraska City, Nebraska was built in 1855.[2] In 1854 Allen and Barbara (Kagi) Mayhew moved to Nebraska and built the cabin in 1855. Barbara’s younger brother John Henry Kagi came to stay with the Mayhew's in 1855 and taught Phonography. Kagi, having already earned a law degree, had strong anti-slavery views. By 1856, he had moved to Kansas Territory and became an ally of the famous abolitionist, John Brown.

John Kagi would become John Brown's most trusted advisor and his "Secretary of War." John Brown knew that slavery would not end without bloodshed. Brown had for years been formulating a plan that he was convinced would end slavery forever - a raid on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. This effort was supposed to arms slaves who would in turn hold an armed uprising against their masters. Once free, they would form a community where they could live peacefully. But, before he move forward with that plan, Brown, Kagi, and the rest of John Brown's followers were dealing with anti-slavery efforts in "Bleeding Kansas." By December of 1858, they were at Bain's Fort, having freed an anti-slavery friend from captivity. A slave from Missouri approached one of Brown's men who was on patrol and begged for help in freeing himself and his family. Brown was excited for just such a chance. On December 20, 1858, John Brown, John Kagi, Colonel Whipple (Aaron Dwight Stevens), and the rest of Brown's men rode into Missouri and took 11 slaves from their masters including the man who had asked for help, his wife and children, and 7 others. One slave owner was killed in the process. The 11 were taken into Kansas and hidden for several weeks, during which time one of the women gave birth to a son, making the group an even 12. The 12 were then taken up through Nebraska in February of 1859 which included a stay at the Mayhew Cabin in Nebraska City before being taken across the river into Iowa and eventually all the way to Windsor, Canada to freedom.

In October of 1859, John Brown and his men raided the arsenal at Harper's Ferry. The raid did not go as Brown had always planned. Several of Brown's followers were killed or captured. At age 24, John Henri Kagi was shot to death on October 17, 1858 during the raid while attempting to cross the Shenandoah River. John Brown was captured and he was hung on December 2, 1859. Many historians claim that John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was the spark that set off the Civil War.

According to the National Park Service:

The Mayhew Cabin was built in 1855 from hand hewn cottonwood trees and served as the home of the Mayhew family until 1864, when the cabin and surrounding property were first sold. The property continued to change hands through the end of the 19th century until 1937, when owner Edward Bartling had the cabin moved to prevent its destruction by a highway project. During the move, the cabin underwent restoration, exposing its original 1850s exterior materials. The authentic “old fashioned” look facilitated Bartling’s desire to open the cabin to the public and develop his property as a tourist park. In addition to restoring the cabin, Bartling had a cave built underneath the cabin to help interpret the Mayhew family’s rumored association with the Underground Railroad. The cave consists of a cellar and connecting tunnels, sleeping quarters, and a tunnel exiting to a nearby ravine. The cabin remained open to the public from 1938 to 2002 as the “John Brown’s Cave” tourist attraction.[4]

Metal sign on stone pier, reading "Historic Site - John Brown's Cave - 1851"
"John Brown's Cave" sign near cabin.

The cabin was moved in 1937 from its original location. From 1938 to 2002 it was open as John Brown's Cave tourist attraction. A hollowed-out area beneath the new location was created and represented as a place where escaping slaves were hidden.[2]

The building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on February 11, 2010.[1] The listing was announced as the featured listing in the National Park Service's weekly list of February 18, 2011.[5]


In 2005 the Mayhew Cabin was restored and the site began operating as a non-profit foundation. The foundation acquired a new museum space in 2010 just to the west of the Mayhew Cabin. The foundation also maintains on the site an historic Mt. Zion AME Church, one of the first black congregations established west of the Missouri River.[6]

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