The National Speleological Society (NSS) was formed in 1941. Bruno
Petsch, the resident guide at Morrison Cave (Montana’s Lewis & Clark
Caverns) joined the NSS in August 1941. An article about Morrison Cave
titled “The Gem of Caves” by Dale White appeared in 1943 in the Bulletin
of the National Speleological Society.
An early group at Montana State University in Bozeman, led by Willie
Nelson (not the country and western singer), was encouraged by Petsch
(member #145 of the National Speleological Society) to join the NSS. Two
did so – Herman Seidemann, who became NSS member #175, and
Nelson, who became NSS member #177.
With the development of organized caving, efforts were made to inventory
cave resources. The Western Speleological Society was formed by
William Halliday and Ray deSaussure in 1955. Seeking information on
Montana caves, Halliday corresponded with pioneering Montana cavers
Bisal Hritsco, Howard McDonald, Newell Campbell, Jim Chester and
The first Montana-specific groups were formed in 1958: the Treasure
State Speleological Society (TSSS) and the Montana Speleological
Survey (MSS). These two groups occasionally published a newsletter
The two groups worked together, and by 1960, names and locations of
104 Montana caves had been recorded by the NSS. In 1961 Glory Hole, in
the Big Horn Mountains south of Billings, was descended, and mapping
started in what is now known as Bighorn Caverns. In 1965 activity of the
TSSS and MSS was ebbing, and a new group was formed, the Shining
Mountains Grotto (SMG), affiliated with the NSS. The Shining Mountains
Grotto published a newsletter called the Speleothem, edited by Jim
In 1970 Newell Campbell was commissioned by the Montana Bureau of
Mines for a geological study of Montana caves. Campbell’s brother,
Rodger, and Jim Chester assisted him in the fieldwork.
The Shining Mountains Grotto faded in the mid-1980’s and ceased
The Lake Missoula Grotto (LMG) was founded in 1990, with 20 members
from around the state, including several from the old Shining Mountains
Grotto. The grotto published the LMG News from the time of its founding
up to 1995. Like the previous groups, as key members lost interest or
moved away, the club faded away.
In 2000 the old Lake Missoula Grotto was superseded by the Northern Rocky Mountain
Grotto (NRMG), which remains very active. A couple of other groups in the state are
affiliated with the NRMG, including the Big Fork High School Cave Club, and the
University of Montana Cave Club.