MEET THE TSS: Its Mission and History

The Texas Speleological Survey (TSS, founded 1960) is the archive for all things cave-, caving-, and karst-related in the State of Texas: the keeper of what we know about Texas' underground resources, from information on caves, groundwater, or cave-adapted species to maps, photographs, publications of all sorts.

The TSS has its own dedicated library/office; it has a lively publication program and collects and curates data of all types and media relation to caves, cavers, karst, cave management, and cave science (including biospeleology, paleontology, geology, geomorphology, hydrology, mapping, and underground photography) in Texas. it shares its library and data with entities and individuals as part of its commitment to maintaining and disseminating information about the natural resources of Texas. It maintains an extensive in-house database of over 15,000 karst and cave sites across the state, along with maps, photographs, and other associated documentation (and it makes archiving software available for free download. It actively solicits new information from the public, and donations of materials relating to caves and caving from cavers, consultants , and federal, state, and municipal agencies, including estate donations,, (especially maps, original survey books, and visual materials).

The TSS is part of a national network: affiliated with the National Speleological Society (as an official project of the NSS, the national organization for all things related to caves, karst, cavers, caving, and conservation), the Texas Speleological Association (the state's organization for cave aficionados, fans, owners, scientists, explorers, and cavers of all ages), and the Texas Natural Science Center (formerly the Texas Memorial Museum, which holds the collections of Texas species information, its fossil records, and its biota).

A Short History of the TSS

The TSS has had many histories, including a long history of publications and an impressive list of directors. That variety merely serves to document how varied its activities have been since its earliest beginnings.

The TSS had its origins in the private cave files started in the 1950s by various Texas caving groups and individuals. In about 1950, Bob Hudson, a dedicated documenter of Texas caves, started the University of Texas Grotto cave files which were kept on large index cards and paper files. By the mid-1950s, Ken Baker, Bill Helmer, Dave Kyser, and others were contributing to the UTG files in an early commitment to maintaining the history of speleology and caves in the State of Texas.

Collecting information soon turned to publication and dissemination of information. Don Widener of the Dallas Speleological Society started the "Texas Cave Survey," publishing twelve reports on 14 counties in 1957-1959. As his source material, Widener drew on NSS Bulletin Ten: The Caves of Texas, published in 1948, and from the cave files of the UT Grotto, Abilene Grotto, Dallas Speleological Society, Corpus Christi Caving Club, St. Mary's University Grotto (San Antonio), Ozona Speleological Society, and other unaffiliated individuals. In 1960, after the demise of the Texas Cave Survey, William H. Russell started the Texas Cave Index to continue the effort to collect information on Texas caves and add to the existing database.

Texas Speleological Survey Logo by Jerry Fant

The Texas Speleological Survey grew out of these efforts. It was founded in 1960 by James R. Reddell, William H. Russell, Ruben (Bud) M. Frank, and A. Richard Smith to pick up where the Texas Cave Survey ended and to expand its goals to support speleology (the study of caves) in Texas, to collect information on Texas caves, and to preserve and publish that information for cave explorers and interested scientists. The TSS's goals have expanded over the years to support cave exploration, science, conservation, education, and management, as well.

After the TSS was founded in 1960, for instance, Reddell and Russell published a 13-page checklist of 659 caves -- our first landmark publication in what become an impressive list of book publications.

The TSS was reorganized into its present form in late 1994. A Board of Directors was appointed, and articles and bylaws were adopted. In 1995, TSS was chartered as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation in Texas, and in the spring of 1996, was granted tax-exempt status.

Aside from ongoing collaborations with state agencies and municipal entities from across the state, the TSS has been affiliated with the Texas Natural Science Center (formerly the Texas Memorial Museum, TMM) at The University of Texas at Austin for many years, through cave biologist James R. Reddell (Assistant Invertebrate Curator, now emeritus and consulting), who made the collection and curation of cave species his special focus, aside from bringing a number of cave-related volumes into the TMM Museum Studies series. The Another TSS director, William R. Elliott, was a Research Fellow there; he was instrumental in securing the TSS's first permanent office space.

Orion Knox in the entrance room of Electro-Mag Cave, Sun City, Williamson County, Texas - photo George Veni - click for a larger image in a new window
Orion Knox in the entrance room of Electro-Mag Cave, Sun City, Williamson County, Texas.
- photo George Veni

In 1995, the TSS files, which had previously been stored in private offices and homes, were moved into the third floor of Building 18A on the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin, into a warehouse and collection building administered by the Texas Memorial Museum (then, since 2014, by the Department of Integrative Biology) that had previously housed storage and workspace for campus entities like the Marine Science Program. The first office manager was William R. Elliott, who became the cave biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation in January, 1998. He was followed in this role by Jim Kennedy, and now by various facilities managers. The office gave TSS expanded storage capacity for our extensive paper files of cave descriptions, professional and popular literature on caves and cave science, topographic maps, cave maps (in flat files), and photo collections, alongside a more conventional library and equipment to access and update our digital archives.

The institutional side of the TSS has continued to evolve, as it became the major stakeholder in the Texas Speleology Center -- the new home and permanent archive for Texas speleology (on a property that had been built and owned by Bill Mixon, familiar as the most important editor of cave publications for almost a half-century). Read the whole story here.

This web site offers an overview of the TSS, its holdings, its projects, and what the Texas caves and karst resources mean to the state. It provides links to short descriptions and pictures of very famous Texas caves, an introduction of the state’s karst geology, links to local caving organizations, and to additional resources that can help you find out more about caves and karst. Please explore the links from the menu above, and become a Texas caver or cave maven in your hearts and minds, even if you can't get underground.

Prior Directors

For the complete list of present and prior directors and data managers, download the current directory: DOCX.