About the Book

It’s said that the cool, damp air of Mammoth Cave can heal consumption. That’s exactly what twelve-year-old Elias is dreadful sick with, so he’s betting his life that it can, since he’s been sent from his home in Virginia to live in the heart of the biggest cave in America. At first it sounds like an adventure, but no sir: Bed rest and herbal medicines, that’s what Doc Croghan calls for. And the truth of it is, all that laying around can get mighty boring mighty quickly. So on days he’s feeling less peaked, Elias starts tagging along with Stephen, Doc Croghan’s slave. It seems that Stephen does a whole lot more than just give cave tours and deliver soup, and Elias is determined to find out exactly what he is up to. In those winding tunnels, Elias discovers a secret so huge, he must decide whether or not he’s willing to risk his life to protect it.

Behind the Book


There is never one idea behind a book.  A story comes together from the gradual mashing together of various pieces.   A few years ago, my extended family gathered for a reunion at Mammoth Cave National Park.  I visited the caves many times as a kid and later in college.  But on this particular trip, I came across a piece of history that was too great to ignore.  In 1842, Dr. John Croghan bought Mammoth Cave and installed a tuberculosis hospital inside the cave.
I read more about Dr. Croghan’s experiment, and then became fascinated with the remarkable people who explored, mapped, and guided visitors around Mammoth Cave.  I read and researched more, beginning to get excited about the possibilities of what could have happened.  Finally, on another tour of the cave, a ranger pointed out etchings on the wall that served as early advertising in the cave, hawking of all things, miracle water.  These pieces ended up simmering together to produce the foundation for River Runs Deep.



“Jennifer Bradbury does an excellent job of creating a captivating fictional plot and developing personalities for historic figures we know little about, while managing to stay fairly true to the real 1840s Mammoth Cave. River Runs Deep is a great read for fans of caves and historic fiction.”

–Colleen O’Connor Olson, ranger and historian at Mammoth Cave National Park

“A solid look at a fascinating historical side note.”

–Kirkus Reviews

“An adventure-laden celebration of nineteenth-century medical innovation and important African American contributions to the charting of the largest cave system in the world.”


“This work boasts richly developed African American characters and extraordinary settings. VERDICT: Recommended for libraries wanting to expand their historical fiction collection.”

School Library Journal

“Bradbury’s meticulous research, both concerning the layout of the cave and the real-life tuberculosis hospital that existed there, are deftly intertwined with a compelling story, creating a jewel of a knot for readers to unravel. Chapter titles and an author’s note round out the story.”

–School Library Connection