The Black Hills of South Dakota provided the setting for the last great gold rush in America. They are the tallest mountains between the Rockies and the Alps, and far older than either.
Located on the border between South Dakota and Wyoming, the Black Hills are a geologic formation approximately 120 miles from north to south and 60 miles east to west. The westward migrations of European-Americans by-passed the area, following the Platte River to the south. The Native Americans of the region – the seven sub-tribes of the Teton Sioux – considered their Paha Sapa to be sacred. Therefore the region was entirely uninhabited until gold was discovered in the summer of 1874 by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Within months the lovely solitude of the Hills was shattered by the hordes of gold-seekers anxious to escape the recent “panic” of 1873, or just to see what was there. Famous characters like Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, and Poker Alice joined the throng headin’ for the hills, and some of them ended up buried on Boot Hill – Deadwood’s famous Mount Moriah.
Of course, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) had promised the Great Sioux Reservation to the Indians for “as long as the grass shall grow and the water flow” – which in this case was about nine years. The promise of vast riches was too much for the non-Indians from the states to resist and the treaty was abrogated by Congress in 1877. As it turns out, Congress had no authority to do so, and the ownership of the Black Hills was contested in the U.S. Courts for sixty years in the twentieth century, eventually awarding the Sioux tribes a monetary sum in 1979 for their loss.
To this day, the money remains unclaimed. Tribal leaders are interested only in the return of their sacred Paha Sapa – and there the matter rests.
Badger Clark’s poem, “The Cat Pioneers” relates a charming tale of historic Deadwood, but it seems that the story he relates is only one of many versions. Discrepancies include the reason for the enterprise, the name of the freighter, the date, and even the origin of those cat pioneers. In light of these discrepancies, it seems likely that the great cat migration of Badger Clark’s poem occurred on several occasions and at the hands of more than one entrepreneur. But there is little doubt that somebody brought cats to Deadwood during the gold rush years, made a profit, and changed the history of the town. Read more
Historical plays have been a staple of dramatic literature for centuries. Unlike Shakespeare and the ancient classics, “The Legend of Devil’s Gulch” borrows a page from historical novels, using fictitious characters in situations and events which actually happened and are well-documented. The script chronicles a portion of Black Hills history, but the play in performance added a new chapter to the story. In its unprecedented 30 year run, “The Legend of Devil’s Gulch” made history of its own. Read more
The treaty of 1868 was a direct result of Red Cloud’s War, which wreaked havoc on the forts along the Bozeman Trail, and which the United States government finally conceded – the only extended conflict ever won by the Indians.
The treaty called for closing the Bozeman Trail and the withdrawal of all troops (which actually occurred) and recognized the rights of the Sioux to hunt in the Powder River area of Wyoming. Had the various clauses been honored by the U.S. government, the Sioux would today own the entire western half of what is now South Dakota (plus the adjacent lands in the future states of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska) and benefit from its vast store of resources. But, as was so often the case when the white and red cultures clashed, the rights and wishes of the Indians were set aside in favor of the doctrines of manifest destiny. Read more
Badger Clark was South Dakota’s first poet laureate, an honorary position he held for some twenty years. But aside from his honest Western poetry, he is probably best remembered as a lecturer. He spoke at every imaginable occasion from Kiwanis Club luncheons to campfire talks to high schools graduations, mostly in his home state of South Dakota. It was on the lecture circuit that he gained lasting recognition, and the name of Badger Clark is today revered by countless South Dakotans (and former South Dakotans) who will never forget the cowboy poet or his message.
I am not one of these. I never heard him speak formally or otherwise, and I can only guess as the the impact he actually had on his time and place. My memories are on a strictly personal plan and my grasp of his position in society, if indeed he had one, is that of the child he left behind. Read more
Travel industry veteran Shebby Lee’s monthly travel blog covers a wide range of topics relating to travel, events, destinations and the history of the Great American West.