Road Trip

Last stop in the Black Hills – Deadwood and Lead (pronounced LEED)

Our last day in the Black Hills had us stopping in Deadwood and Lead. Both towns are famous for different things.

You may have heard of Deadwood from the HBO series, and most of the people in that series really existed.  But perhaps Deadwood is best known for Wild Bill Hickock and Jack McCall.  Deadwood is where Jack McCall killed Wild Bill by shooting him in the back while Wild Bill was playing poker.  The hand he was holding – black aces and black eights – became known as the “dead man’s hand”.

The saloon where he was killed was known as the Saloon # 10 and interestingly enough, there are two of them in Deadwood.  Nuttal & Mann’s was a saloon located in Deadwood, southern Dakota Territory. It was noted for being the death-place of James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. It was later renamed the “No. 10 Saloon”. The current No. 10 Saloon is not at the same location as the original Nuttal & Mann’s.

The original building at the site burned down in 1879. The I.H. Chase Building, which housed a clothing store, was built on the site in 1898. When Chase moved out, Frank X. Smith opened a beer hall. The building later housed the Eagle Inn, the sign of which still hangs on the upper portion of the building. The building (at 624 Lower Main St.) formerly housed the “Wild West Casino.” It then was a vacant building until a couple bought it in March 2013 and reopened it in July 2013 as “Wild Bill’s Trading Post” where antiques and souvenirs are sold. The owners are remodeling the basement into a recreated scene of the shooting of James Butler Hickok by Jack McCall. The building displays a sign that says it was the actual location at which Hickok was shot.[2]

A saloon of the same name later opened in a different location on Main Street, along with many of the original site’s decorations (including the chair in which Hickok was supposedly sitting when he was shot, although this has never been verified), and renamed the Saloon #10. The two are not related in any way but name.

The story goes that on the evening of August 1, 1876, Hickok was playing poker with a group of men. One of the men, Jack McCall, was an infrequent poker player and had been playing poorly. After McCall had lost his final hand, Hickok returned some of his losings and suggested he get something to eat with the money. It has been reported that McCall may have taken this gesture to be condescending.

The following afternoon, Hickok entered Nuttall & Mann’s Saloon and, while drinking at the bar, was invited to join the poker game. Hickock always preferred to sit with his back against the wall to avoid being vulnerable to attack from an adversary. However, the only seat available at the table had its back to the door of the saloon. Hickok asked one of the players, Charlie Rich, to switch seats but was refused. He reluctantly took the vacant seat. Subsequently, McCall entered the saloon, calmly walked up behind Hickok and shouted “Damn you! Take that!” as he shot him in the back of the head with a .45 caliber revolver.[1] The bullet exited through Hickok’s cheek and hit Capt. Massie, another poker player, in the wrist. McCall fled, while a few people attempted to revive Hickok. The attempts were futile, as he likely died instantly from the bullet wound to the head. The poker hand Hickok was holding when he was shot was reportedly a pair of eights and a pair of aces–all black–which has become known as the “dead man’s hand” of today.

Jack McCall was apprehended as he attempted to flee town, and the next day was given an impromptu trial in which he was acquitted of the murder, claiming he was avenging his brother’s death. However, less than a month later, McCall was re-charged with the murder after bragging about what he had done while in the Wyoming Territory. He was brought back to the capital of the territory, Yankton, for arraignment. At his re-trial, McCall was found guilty of the murder of Hickok and was executed by hanging on March 1, 1877. He was buried with the noose still around his neck. (Source: Wikipedia)

Deadwood also had a lot of casinos and photo opportunities.  Thom and I had to stop and take a quick photo of each of us.  Certain to be a photo cherished by our family members.

After Deadwood, we stopped in Lead, (pronounced Leed), SD home of the “Homestake Gold Mine”.  The Homestake mine was a deep underground gold mine located in Lead, South Dakota. Until it closed in 2002 it was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America. The mine produced more than 40 million troy ounces (approximately 1.25 million kilograms) of gold during its lifetime.

The Homestake deposit was discovered by Fred and Moses Manuel, Alex Engh and Hank Harney in April 1876, during the Black Hills Gold Rush. A trio of mining entrepreneurs, George Hearst, Lloyd Tevis, and James Ben Ali Haggin, bought it from them for $70,000 the following year. George Hearst arrived at the mine in October 1877, and took active control of the property. Hearst had to haul in all the mining equipment by wagons from the nearest railhead in Sidney, Nebraska. Arthur De Wint Foote worked as an engineer. Despite the remote location, an 80-stamp mill began crushing Homestake ore in July 1878.

The partners sold shares in the Homestake Mining Company, and listed it on the New York Stock Exchange in 1879. The Homestake would become one of the longest-listed stocks in the history of the NYSE (Con Edison’s original name was New York Gas Light and was listed in 1824).

Homestake Gold Mine in 1900
Homestake Gold Mine Today

Hearst consolidated and enlarged the Homestake property by fair and foul means. He bought out some adjacent claims and secured others in the courts. A Hearst employee killed a man who refused to sell his claim but was acquitted in court after all the witnesses disappeared. Hearst purchased newspapers in Deadwood to influence public opinion, and an opposing newspaper editor was beaten up on a Deadwood street. Hearst himself realized that he might be on the receiving end of violence, and wrote a letter to his partners asking them to provide for his family should he be murdered. In the end, however, Hearst was the one who walked out alive, and very rich.

By the time Hearst left the Black Hills in March 1879, he had added the claims of Giant, Golden Star, Netty, May Booth, Golden Star No. 2, Crown Point, Sunrise, and General Ellison to the original two claims of the Manuel Brothers, Golden Terra and Old Abe, totaling 30 acres. The ten-stamp mill had become 200, and 500 employees worked in the mine, mills, offices, and shops. He owned the Boulder Ditch and water rights to Whitewood Creek, monopolizing the region. His railroad, Black Hills & Fort Pierre Railroad, gave him access to eastern Dakota territory. By 1900, the Homestake owned 300 claims, on 2000 acres, and was worked by more than 2000 employees.

In 1901, the mine started using compressed air locomotives, replacing the mules and horses by the 1920s. Charles Washington Merrillintroduced cyanidation to augment mercury-amalgamation for gold recovery. “Cyanide Charlie” finally achieved 94 per cent recovery. The gold was shipped to the Denver Mint.

By 1906, the Ellison Shaft reached 1,550 feet, the B&M 1,250 feet, the Golden Star 1,100 feet, and the Golden Prospect 900 feet, producing 1,500,000 tons of ore. A disastrous fire struck on 25 March 1907, which took forty days to extinguish after the mine was flooded. Another disastrous fire struck in 1919.

In 1927, company geologist Donald H. McLaughlin used a winze from the 2,000 level to demonstrate ore reached the 3,500 foot level. The Ross shaft was started in 1934, a second winze from the 3,500 foot level reached 4,100 feet, and a third winze from 4,100 feet was started in 1937. The Yates shaft was started in 1938. Production ceased from 1943 until 1945, due to Limitation Order L-208 from the War Production Board. By 1975, mining operations has reached the 6,800 foot level, and two winzes were planned to 8,000 feet.

The gold ore mined at Homestake was considered low grade (less than one ounce per ton), but the body of ore was very large. Through 2001, the mine produced 39.8 million ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver. In terms of total production, the Lead mining district, of which the Homestake mine is the only producer, was the second-largest gold producer in the United States, after the Carlin district in Nevada.

The Homestake mine ceased production at the end of 2001. Reasons included low gold prices, poor ore quality, and high costs. The Barrick Gold Corporation (which had merged with the Homestake Mining Company in mid-2001) agreed in early 2002 to keep dewatering the mine as DUSEL negotiations proceeded, but as progress was slow and maintaining the pumps and ventilation was costing $250,000 per month, switched them off on June 10, 2003 and closed the mine completely.

In June 2009, researchers at Berkeley announced that Homestake would be reopened for scientific research on neutrinos and dark matter particles using DUSEL and Large Underground Xenon experiment. (Source: Wikipedia)

All in all, our trip to the Black Hills was wonderful and we’ll definitely be back again.  If you’re going to the Black Hills keep going from the East and go see both Devils Tower (in Wyoming) where “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was filmed and which they show outside every night at the KOA.  Or from the west, stop by and see it on your way to the Black Hills.


The same goes for the “Battle of Little Big Horn” also known as “Custer’s Last Stand”.  The history behind this site is phenomenal and the Rangers give a very comprehensive talk that is well worth the time.