Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The day Babe Ruth came to Deadwood

Ruth  was 27 when he came to Deadwood.
By Larry Miller

1922.  It was a pretty fair year for the New York Yankees baseball team.  Despite the "Americans" having lost the World Series to their local rivals, the New York Nationals in four straight games, the New York Americans had handily won the American League pennant.  Even better, they would no longer be tenants in the Polo Grounds, since they were building a new stadium across town that would become known as "Yankee Stadium."

To many, it would become known as the "House that Ruth built."  George Herman Ruth was a slugger extraordinaire.  In that 1922 season, he slammed 35 home runs and amassed 99 Runs Batted In (RBIs), helping the Yankees win 61 percent of their regular season games.

With the major league season over, "The Babe" hit the road with teammate Bob Meusel for a western "barnstorming" tour, and Deadwood, South Dakota was part of their 8-game schedule!  Game day was set for October 19, 1922.

Many businesses across the region closed that day, allowing employees and families to head for Deadwood to see the the legendary slugger play ball.  Ruth and Meusel were "treated royally" while they were in the Hills.  A group of Deadwood businessmen met them in Sturgis and accompanied them to Deadwood by way of the Boulder Park Highway, and they were treated to a luncheon before being escorted to the ballpark.

The Deadwood baseball club had finished at the top of the six-team Black Hills League, which was composed of Lead, Spearfish, Sturgis, Rapid City, Aladdin, and Deadwood.  For this exhibition game, Deadwood would be up against an All-Star Team of top players from the other five teams in the league.  They were dubbed the Black Hills League All-Stars. 

Both Ruth and Meusel played first base that day — Ruth for Deadwood and Meusel for the All-Stars.

Deadwood won the game, 4-2, in what was a relatively lackluster game.  "The Babe" got two hits and struck out once.  Muesel collected just one hit at four bats.  But, alas, there were no home runs — likely a big disappointment to the fans who had packed the Amusement Park that afternoon.

Deadwood's Bill Ewing
The Weekly Pioneer-Times later wrote, "…those who saw yesterday's contest saw nothing that should cause thirty-five thousand New York fans to stand in line from daylight in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon to secure a ticket, permitting them to see these fellows perform."

Nonetheless, it was heady stuff for local baseball fans.  And Babe Ruth would go on to lead New York to eight pennants and four World Series Championships over a 14 year career with the Yankees. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.

Playing center field for the Deadwood team that October day back in 1922 was Bill Ewing.  As the game program noted, "Bill was a hard worker and during the season played in nearly every position on the team, pitching two games, winning both; caught three games, played the initial sack three games, and held down second base in three games…he hit in "clean-up" position and his hard hitting, especially early in the season, was often the deciding factor in winning games for the local club."

Ewing's grandson, Bruce Taylor from Oregon, was kind enough to share a copy of his grandfather's program booklet from that day.  Click on the link below and enjoy!

 The program for the Oct. 19, 1922 Baseball Game 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Remembering a Great American Cowboy

A map of cattle trails and a life-size statue of James A. “Tennessee” Vaughn astride a horse dominate the Founders Room at the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish. 
Cattlemen like Vaughn were significant in developing the open range and cattle operations in South Dakota and Wyoming.
Remembering a great American cowboy  "Tennessee" Vaughn
The High Plains Western Heritage Center will celebrate the Great Western Cattle Trail Event and the National Day of the American Cowboy on July 3 -5 with a Western art show, saddle displays and American cowboy displays. 
The Western Heritage Center is participating in the Great Western Cattle Trail Project, part of a nine-state effort by the Great Western Cattle Trail Association to identify the general route of that trail. The Great Western Cattle Trail ran from Texas to Dakota, Montana and Wyoming territories. Concrete markers on the High Plains Western Heritage Center’s grounds identify the trail’s route and an extensive floor display at the museum tells the trail’s story. Call the Western Heritage Center at (605) 642-9378 for more information about the Great Western Cattle Trail Event and the National Day of the American Cowboy.
In the years after the Civil War, from the 1870s to the early 1890s, Texas cattle outfits drove their herds north to summer pasture to finish them for eastern markets. According to historian and author Paul Higbee of Spearfish, the land in Texas was overgrazed and the High Plains area offered outstanding grass.
Economics were also a factor, he said. The cattle were used to satisfy federal contracts on the reservations.
As a trail boss, Vaughn was credited with bringing more longhorns up the trail than any other trail boss. One of Vaughn’s responsibilities would be to advance the herd to determine grass and water sources and report back to the drovers to set up night camp.  A trail boss was responsible for the safety of the cattle and had to be skilled in working with both cowboys and the owners of the cattle outfits.
The usual trail drive formation was made up of 11 positions of riders.  Some cowboys were in charge of the herd of horses from which cowboys selected their mounts. There was also a cook. 
It took an average of 90 days to travel from Texas to the forks of the Grand River in South Dakota’s Perkins County.
While most cattle herds on the trail numbered 2,500, Vaughn sometimes trailed twice as many.
Vaughn was born on July 22, 1851, in Lebanon, Tenn. He went to Texas in 1866, at age 15, and was hired as a cowboy by the Ellison Brothers outfit at Lockhart, Texas. 
Vaughn made the first of his nine trail drives in about 1873, driving cattle for the Driskill Cattle Company from Texas to Wyoming. He would be with the Driskill outfit for 18 years before working for A.J. “Tony” Day, general manager of the Turkey Track. Both the Driskill and the Turkey Track were large cattle outfits that had operations in western South Dakota. Vaughn later drove horses to Canada.
Vaughn married Ella Bacon Dorsett in Idaho on Christmas Day, 1887. The newlyweds moved to the Spearfish area, living with Ella’s adoptive parents, David and Amanda Dorsett. In 1904, the Vaughns moved into a house in Spearfish. They raised seven children.
His obituary stated that “Mr. Vaughn had the reputation of being able to take a herd of cattle over the long trail and have them arrive in better condition than any other trailboss on the range.”
An Old Timers’ Annual Picnic was started in 1925 as a way for cowboys to get together. Ed Lemmon wrote that Vaughn attended the Old Timers’ Picnic at Bixby, near the present-day town of Bison, in 1932 and called him an “outstanding figure.” Lemmon was an early-day cattleman after whom the town of Lemmon is named.
Vaughn was active in the Oddfellow Lodge, the Spearfish Social Club and the Congregational Church in Spearfish. He died at his home in Spearfish on Jan. 8, 1934. 
“The present generation can scarcely conceive the life that these heroes of the plains lived and loved,” wrote Vaughn’s son, Ernest, in a 1976 article that appeared in Black Hills area newspapers. “Though ever flirting with danger, they blazed the trail, they opened the way and led the men ever on toward better things.”
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Note:  This story was provided courtesy of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, which is the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society.  Photo courtesy of Larry Miller.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Story breaks about "untouched Black Hills cave"

Media from around the globe carried a story last weekend (6/7/15) about an "untouched" Black Hills cave that was discovered by the U.S. National Park Service in 2004 — but only now is being fully investigated by scientists.  Although the specific site hasn't been revealed, officials did divulge that it's in the vicinity of Wind Cave.  Here's a link to the full ABC News story about "Persistence Cave".

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A profile of Nemo, South Dakota

By Iva Beardshear
(Re-printed from the 1981 book "Some History of Lawrence County")

In the southeast corner of Lawrence County in a small valley surrounded by towering limestone-capped cliffs is the little village of Nemo which came into being in 1877.  The origin of the name is unknown.

Homestake sawmill at Nemo, South Dakota
In 1898 the Homestake Mining Company set up a timber camp in Nemo and began operations of harvesting the timber.  It was the first timber sold by the National Forests and was known as Case One.  The timber camp employees traveled two miles south to the mill at Estes to work until 1912.

In 1898 the Black Hills and Ft. Pierre narrow gauge railroad was extended to Nemo and in 1908 extended to Piedmont.

The 1900 U.S. Census of Nemo Township lists two hundred residents.  The main occupations given are farmer, day laborer, farm laborer, teamster and railroad laborer.  A Swede named Lewis Anderson is listed as working in a meat market, James McLeod was a sawmill engineer and Thomas Stevens was the sawmill foreman.  Among others listed are James Gore, Frank Stevens and Gabriel Fredrickson, all of whom were store clerks; John O’Brien, a mechanical engineer; and James Hoyt, a timber inspector.

Robert O. Robinson, who had been born in Canada in October of 1851, was manager of the timber department from 1891 until his retirement in 1921.  He, too, is listed on the 1900 census along with his wife, Irene, and two children, Hellen and James K.

Nemo continued to thrive and grow, and a new, larger and more modern mill was built in Nemo in 1912.  Housing was provided for employees during these years.  The town contained a hotel for the convenience of the employees, a good two-story elementary school, a branch store of the Hearst Mercantile Company, Woodman Hall, a resident doctor and several summer homes.

W. D. Beardshear succeeded Robinson as manager on January 1, 1921 and continued to add improvement and modern methods.  A booklet published in 1921 and entitled “A Souvenir of Nemo, South Dakota” stated, “The camp is well equipped with a water system and electric lights, and comfortable and commodious houses are supplied to the employees.  The saw-mill is one of the best in the Black Hills, and annually turns out many million feet of lumber and timber, which is shipped by rail to Lead for the use of the mine and its reduction plants.

The Hearst Mercantile Company has a branch store here which has been under the management of Gabe Fredricksen for about twenty-five years.  They carry a large stock of general merchandise, though employees are free to trade wherever they please.

The new Community Church now in process of erection will be built of logs and finished in keeping with the forest.  The Presbyterians keep a resident minister in Nemo, but all denominations receive a cordial reception.”  In 1921 Rev. Mrs. A.E. Deason was pastor of the Community Church.

Undated view of Nemo, South Dakota
The 20’s also saw a new and larger schoolhouse to accommodate the growing population and three-year high school.  The Woodman Hall received a large addition used for high school basketball and community gatherings.  For many years the people of Nemo held a community Thanksgiving similar to that which the Pilgrims had.  This gathering would number from 75 to 200 people.

The railroad was taken out in 1930, giving way to trucking transportation of the mine timbers and lumber.  In the late 30’s the available timber being cut to allow new growth was not large enough for harvesting; the Homestake built a large modern mill in Spearfish.  Of course that took the larger part of the population from Nemo.

Nemo, however, is still a lively place with a population of some thirty-five or forty families.  In 1946 the Frank Troxell family bought the properties and established a resort for hunting, fishing and horseback riding.  There is still a small store there and a good restaurant at the 4T Guest Ranch.  The church continues to have Sunday services and there is a great deal of social activity for the size of the place.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Old footage of downtown Spearfish

From the intersection of Main & Hudson, looking north..  The old American National Bank is in the distance at left; the Matthews Block is on the right.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

HBO's Deadwood series still lures visitors

Rich in flavor but short on facts, the HBO television series Deadwood keeps bringing new visitors to town.  One of the folks quite smitten with the series was Emilie Rusch, who wrote about Deadwood in this story for the Denver Post.  Read Searching for the ghosts of old Deadwood in the Black Hills.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Society gathering in Lead a "huge success"

It was one of the more enjoyable meetings in recent memory, and society president Norma Kraemer dubbed it a "huge success."  And much of that success had to do with the special historic venue for the Lawrence County Historical Society and its 2015 spring meeting.

Homestake Opera House in about 1914
It was a step back into time as we gathered at the Homestake Opera House at 313 West Main in downtown Lead.  Built in August of 1914, the Homestake Opera House and Recreational Building was reportedly the brainchild of Phoebe Apperson Hearst and long-time Homestake Mine Superintendent Thomas Grier.  Phoebe's husband, George Hearst, was the force behind the Homestake Mining Company — and it was Phoebe Hearst's financial support that allowed the facility to be completed.

In this historical setting, LCHS members enjoyed a scrumptious buffet luncheon that was catered by the folks from Cheyenne Crossing, and their boss — David Brueckner — was there to make sure everything was as it should be.  And it was.

LCHS Norma Kraemer reaffirmed the society's recently-acquired status as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.  This is a move that is expected to bolster LCHS activities and fundraising capabilities.  She also heralded the most recent LCHS publication, "Lawrence County, South Dakota, Timelines," spearheaded by board member Mary Gallup-Livingston.

Three directors of the society were re-elected to new three-year terms.  They were Norma Kraemer, Jacke Mitchell, and Mary Gallup-Livingston.  Additionally, Norma Kraemer and Kim Keehn were selected as President and Vice-President, respectively.  Donna Watson was again tapped to serve as Secretary and Jacke Mitchell as Treasurer.  Congratulations and thanks to these good folks for their willingness to serve!

LCHS members enjoy the Opera House lobby
As a special bonus, door prizes were presented to several lucky members. These were historic topographical quadrangle maps produced years ago by the U. S. Geological Survey.  A tip of the hat and thanks to Mary Gallup-Livingston, who's been spending much time with maps of late, chronicling the schools of early Lawrence County.

The next general membership meeting for the Lawrence County Historical Society will be held at the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center in Deadwood on Sunday, September 27th.  Mike Fosha from the South Dakota Archeological Center will be featured on the program.  You'll be learning more about that in the weeks to come.

Attending "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" was the highlight of the day for many attendees.  The Gold Camp players did a fine job tickling our funny bones and demonstrating some exceptional acting and singing abilities.  It was very well done, and — of course — the venue made it really special.

Sarah Carlson provided a first-rate tour!
For other society members, the tour of the Historic Homestake Opera House was most special.  Sarah Carlson, Executive Director of the Opera House provided us with a guided tour that was rich in revealing great artistry and craftsmanship — both in original construction of the building, as well as in restoration work that has been ongoing since the Historic Homestake Opera House Society was formed in 1998.

This old building really is a treasure.  Homestake started construction in 1912 to include a library, swimming pool, bowling alley, meeting rooms, and of course the Opera House.  The facility was completed in 1914 and it became the hub of social and cultural activity in Lead and the surrounding area for some 70 years.    It was in 1984, however, that fire destroyed much of the theater, and it lay dormant for 11 long years.

We've posted a few photos of our visit to the Homestake Opera House in our LCHS Photo Gallery.  But what you'll see is just the tip of the iceberg.  

In the pool!  Look in our LCHS Gallery
So much has been done, and Director Sarah Carlson underscored that the next big step will be restoration of the Opera House stage, which is a focal point for activities in the facility.  To illustrate its heightened level of use, Carlson noted that some 70 performing arts events are on the calendar, along with five weddings, and more than two dozen bus tours.  They're also anticipating tours for some 600 elementary school students.  The ongoing restoration has definitely spurred increased activity and interest in the historic building. 

The restoration has given the Opera House new life, and you can learn more about it and the Homestake Opera House Society by visiting their website at   

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

New book covers history of Black Hills forestry

When Wyoming historian John F. Freeman once drove from Rapid City westward into the Black Hills, he became a bit frustrated with what he saw.

"My first impression was.....this is the most crass, commercialized area I've ever seen.  I couldn't really see the Black Hills, because of the billboards."

To be sure, Freeman was among many people who agonized over the manifestations of blatant commercialism in our region.  But over time, his views took on a new perspective, which he reveals in his book, "Black Hills Forestry -- A History," just published by the University Press of Colorado.

We just learned of the book after hearing Freeman interviewed by Wyoming Public Radio reporter Melodie Edwards.  (We've had a long and supportive relationship with South Dakota Public Broadcasting, but we sometimes re-tune our radios to listen to Wyoming Public Radio -- a bonus for folks living on the northern slopes of the Black Hills, not far from WPR's transmitter near Sundance.)

Gifford Pinchot
Freeman shares his views on the unique development of the Black Hills -- not just as a tourism magnet, but also as a rather successful experiment in becoming the first national forest in the country where timber was sold commercially without selling the land.

In many ways, Black Hills National Forest has become something of a model for the management of all national forests.

And Freeman gives much historical credit to French forester Gifford Pinchot, who today is regarded as the "Father" of the U. S. Forest Service.  Pinchot had visited the Hills in the wake of the Gold Rush years and focused his attention on ways to turn things around using "scientific forestry."  He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to be the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, leading the agency from 1905 to 1910.  He later served two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania.

Hear a short interview with Freeman at this link to Wyoming Public Radio.