Monday, November 30, 2009

A Black Hills bard

by Jerry L. Bryant

With historical societies just about everywhere you look, aimed at preserving the memory of just about every cause you can imagine, from stage coach robberies to memorable outhouses, I was in amazed the other day when I called the Whitewood Library, and they did not know the name Robert V. Carr. The person I spoke with had no idea of what I was even talking about! So, on a quest, I stood on a street corner in Whitewood to ask passersby if they had ever heard of Carr. The best answer I got was from a little boy who told me for sure that Carr was “that mean old guy that lived over behind the “Hole in the Wall” saloon.

After standing there for a while, I got the feeling that it might be a long time before anyone came by that had ever read anything by Robert V. Carr.

So, here are a few of the known facts about the man: Carr was born in Illinois in 1877. In 1890 his parents, brought him to Rapid City where he attended public schools and after graduation he attended the South Dakota School of Mines. Carr joined the South Dakota Infantry and served in the Philippines. While in the Philippines he contracted a disease, probably malaria, which hastened his discharge from the service. After returning to home Carr held various editorial jobs with the Denver Times, St. Paul Dispatch and the Chicago Evening Post. For a time Carr lived in Whitewood, SD, working as the Editor of the Whitewood Plaindealer. In addition to the Plaindealer Carr published a periodical called "The Jawbone." The small periodical was published in Whitewood, Sd. and combined Carr’s talents in poetry, prose and philosophy.

I first came in contact with "The Jawbone" while searching national newspapers of 1904 to find out what Carr had been up to; I began running into Carr’s poetry,
and quotes from The Jawbone in newspapers from all over the lower 48 states. In other words, he enjoyed a national audience. In the last several years I have encountered three copies of different issues of the Jawbone that I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase. The Jawbone’s following put Carr’s name in front of the American public which led Carr to produce a nationally syndicated column called "Character Cameo’s: Do you know anyone like this?" I first ran into this column in the Atlanta Constitution of 1913. In addition to his writing and editorial successes, Carr was considered a range rider and a livestock expert, editing a livestock journal in Sioux City, Iowa for a time.

Carr’s first book was published in 1902 and called Black Hills Ballads. In the Washington Post review of this book he was compared to Bret Hart. His second book was published in 1908 and was called Cowboy Lyrics, and his third and final book, Cowboy Lyrics, Round Up Edition. By the tine his third book came into print Carr and his wife, Estela had moved to the desert near Los Angles For his health. He then began writing Cowboy fiction for Western periodicals, such as True West, and Frontier. By the draft of 1918 Carr listed his full time employment as “magazine writer.” This proved to be his forte and he continued to produce cowboy stories until his death in January of 1931.

Editor's Note: The following is a brief example of Carr’s work:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Barns of Lawrence County

“The Barns of Lawrence County” will be featured Tuesday evening (12/1/09) at the December meeting of the Spearfish Area Historical Society. The presentation, which is open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Spearfish Senior Citizen’s Center.

The barn shown here belongs to Ralph and Becky Crago and is located just north of Spearfish near the Red Water River. It is one of 37 barns featured in the program.

Long-time Spearfish resident Leo Orme will resurrect select images from more than 2,000 barn photographs collected as part of a display at the High Plains Western Heritage Center nearly a decade ago. It was originally prepared to complement a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution.

A native of Colorado, Orme came to South Dakota in 1969 to lead a U.S. Fish and Wildlife project at the McNenny Fish Hatchery west of Spearfish. As a 4-H leader and later as an SDSU Extension Agent in Lawrence County, he became well acquainted with agricultural interests in the region – including barns. Orme, who worked with Bob and Ann Matheney to assemble the original exhibit, says an updated book on Lawrence County barns will be published in the near future.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Homestake -- it's not over

Long an economic powerhouse for the region, Homestake Mine operated for more than 125 years and was the deepest – and most productive – gold mine in North America. It closed its doors in 2002. With the people of South Dakota as new owners and an eye on science, the once prolific gold mine has started a transformation that – if and when completed – promises to make it a top-flight international research laboratory.

The game isn’t over,” says Dr. Jose Alonso, a nuclear astrophysicist who spent 30 years at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California before heading up the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake. He is now director emeritus.

One should be aware that the game isn’t over yet. The fine print on the selection was…IF the underground lab is going to be built in the United States, it will be built at Homestake.”

Alonso said the $15 million set aside to prepare a Preliminary Design Report isn’t nearly enough. Some $500 million will be needed to actually build the lab, with about half of that amount going for infrastructure – the rest for experiments. It’ll likely be some three years before we know if Congress will actually appropriate the funds for the project.

But that point didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of a couple of dozen folks who filled a downstairs room at the Adams Museum in Deadwood last Thursday (11/19/09). The museum strutted its stuff by hosting a terrific double-barreled presentation that focused on both the past and the future of Homestake. Author Steven Mitchell and scientist Dr. Jose Alonso teamed up with The Adams, the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, and Black Hills State University to present an all-afternoon presentation called “Homestake: Its Past and Its Future.”

With an impressive array of incisive historical research and compelling photographic images, Mitchell set the stage with a journey into both the history of the peoples and the geology of the Black Hills region. A life-long resident of the Black Hills, Mitchell holds degrees from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, but he belied his academic training and career as a mining engineer by demonstrating a gift for storytelling based on well-documented facts.

Reaching back to the Treaty of 1851 that sought to settle tribal territorial disputes and stabilize the precarious relations between the American Indians and westward-migrating settlers, Mitchell also shared details about the Great Reconnaissance Act of 1853 to explore the west, primarily in search of routes for expanding rail transportation. With the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874 came an onslaught of entrepreneurs, many of whom became the stuff of legends.

Homestake Mine is the focus of Mitchell’s new book, Nuggets to Neutrinos: The Homestake Story. From early mining claims and extraction techniques to wily business strategies and modern technology, Mitchell seemed to cover all bases right up to the closure of the mine. He discussed several significant reclamation projects that have occurred in recent years, laying the groundwork for development of a deep underground science and engineering laboratory.

After a short intermission, the focus moved from the past to the future. Dr. Jose Alonso talked about the transition of Homestake, providing a chronology of the scientific and political maneuvering that have occurred in the last few years. Once a director of the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake, he remains a champion for the project and serves as emeritus director.

Alonso walked the audience step-by-step through the “bureaucratic” solicitation process that proponents of the underground lab have followed in seeking approval for funding from the National Science Foundation.

In 2006, between the political advocacy of Governor Mike Rounds and a $70 million gift from the deep pockets of T. Denny Sanford, Homestake had “stacked the deck” against its challenger, Henderson Mine in Colorado. Barrick donated the mine – 186 surface acres – to the State of South Dakota, and Homestake had secured a $120 million war chest that could be spent to get things going early. This was an enormous advantage for Homestake – giving them a three or four year head start. It was a very enviable position in the pursuit of a world-class underground laboratory. And Alonso said there was something else that made Homestake more attractive to scientists.

Henderson is an operating molybdenum mine… and continues to operate…and it’s very clear when you are there, even as a guest, their first interest – bottom line – is mining. So you are really a second class citizen there. You have certain case times, you have certain things you can do, certain things you cannot do. You have little control over schedule, resources, or anything else.

Over here (Homestake), science owns the mine. And that is huge.”

By July of 2007, the National Science Foundation endorsed a recommendation from a 22-member independent panel that tapped Homestake as the site for a University of California-Berkeley design proposal for a DUSEL (Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory).

Alonso laid out the NSF timetable for awarding the $500 million to actually build the underground laboratory, noting that much more than $15 million is needed for the preliminary design phase – to be completed next year – probably something on the order of $75 million. With a final approval from NSF expected in May 2011, the $500 million project would have to be funded by Congress, and it would likely be a part of the federal FY 2013 budget request. That would require Congressional approval by about October of 2012.

If the costly and somewhat complicated funding process is a bit confusing – it pales compared to the esoteric but significant science projects on the drawing boards. In fact, early science projects are already being planned or are underway. Dr. Alonso’s animated enthusiasm for the projects may not have been enough to keep a few of us luddites in the audience on the edge of our seats, but many of the late afternoon hangers-on were themselves scientists or budding researchers, anxious to talk science with the dynamic Doctor Alonso.

Even using lay terminology, Alonso’s efforts to shine a light of nuclear astrophysics knowledge into the dark recesses of a few unscientific minds in the audience was probably fruitless. But his unrestricted enthusiasm and lively exchanges with tekkies in the audience was almost mesmerizing. “Fuzzy science” took on a somewhat different meaning as the good doctor covered the scientific landscape all the way from the “Coulomb Barrier” and “Gamow Peak” (which are not remote holiday getaways) all the way to “Neutrino Double Beta Decay!” And we’re still in the dark regarding planned “Dark Matter” experiments.

Nonetheless, this was a rare afternoon of enlightenment – even if much of the scientific gobbledy-gook flew over the head of this History major.

We’d gladly camp out on the doorstep of the Adams Museum for the opportunity to participate in another such session. For Mary Kopco and the folks at The Adams Museum and House, it was another excellent event – helping to inform and inspire area residents about the wealth of history and resources in the Black Hills. Resources that will one day likely include a fully-operational, world class deep underground laboratory.

And then it really won’t be over. It’ll be just the beginning.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Deadwood's first Assayer

By Jerry L. Bryant, RPA

In 1874, the cry of “Gold in the Black Hills” brought a cross-section of Americans to their feet after Custer confirmed that it could be plucked from the streams. The mind’s eye often only focuses on the romance and drama of the mining environment; men panning in the streams for gold, prospectors scrutinizing every crevice and rock in remote gulches and mountain tops, but in reality a gold rush mobilizes a plethora of skills, talents, and educational backgrounds, many of which were mute and unsung but as crucial as the miner. This is the story of such a man, Deadwood’s first assayer. Chambers C. Davis arrived in Deadwood... READ THE FULL STORY

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So they hanged Bill Gay

Another of the intriguing Dakota Territory communities that sprung up in the mid-1870s was Gayville.

Not to be confused with the East River community that once billed itself as the “Hay Capitol of the World,” this Gayville was a Black Hills settlement – one of the many dozens that emerged from the mining mania that swept over the region in those days. As illustrated on this 1877 Rand McNally map, Gayville is nestled in the hills between Deadwood City and Lead City. A closer look at the map -- along with early photos of the town -- can be found in our Gayville Gallery.

It is perhaps the earliest town/camp in what researcher Jerry Bryant – President of the Lawrence County Historical Society – likes to call the “golden loop.” If you travel north from Deadwood to Central Central, you arrive in the vicinity of what used to be Gayville just before you come to the Maitland Road turn off on the right. As shown in the map below, if you stand facing Maitland Road, Gayville would be to your back, and the little camp of "South Bend" would be where the house is on the left side of the Maitland corner.

Gayville was platted in 1875 by Bill Gay and his brother, along with others.

By some accounts, Gayville sported some 100 buildings and was competing mightily with Deadwood, Central City, and other communities to become the center of commerce in the northern Black Hills.

Bryant, who says he has “30 to 40 pounds of Bill Gay research files,” caught our attention when he allowed that the dapper Gay – shown here in an undated photograph taken in Helena, Montana – met his maker when he was hanged there for murder. That’s enough to whet the appetite of any researcher.

Was Gayville named for both Gay brothers or just Bill Gay? Was it an 1877 fire – described in a New York Daily Graphic news story by Adrienne Webster Davis – that nailed the coffin lid over Gayville? And who did Bill Gay kill? Bryant will soon be sharing more about Gayville and the town that is no more.

Stay tuned!