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.