The Black Hills

July 13th

Finally got to sleep in a little bit today (6:30!). Our plan today was to go to Crazy Horse and other attractions in the area, but after driving about 5 minutes into fog so thick we could barely see traffic coming in the opposite direction, we decided to go to Deadwood instead, and hope that the weather was clear tomorrow.  We drove about an hour into the Mountains along weaving highways to reach Deadwood. When gold was found in this area, men flooded into the previously reserved lands for the natives. At first the government tried to keep out settlers, and would force them out of the hills. But soon the sheer number of people, and the promise of gold caused the government to look the other way. This town started out as a mining camp with the discovery of gold in the river nearby. It’s a small town of about 1,800 nestled in the gulch between two large mountains. The town got its name, because when the miners first found the area there was a huge pile of tree debris, deposited in the river bend. The mine was closed in the early 2000’s, but there are mine shafts still around the town that extend over a mile down.

The town has a long history of famous pioneers who lived or passed through. Potato Creek Johnny found the largest nugget of gold in the west, weighing at over half a pound. He ended up selling the gold nugget to the local museum for ~200 dollars. Today that same hunk of gold would be worth about 5,000! He thought that the nugget of gold looked like the lower half of a ladies leg, and always said he wanted to find the rest of her. Near the end of his life, Johnny liked to sit downtown all day, and let tourists take a picture with him, in exchange for a shot of whiskey. It’s said that at the end of the day, the towns folk would load him onto his mule, and let her take him home. Wild Bill Hickok was killed in the town during a poker game and the cards in his hand are now known as a Dead Man’s Hand. The man who shot him, was put on trial in the town; but the judge ruled that because the town wasn’t even supposed to be here that there could be no law. The man was acquitted, but was tried and hung later in Wyoming after bragging about his deed. He is buried in the Mount Moriah Cemetery above the town. Calamity Jane is buried next to him, per her dying request. Supposedly the two were friends from working together as scouts for wagon trains, but the extent of their relationship is not certain. Our tour guide told us that when Calamity Jane died, she was penniless, and if a friend hadn’t paid for her funeral, would probably been buried unmarked in the potter’s field. He also mentioned that when people died, they kept a record of what killed them, although many of the entries were listed as God Knows.They also had a Chinese section in the cemetery, but it was mostly empty. Since many of the Chinese Immigrants believed they could not go to the after life unless they were laid to rest in China, when they came over to work most of them had contracts with their employers to ship them back.

When the mine dried up, the town slowly started to die. With the permission of the state, the town began to introduce small stakes gambling into its restaurants, hotels, and gift shops. Just about every place we went in had at least one slot machine. The proceeds for the gambling goes to historic preservation projects of the town. Mom and I justified gambling a few dollars because of this, but we had a harder time pulling away our Uncle. According to our tour guide various parts of the town has burned down in various fires. Most recently there was a wildfire in 2002 that burned the hills surrounding the town. You can see the line where the fire stopped just past the houses outside of town. The town has been rebuilt to resemble how it did at the turn of the century, burying power lines so you can’t see them. They even “fixed” the name of the street Cheyenne back to its original misspelling Shine. We ate at Diamond Lil’s that had many costumes of Kevin Costner’s from various movies.

Next we went to see Tatanka: Story of the Bison. This exhibit founded by Kevin Costner explains the importance of the buffalo to the Lakota People. It explains how every piece of the buffalo was used, and shows the incredible waste that early settlers practiced hunting them. People used to trade one buffalo hide for a cup a whiskey, and it became high class to shoot buffalo from trains. Lastly, the exhibit displayed a sculptured scene depicting 3 Indians on horseback, hunting 14 buffalo. Each piece took 8 months to create. When hunting buffalo, the Indians would try to run them off cliffs to kill them. This was very dangerous for the Hunters and the Horses they rode on. The scene depicts a dramatic event of life and death.

On the way to Crazy Horse’s monument we stopped at Prairie Berry Winery to try some of their Red Ass Rhubarb Wine. This was my first wine tasting, but the Rhubarb  Wine and the Crap Apple Wines were delicious.

Crazy Horse’s memorial was next on our list. Started by a man named Korczak, he was asked by the Lakota elders to build a monument for Crazy Horse to show that “the red man has heroes also”. It happens to be that Korczak and Crazy Horse were born on the same day, leading to the belief of the Lakota that he is destined to carve this massive monument. The monument shows Crazy Horse atop his steed and declaring “my lands are where my dead lie buried”. The statue has been a work in progress for over 80 years, and has become a family project taken up by 7 of Korczak children after his death.  They finished the face in 1996, and when the statue is finished it will be 563 ft high! The hole in between his arm and the horse could fit a 10 story building in it! Mount Rushmore could fit in his head. The entire project is being funded by donations, because Korczak believed that the American People should be the ones to build it as a memento of the Native’s Culture, and not the government. Also on the site is a Native American Cultural Center, and a University for Native students. I can’t wait to see it done!

To travel to Mount Rushmore we took the Needle Highway which wound up a mountain giving us an amazing view of the rock formations around. Mom was freaking out the entire time because of the heights, and spent most of the time with her sweatshirt over her face. Near the top of the mountain was Sylvan Lake, bordered by beautiful rocks. We drove through several tunnels, carved into the rock. At the top was needle’s rock.

We arrived at Mount Rushmore around dusk. At night they showed a video about Freedom and Liberty, and why each president was chosen for monument. Washington for his work in creating our democratic society, Lincoln for freeing the slaves, Jefferson for his declaration of independence proclamation, and Roosevelt for his creation of wild parks and breaking of industrial monopolies. After a Boy Scout Troop from Iowa retired the Flag.

That’s All for now!


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