The Black Hills, seen from space, form a dark oblong of forested land rising out of the Dakota Plains. An isolated mountain range, the Black Hills are home to a variety of wildlife and minerals. In 1870 they were also part of Indian territory, granted by treaty. The hills formed a natural barrier for trapping buffalo, and the Plains Indians enjoyed a life style based on these hunts. They worshipped the ancient spirits that dwelt in the Black Hills.
After the California Gold Rush of 1849, prospectors combed the western mountain ranges looking for further deposits. The United States still backed its currency with gold, so gold dust panned from mountain streams could be readily exchanged for food and mining supplies. As it turns out, the largest gold mine in the United States, still operated by Homestake Mining, is located in Lead (pronounced "Leed"), South Dakota, in the northern part of the Black Hills.
The presence of gold in the Black Hills had long been known. However, by the terms of the Laramie Treaty of 1868, the land between the Missouri and the North Platte belonged to the Indians. An exception was made permitting "officers, agents and employees of the Government as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties enjoined by law." Whether that clause reasonably allowed the Government to send Custer, along with 1000 men, 1900 horses and mules, 300 head of cattle and 110 wagons, along with five correspondents and a photographer, on a fact-finding expedition to the Black Hills in 1974 is certainly debatable. Two Government miners were included, and found gold in the pans. With so many witnesses, the news of course soon leaked out, and numerous illegal prospecting expeditions were organized.
The United States began negotiations with some tribal chieftains in May 1875 to try to amend the treaty in order to legalize the rapidly growing gold rush. A second government expedition was organized to estimate the value of the gold deposits in order to determine a price to be paid to the Dakota, or Sioux tribes. $6 million was offered to purchase the Black Hills, which the tribal council refused. The government withdrew its troops, leaving the miners to try to defend themselves, or perhaps to overwhelm resistance by sheer weight of numbers: 20,000 miners were in the Black Hills by the end of 1876. Downtown Deadwood City
When a large band of warriors failed to return to their agencies on order from the Indian Bureau, three columns of troops numbering about 2500 were sent out to arrest them, and incidentally to provide a protective force for the squatting prospectors. Coming from Fort Bismarck, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer's Seventh Cavalry split into three units, one of which, including Custer, was trapped and wiped out at the Little Big Horn on June 25, a rare victory widely celebrated in Indian tribal history. Although there were numerous engagements thereafter, there was no decisive engagement ending the hostilities; many of the warriors continued raiding the miners' settlements. Sitting Bull escaped to Canada; other chiefs returned to their reservations or simply disappeared in the land they knew well.
By August 15 the Congress had voted to cut off the financial allotments to the Teton Sioux if they did not agree to a treaty relinquishing the Black Hills; forced to sign or starve, the tribal leaders agreed to an amendment of the Laramie Treaty which would force the Indians to "become self-supporting and acquire the arts of civilized life." However, this new treaty did not take affect until Feb. 28, 1977.
Deadwood City was the largest mining town in the Black Hills. Rapid City was established in March of 1876 as a supply point for the miners coming from the east. That summer Sioux warriors continued their raids against both towns, principally to steal horses and livestock, and so discourage the miners. Deadwood City was an established town, too large for the Sioux to capture, but the settlement at Rapid City (which today is the largest city of Western South Dakota) was then less than a hundred people. On August 22, four men were killed and scalped near Rapid City. Their bodies were recovered and buried north of town in a common coffin. Many settlers did indeed flee the town, but the remaining men, perhaps 20 of them, hastily erected a Thomas E. Pendleton blockhouse and held out until the arrival of army reinforcements turned the tide finally against the Sioux.
We didn't know it before coming to town, but one of those four men has his picture hanging in the Journey Museum in Rapid City. He was great great uncle Thomas Pendleton, age 30, a Civil War veteran who had joined the New England Black Hills Mining Company and headed west in April, 1876, to seek his fortune. The picture was donated by his nephew Dr. Ernest Pendleton of Westfield, Massachusetts, who wanted to honor the memory of a promising young life snuffed out.
We pieced this story together during a two-day visit with a combination of luck and the help of the friendly citizens and local historians of the area. Guided by the librarians at the modern Rapid City Public Library, we found the books of Watson Parker, Richard Hughes and Annie Tallent, and the diary of John Brennan which told the story. We talked to genealogist Glenda Neal and historians Bob Preszler and Watson Parker, and made a trip to Deadwood, whose newspaper had started publication in June, 1876, and carried the story of the killings in its edition of September 9th. Perhaps the most dramatic event of our visit was when, turning the corner to enter the historical section of the Journey Museum, Mr. Preszler pointed to the portrait of Thomas Pendleton in the display case.
Annie Tallent was the second permanent woman settler in the Black Hills. A schoolteacher, she later became superintendent of schools for Pennington County. In 1899 she published "The Black Hills, or The Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs", which reflect her staunch pro-settler, anti-Indian views, not unusual for the time. In her book we found that Pendleton's killing had occured in Cleghorn Canyon, so on our way back from the Deadwood Library we drove up to see what it looks like now.. Of course there was no trace of Pendleton's cabin, or of the saw mill which was said to have been nearby. Part way up the canyon the road became gravel; it continued a way as a private drive (County Maintenance Ends Here, said the sign) so we turned around. Today Cleghorn Cleghorn Canyon sheep Canyon is reminiscent of many another western canyon, filled with houses old and new, small and large, of those who enjoy being close to the wildlife which frequent the creeks for food and water. As if to oblige us, a flock of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was grazing next to the road, while two deer were on the other side; we were watching out both windows! It was another sign of our recent good fortune, both in sightseeing and genealogy.
John R. Brennan, born in Ireland, was an able pioneer leader who headed the Indian Agency later in the nineteenth century. His diary was mentioned to us by Glenda Neal, who contacted another, older member of the society and called us twice at our hotel to give us the microfilm number. We found Brennan's diary of interest, because he told of writing the names of the four men on the inside of the coffin lid. The remains were interred together. According to Tallent, this was the first burial in Rapid City; the other victims of Indian raids had been buried where their bodies were found.
Brennan also wrote a description of the "Indian troubles" in a letter to the Deadwood Weekly Pioneer. Richard Hughes was another local pioneer, who had run out of cash and took a job as newspaper compositor in Deadwood in order to continue working his claim. Hughes later wrote a book about his pioneer experiences, and included the story of the raids around Rapid City, because it was the first story that he set in print for the newspaper.
Brennan's granddaughter and Hughes' grandson are two of the trustees of the beautiful new Journey Museum, which has consolidated four separate museums into one. We talked to Dr. Pressler, the Museum's historian, who told us that a few years ago, some workmen excavating for a building near the corner of Haines and New York in Rapid City, had come across some human remains. As we later discovered in the old Carnegie Library in Deadwood, the old burying ground "north of town" had been abandoned because you had to cross Rapid Creek to get to it; a new burying ground was found on the south side. Of course there would not have been time for a monument, and the old wooden coffin with the names written inside the lid would have decomposed. There is a monument to Thomas Pendleton, erected by his mother in Russell, Massachusetts, where he was born. It's a sign of how remote Rapid City was from Russell at the time that the monument reads merely, "He was killed by the Indians at Black Hills, Colo." Evidently the Yankee stonecutter didn't know that the Black Hills were in Dakota Territory.
So that wrapped up our research on Thomas Pendleton. We wanted to learn more about the New England Black Hills Mining Company, and we talked to Dr. Watson Parker on the telephone. He had seen a letter from the head of the company, a Mr. A. C. Townsend, to Mr. Develling in Springfield, Mass., describing the event. But this letter, which had been in the "Black Hills File Cabinet" at the Rapid City PL is now not available, being in a vault together with a large amount of historical material in the library which has been sequestered until funds are available to catalog the items. Perhaps the local societies can help the library out by seeing that that material is transferred to the museum or to the state archives.
The Deadwood librarian told us that all the old county records had been transferred from the small courthouse to the archives in Pierre (pronounced "peer"), so we know we might be able to pursue the mining claims there.
Of the prospectors who journeyed to the Black Hills and other Gold Rush areas, many died of disease, accident, or violence. Most of their names have long been forgotten. Thomas Pendleton is remembered because a correspondent submitted a careful story of the four deaths to a local newspaper, whose editor remembered it when writing his memoires, and later historians were happy to have such specific details for their studies. The portrait of Thomas Pendleton, so far from his home, turns out to be a more permanent memorial than any Western gravestone.
We find we always leave a location with plenty of reasons to return. The State Historical Library and Archives in Pierre have the old mining claims and records. Watson Parker has denoted his research notes to the Adams Museum in Deadwood. And of course Deadwood has achieved lasting fame as the scene of the famous murder, 20 days earlier on August 2, 1876, of a man holding a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights. Namely, our sixth cousin four times removed, James Butler Hickok, sometime Yankee spy, lawman and gambler. But that's another story.