Those Early Days in the Black Hills


Those of Early Days, and the Brave Men Who Defended Them.


The Old Deadwood Coach and the Fortunes It Carried.


Thrilling Episodes on the Dakota Frontier in the Early Seventies.

One night recently at the St. Nicholas I met a man who one time took a ride over several miles of rugged road on the Black Hills treasure coach, and, while seated beside old Buck Henchcliff, the sinewy driver, managed to learn considerable about the history of that perilous route and something of the romance of olden times, with which it is tinged to this day.

Since the settlement of the Black Hills region nineteen years ago, it is estimated that about $85,000,000 in gold has been produced, the most of which has been conveyed to the railroad station in coaches along this route from the Black Hills, says the Cincinnati Enquirer. This enormous amount of bullion was entrusted to the custody of the lumbering stage coaches, which were then the only means of transporting the precious metal to a place of shipment. The roads ran through deep ravines, ambushed by thick underbrush and pine forests.

These brave express messengers of the early times, as a matter of course, took their lives in their own hands in dispatching the duties of their work, but were fearless and courageous to a marvelous degree. It is the history of all rugged countries that their products are correspondingly rugged, but not that their acquisitions are always fearless. To be born among the mountains of Tyrol or other elevated places in the north temperate zone means a certain inheritance of nerve, spirit and fearlessness. To such natural causes has been attributed the sustained independence of little Switzerland throughout an age of monarchies and general civilized despotism.

It seemed, however, that it was unnecessary for a man to be born among the Black Hills, infested at the time with hostile bands of Indians, to succeed to the spirit which most accorded with the natural surroundings. These surrounding consisted not only of dangerous mountain-side roads, gulches and the treacherous savages, who at the time were disposed to pick off the head of any white exposed to their range, but, what was much worse, the desperate road agent, lurking along the coach route, ready to murder for the yellow plunder on board. The presence of the Indians was considered a Godsend rather than a great danger for years, in that their occupancy of the desperate country made these more desperate marauding road agents less formidable. In fact, it was not until after the red men had practically abandoned the territory that these robbers came to be a formidable impediment to the exporting of the bullion.

When the Black Hills first startled the world with their veins of gold the owners of mines at once began to speculate as to how their products could be shipped East. Previous to 1877 this region was owned by the Sioux Indians, and the post office department could not establish communications with the towns already existing. In the time between this and the date when congress ratified a treaty with the Sioux chief a few intrepid men were found engaged in the hazardous business of pony express riding, and prominent among these were H.G. Rockfellow, “Colorado” Charley Utter and Herbert Goddard.

These daring fellows earned some distinction riding between Ft. Laramie and Deadwood, and afterward between Red Cloud, Neb., and Deadwood. For this service they were paid 25 cents a letter. Receipts for a single trip often amounted to $1,000.

The transportation of freight and passengers by regular organized companies was not inaugurated until 1876, when a route from Bismarck to Deadwood was opened up.


The first shipment of gold dust was made in 1876, when Seth Bullock and the Wheeler boys pulled out with something like $300,000 in dust, the latter concluding that they were willing to leave with their profits, but the former is still a citizen of Deadwood, for the trip was made without the loss of life to any of the party, which, besides the Wheeler boys and Bullock, consisted of men hired at $25 a day for their services.

A nest of desperadoes, who had been located at various places along the route, made their headquarters in the Hat Creek country, 150 miles south of Deadwood. The vigilantes of the Deadwood district had made it pretty warm for these bandits, but they settled in its region, confident that they were safe from the bloodhounds of the law, as their stamping ground was so remote.

About this time a lady, who is the wife of a prominent citizen of Deadwood, was a passenger on the treasure coach one time when the vehicle was held up by the road agents. She wore at the time a watch, which was a gift, and prized very dearly. This she concealed in her hair, while the male passengers were being searched. Presently the robbers came to her and demanded her money and valuables. These she readily gave, when, alas! the fiend saw the watch in her hair, and reached out and took it.

“Please, Mr. Robber,” supplicated the unfortunate woman, “dear, good, kind-hearted Mr. Robber, give me my precious little watch?” This appeal was more than he could stand, and with a laugh, he returned it with his compliments.

Another hold-up took place in 1878. Realizing that the ordinary Deadwood coach was not sufficiently impervious to the attacks of these road agents, a treasure coach was built to order containing a metal box wherein the gold was locked. This coach was manned by five picked messengers, and for several weeks it went its way unmolested.

One evening in June the coach rattled into Cold Springs with a load of precious metal, $45,000 in gold. The driver and guards, or messengers, were dismounting, when a stable door flew open and a rain of lead greeted them. William Campbell was instantly killed, and a messenger was wounded. Scott Davis, chief of the guards, at once took in the situation, and, slipping down on the other side of the coach, hustled for timber. Getting under cover, he began sending hot shot into the robbers, managing to wound one. In the meantime Big Gene, the driver, was captured by the gang. He was forced to walk in the direction in which Davis had fled, while the robbers kept him between them and Scott. When within speaking distance, he was forced to beg Scott to stop shooting. Scott had no alternative, and hurried away for assistance. Big Gene was then given an ax and ordered to smash in the treasure box, which he did, and the gold was soon in the possession of the robbers.


One of the messengers, at the beginning of the attack, saw that resistance meant death, and feigned death himself, falling over in the coach. So well did he act his part that the role was not discovered, and the plans of the gang’s escape were overheard by him. Big Gene was strapped to the wagon wheel. Previous to the attack the stockkeepers at the station were surprised and bound and gagged, so that no alarm could be given. The names of the robbers were Blackburn, Wall, Brooks, Redhead Mike and Price. The officers of the law immediately got on their trail and never gave up the chase until the last of these five desperadoes had been captured.

The robbers at last became thoroughly organized and instituted an old successful Indian method of alarm. When the treasure coach was well guarded a messenger at one station would fly like the wind on horseback to the next, from which another would carry the news, until it reached the robbers’ rendezvous, and no attack would be made.

Once, at Cheyenne, the bullion that had been placed upon the scales was suddenly missing. A vigorous search found it in a coal pile near by. No arrests were made, and, as so many prominent citizens of the town were thought to be implicated, the matter was hushed up.

After the establishment of safes in Deadwood robbing fell off quite perceptibly. Then came courts, and toughs were collared and hustled to the penitentiary at Fort Madison, Iowa. With the first batch of these criminals, a motley crew, to say the least, Seth Bullock, sheriff of Lawrence county, set out. At a little peaceful station in Iowa, while en route for the pen, a fussy little state senator boarded the train, and would not desist from his inquiries until he had found out the offense for which each man had been sentenced. On receipt of this information the little gentleman asked:

“Will these murderers, when their sentences have expired, be taken back to Deadwood before being liberated?”

“No,” responded Seth, “they will be turned loose in Fort Madison.”

“Great Scott!” ejaculated the little senator, “what a murderous lot to be left in this state. where did they all come from?”

“Where?” repeated the Dakota sheriff. “Why, every d–d one of them came from Iowa!”

The senator had nothing more to say.

The gold from the Black Hills is now molded into bricks and handled by express companies, who hold themselves responsible for all the precious stuff intrusted to their care. The railroad communications are now complete, and very seldom is a shipment of gold bricks disturbed.

St. Paul Daily Globe (St. Paul, Minnesota) May 6, 1895

Sitting Bull

Image from the Orlando Scott Goff Biography on Rootsweb.


The Man Who Succeeded Sitting Bull in Deadwood.

(From the Chicago Times-Herald.)

Curtis Guild, jr., of Boston, accompanying Governor Roosevelt on his Western trip, accidentally heard mentioned one day the name of Seth Bullock. Mr. Guild asked afterward:

“Who is Seth Bullock?”

Mr. Bullock’s own answer to that question is most fitting:

“I am the man who succeeded Sitting Bull in the Deadwood country.”

If you can imagine a sparce, lean man, with the nose of an eagle, the eye of a hawk, the parchment skin of one who knows more of the plains than the pavement, an unwilling tongue, and an indomitable scorn of fear or death, you will have in your mind’s eye the portrait of one of the few survivors of the “original Western pioneers.” Mr. Bullock is unique not alone for what he has been or is, but because in his class he is almost alone in the country which stretches from the Missouri to the basin of the Snake River. He is a man of standing and a property owner of Deadwood, but civilization has taken from him his real occupation, and the days of knight errantry are ended under the skies which arch above the grave of Custer and the chipped monument of “Wild Bill.”

Here is the man who was the first sheriff of Lewis and Clarke county, Montana, a man that every desperado in the Territory laughed at one morning, and the next was fleeing before. Not a talkative man, not a man inclined to boast, sure on the trigger, enduring all things in heat and cold, tireless, relentless friend to all in nature, but friend to few of men.

They quote Seth Bullock as having said once upon a time:

“The only men I like is those that does things.”

And in his vocabulary “doing things” does not consist in following pursuits, in trading and bartering, in capitalizing great corporations or mastering the secrets of “pinching” a dollar. His kind of action was trailing big game, rounding up cattle, mastering wild horses, defying lawbreakers, riding with the mountain wind and defeating the mountain storm. This is the action which calls not only for enormous physical strength and courage, but a moral quality suspected by few novelists, analyzed by still less.

Riding down into Deadwood Gulch, your guide points to a clump of trees. Perhaps he is “Bill” Fraser — “Bill” Fraser, who glibly introduces himself as:

“The original axle grease which greased the way for Seth Bullock to get into this ‘ere town.”

Mr. Fraser waves his hands mildly toward this clump of trees and says:

“That’s where he did it, and over there,” pointing in another direction, “is where he did it again.”

By allowing Mr. Fraser all the time he desires you finally ascertain that the spots are where Mr. Bullock faced the famous road agents, shot them down in their tracks, captured them, and sent some to their just deserts.

“But,” says Mr. Fraser, reassuringly, “Seth wouldn’t hurt anybody what was right. He was just doing his duty.”

Doing one’s duty in primeval ways appears to be the keynote to the character of this silent man, who twenty-five years ago made it possible for a law-abiding man to live in Deadwood without having to fight for his life. What he accomplished was in a quiet way.

“He was the most persuasive man ever in these parts,” says Bill Fraser. You can readily believe that when from well authenticated sources you learn of how he gave the lawless element every opportunity to get away from him, kindly warned them of their danger, left loopholes for them to escape through, but when all these chances were despised and tossed aside, shot down the ringleaders with as little compunction as one would dispose of a worm.

“He would wait until the last minute,” says the irrepressible Bill, “and then he’d sort of shift his and around as though it were jerked lightnin’, and the next thing you knew he was shootin’ — shootin’ to kill. He didn’t miss, he didn’t.”

The “bad” men fled from Lewis and Clarke county after he became sheriff to the Deadwood country and took possession of the mining camps. Deadwood sent for him. In time he came a shadow of a man in physique, but wiry, nervy, enduring. He made himself known in a tone of voice as low and soft as a woman’s. He said he desired the law to be observed. When it wasn’t he proposed to arrest the man who offended or kill him if necessary. In very short order his commands were obeyed. For months and years he stood as the unwritten law of the camps. Things had “to be square” or the malcontents must settle with him. Railroads, Statehood, legislative enactments, pettifogging lawyers, and new population took his occupation from him. There has been nothing left to him but memories.

His idea of humor — the pioneer’s idea of humor — is found in the story he tells of X.Y.Z. Builder. They were building a jail in one of the Montana towns and the new cells were just in position. No prisoners had yet been placed in them.

“One day,” says Mr. Bullock, “X.Y., who was a long-winded story-teller, started out on one of his yarns. He had two or three fellows listening, but one and another left him, until only one was left. This fellow finally quit before the story was ended. X.Y. was mad, but he didn’t say anything. Two or three days later he meets the man who was last listening to him, and he invites him over to look at the new jail. He takes him inside and shows him everything, and finally the fellow steps into one of the new cells. Quick as a flash X.Y. snapped the door on him and he was locked in.

“‘Hi, you,’ say the fellow, ‘let me out.’

“But X.Y. is gone. Pretty soon he comes back with a stool in his hand and his pipe. He sets down, fills his pipe, and makes himself comfortable.

“‘Let me out,’ says the fellow.

“‘No,’ says X.Y. ‘You’re going to stay in there until I get my story finished. You wouldn’t listen the other day. Now you’ve got to.’

He never let the fellow out until the story was all told.”

Seth Bullock is a gentleman to the earth born, but he is lonesome. The great untrammeled sweep of the country once so dear to him is gone. The “fence man” has come in, the summer tourist, the people who gawk and gape at tales of olden days, the men who tremble at the sight of a revolver’s butt and rush for a peace bond if they see its muzzle. This is the order of things, this is commerce rising above the pioneer’s level, but, it is weak, disappointing to the men who once ruled in the country of the Sioux.

There comes to their eyes, as there has come to those of Seth Bullock, the sign of a regret that they too had not passed away when the last tepee was struck on the Rosebud and the Sioux passed from the pages of history to the care of the keepers of legends, fables, and the things that are no more.

The Times (Washington D.C.) Jan 27, 1901


How Seth Bullock Ran for Sheriff and Was Defeated by an Editor.

Spearfish, S.D., March 22. — Capt. Seth Bullock, the famous Black Hills scout, who led the Cowboy brigade at the recent inaugural of President Roosevelt, relates the following incident as being the most vivid of his many early-day experiences in the west:

“Fourteen years ago last fall, while crossing the state of Montana, one morning bright and early I landed in a little mountain town of about three hundred inhabitants. No sooner had I dismounted and tied my horse than a dangerous looking man with a six-shooter in each hand came running down the street. I at once recognized him as Dick Pray, with whom I had scouted in the earlier days.

“Why, Dick,” said I, “what in the world are you trying to do?”

“Do!” he thundered, “I’m going to clean out the editor!”

“Hold on, Dick,” I said, “you’re excited — don’t do that ” just cool off and tell me what is wrong.”

“Wrong!” he shouted — “I ran for police judge here last Tuesday, and the infernal editor defeated me by filling his paper up with lies for the past three months — and now I’m going to fix him!”

“Now Dick, see here, listen — let me tell you — I have had some experience with editors and running for office myself and —”

“The thunder you have — where?” he interrupted.

He was now cooling down, and I began: “Well, Dick, a number of years ago, when I was in Kansas, one election I ran for sheriff. But hardly had I announced my candidacy when the editor of the paper came out and devoted a whole page, issue after issue, to running me down — and among other things he accused me of being the leader of a gang of horse thieves for several years in southwestern Kansas. Naturally, such accusations stirred up quite a sentiment in the public mind against me, so I responded with a lengthy article, in which I denied every charge — and, sir would you believe it — the very next week the editor came back at me again, and he not only reiterated and analyzed all the charges — but he proved them!”

The Norfolk Weekly News-Journal (Norfolk, Nebraska) Mar 24, 1905

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