Adventures in America 3: Cross-Country Travels Off the Beaten Path

L. R. Laverde-Hansen By L. R. Laverde-Hansen, 29th Aug 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>North America>United States>South Dakota

Here is an account of my continuing journey, now picking up around Lead and Deadwood, South Dakota.

Leaving Minneapolis

Now I had to get to Spearfish, South Dakota.

The first thing I had to remember was to be early. The Greyhound dispatcher informed me that due to Fourth of July crowds-and the fact that only one bus a day went this route-that I should be as much as an hour in advance. Although I was not quite that early, I was still able to get a nice seat.

It turned out I was too eager to board. As I started to settle in; the porter came on to announce that someone had forgotten to tag his or her red duffel bag. That bag was mine-oops. But the person at the ticket counter was very pleasant about the whole thing (see last blog: 'Minnesota nice'); I filled out the information, got my bag tagged, and went back on the coach.

STAGE TWO: (Part One, Scene One) Entering the BLACK HILLS

Otherwise, the trip was painless. The main thing that caught me was how 'plain' the Great Plains were. I had transitioned from the largest city in America to a medium-sized metropolis. Now I was in the middle of endless stretches of rolling land. Every now and then I saw a set of tall, white, ultramodern windmills. Each one has three propeller-type blades: together they appeared like symbolic billboards for Mercedes-Benz cars.

After we passed Pierre (pronounced peer out here), South Dakota, the time zone changed from Central to Mountain Time. Past Rapid City, we entered the rare country of the Black Hills. I saw a few signs indicating Mount Rushmore, but I never got to see the four carved presidents in granite. Although I stayed in the town of Lead (pronounced leed), which is technically in the Black Hills National Forest, we just didn't find the time that fit with my host's schedule.

The Black Hills forms a region unto itself. Its high points contain some of the highest elevations east of the Rockies. On overcast days, the misty fog covers the terrain like a loose blanket. The inhabitants there are literally wrapped in a cloud. The houses are built on stilts on the sides of the hills with deep stakes and holding walls to prevent cave-ins. Ponderosas and other pine trees surround the landscape. They can be found all the way to the Pacific Northwest.

In such surroundings it's little wonder that this was sacred ground to the Lakota Sioux. The lands were even recognized by the United States government by treaty. That was until gold rushes in 1870s prompted the American government to send in the Army in support of the prospectors. Much of that famous and tragic history in names and places like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Custer, and Wounded Knee is tied to these parts. Although the Sioux were forcibly removed to nearby reservations, they still claim these unique lands, and their spirit remains.

STAGE TWO: (Part One, Scene Two) LEAD, SOUTH DAKOTA

Of course, it was the gold that brought the whites here and at their peak the gold and silver mines of the Black Hills were the richest and most productive in the Western Hemisphere. For over a century, from the late 1870s to 2001, the Homestake mine in Lead was the granddaddy of them all. If you go to Lead, there are tours that range in price from six to ten dollars and last over forty minutes. I took a tour, and it was very informative. But like with all tours, try to come on weekdays and off hours. The smaller the group, the more the guides can explain the history of the mine, and the more questions one can ask. I was even allowed to take a small piece of the mine with my purchase of the tour.

In my next installment, I'll take on the famous - and notorious - Western legends of that great gambling town, Deadwood, South Dakota. Until then, happy travels.

Originally Published on Associated Content
New York September, 2 2009
Revised
August 29, 2014

STAGE TWO: (Part One, Scene Three) LEAD, hanging out

I spent a couple of days in Lead because I didn't have ready access to a car. It was quite a contrast from being in New York and Minneapolis where public transportation is available. The message is clear: GET A CAR.

Eventually my friend and I went out to the backyard to shoot cans. He had a .22 caliber revolver. All my life I had wondered what was the fascination with guns. Being a city boy, I had not been raised with them. Now even I knew that his revolver wasn't the most powerful gun, but I could hear the loud pop that echoed along the hillside. I saw the quick nick it made in his water-filled cans.

When he let me go for it, he told me to aim straight and just pull the trigger (I didn't have to pull back the safety). Then I felt that bullet come out, and it was the most amazing rush - far more exciting than I expected. It gave me such a charge that I then understood why there are gun enthusiasts and why there's an NRA: I wouldn't want anyone to take my pleasure toys away.

STAGE TWO: (Part One, Scene Three) ENTERING DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA

After a few days, we drove into Deadwood. Lead is actually close enough that the two towns are sometimes thought of as one. Now Deadwood would never be confused with Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but it was the third American locale to have gambling legalized.

Some words should be said about gaming here. The South Dakota state legislature authorized the casinos on the condition that the old historic town be restored and beautified. One can see the result: even though Deadwood is hundreds of miles from major population centers, it is one of the best-looking, best-kept reminders of the Old West. We can argue the moral issues of gambling, but the economic benefits are tangible.

STAGE TWO: (Part One, Scene Four) DOWNTOWN DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA

Now Deadwood's most notorious history has to go back to its days as a classic Western mining town. Once gold was discovered in the Dakotas, the lawlessness which followed made the presence of a Wild Bill Hickok almost inevitable. The legendary lawman had a controversial reputation. He cleaned up the crime, but he often shot and threatened a lot of people to get that cleanup - and made a host of enemies.

Of course it was his death right here on Main Street that crowned his fame. Known as the fastest gun around, Hickok felt ready to face any comer; only when his back was turned was he vulnerable. And that was how he was shot: from behind playing a poker game. No one really knows if his final hand was two black pairs of aces and eights, but we do know he was still in the card game until the end.

While a Saloon No 10 today proclaims the name of where he was shot, it was in fact across the street where the deed occurred. A recreation of the scene, with poker table and figures (and countless coins thrown on that table for luck) can still be seen roped off on a sunken-level room. On Main Street is also the Bullock Hotel, built by none other than Seth Bullock, who succeeded Hickok as the town's lawman.

STAGE TWO: (Part One, Scene Five) Other Sites in DEADWOOD


While in Deadwood, look for other unexpected treats. Search carefully on Main Street and you will find some stairs going down a basement. It looks like just another storage area, but notice the bars along the windows. Those bars are authentic - once they were part of the local jail. Now those walls have a story to tell. And when you want to see the final resting places of Deadwood's famous dead (like Calamity Jane), try Mount Moriah Cemetery. It is perched on the hill just over Deadwood's Main Street. It's about a buck to enter, which surprises me (either because it's so cheap or because it costs money to see a grave).

Of all the attractions on the street, Nelson's Garage - Car and Motorcycle Museum in the Celebrity Hotel may the most accessible. It is located discretely on the main floor to the side of the main lobby past the gambling tables. Authentic vehicles and memorabilia from Hollywood movies cover the showroom. One was an Aston Martin from a James Bond movie. It caught my eye. Best of all, the exhibit is free.

Some Final thoughts

I am of two minds about Deadwood today. On one hand it is one of the best preserved examples of the Old West. Its restoration is not merely some Hollywood creation, but a homemade endeavor. Considering how run down some places in the region have gotten, this is good news.

On the other I wonder if Deadwood's situation is too commercialized and dependent on gaming. Although an Adams House and Museum exist, I think it's too small to give a full sense of the town's history. Casinos can bring in revenue, but they are sometimes bring in elements that families prefer to avoid. Las Vegas started out with gambling, but it diversified its operations long ago - with spectacular results. We'll see how this classic Nineteenth-century town continues to evolve into the future.

In the next segment - I'll go over Greyhound travel all the way to Seattle. Until then, happy travels.

Originally Published on Associated Content
New York September 11, 2009
Revised August 29, 2014

Tags

Black Hills, Deadwood, Lakota Sioux, Lead, South Dakota, Travel

Meet the author

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
Poet, playwright, commentator. I write wherever I can. Currently I reside in the City of New York.

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Comments

author avatar cnwriter..carolina
29th Aug 2014 (#)

wow...this is a wonderfully documented piece of your travels...many thanks...

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
29th Aug 2014 (#)

Thank you, carolina.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
29th Aug 2014 (#)

This just reminds me of how much I need a vacation.

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
29th Aug 2014 (#)

Thank you, Mark. Don't we all. Don't we all.

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author avatar Retired
30th Aug 2014 (#)

This is a wonderful review of Lead and Deadwood. You raise the issues about how towns make money and raise the economy. In the carse of this area, it was gold, silver, gambling and the attendant self-serving endeavors........which is exactly how regions, states, even nations improve their economic condition! Nice review of a marvelously historic area. I've been there.

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author avatar Retired
30th Aug 2014 (#)

Typo: In the CASE of this area......

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
30th Aug 2014 (#)

Thank you, dear. Like I said, gambling can bring revenue in, but the town should be about more than just making money.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
9th Sep 2014 (#)

Interesting and one of a kind post mate, and nice to read your work again cheers!!

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
16th Jan 2015 (#)

Thank you, Fern. As always.

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author avatar Sherri Granato
16th Jan 2015 (#)

Such a cool post. Enjoyable documentary of your many travels.

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
16th Jan 2015 (#)

Thank you, Sherri. Well said.

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
16th Jan 2015 (#)

Thank you, Sherri. Well said.

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