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Black Hills Secrets

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Description: Ok! Already. Every web site needs a place to put things that don't fit anywhere else. This is it: Here we've collected a few of the many items concerning the Black Hills that fall into the little-known, unusual, mythical and plain stupid facts and stories. Generally they are presented without any directions or further help whatsoever:
  • Secret Chamber at Mt. Rushmore: True -- There is a 50-foot tunnel in a crevice behind Mt. Rushmore that was originally envisioned as a "Hall of Records" where copies of important United States documents and other artifacts were to be stored. The hall was never completed as envisioned; however the tunnel exists and a small cache of records was placed in a scaled-down version of the Hall in 1998 through the work of the Mt. Rushmore Historical Society. It is not open to the public. 
  • Natural Bridges in the Black Hills: True -- There are at least nine natural bridges in the Black Hills. The locations are not widely known. (Allegedly there are actually twelve, but we have only been able to confirm only nine.) The Eye of the Needles along the Needles Highway in Custer State Park is one.
  • Ronald Reagan on Mt. Rushmore: False -- There is no plan to carve a likeness of Ronald Reagan, or any other figure for that matter, on Mt. Rushmore. There was never such a plan and this is just a persistent myth.
  • Natural Face on Mt. Rushmore: True -- If you have a vivid imagination, you can make out what appears to be a native American likeness some distance on Lincoln's left.
  • Bill Clinton on Mt. Rushmore:, Maybe -- There is an out-crop known locally as Clinton's rock visible from Highway 244 on the backside of Mt. Rushmore. 
  • Unexplored Caves: True -- The Black Hills has many unexplored caves and even most of the commercial caves and those in the national parks have not been fully explored.
  • Bears in the Black Hills: Maybe -- For many, many years experts claimed there are no bears in the Black Hills, despite frequent reported sightings by members of the public. Now, in recent years, there is something of a consensus that there could, possibly, be a few bears in the Hills. Nobody is yet prepared to confirm any sightings.
  • Moose in the Black Hills: False -- There are no known moose in the Black Hills. Tourists occasionally mistake large elk for moose, but the latter's range is farther north. Occasionally moose from Canada wander into parts of South Dakota -- one even wandered into Rapid City in 2003 and was promptly shot.
  • Legend of Hugh Glass: True -- It would be difficult to embellish the true story of Hugh Glass, a mountain man who crawled more than a hundred miles across the South Dakota prairie in 1823 after nearly being killed by a grizzly bear.
  • Lost Gold in the Black Hills Part I: True -- Many Black Hills gold mines still contain significant quantities of gold. The most notable being Keystone's Holy Terror Mine which is said to be very rich. Many streams in the Hills still occasionally yield up specks of gold and some locals are avid gold panners. A large nugget was found in the Black Hills as recently as 2010.
  • Lost Gold in the Black Hills Part II: Maybe -- There's a good story about a gang who held up a shipment of gold from the Homestake Mine in Deadwood from the famed "Monitor" armored stage. The robbers are said to have hid the gold somewhere in the Hills before vigilanties found and hung most of them. The missing gold, some 400 pounds, was never recovered. Or, was it?
  • Lost Gold in the Black Hills Part III: Indeed -- Legends of lost gold mines and strikes abound throughout the West, but in the Black Hills they actually may be true -- at least in part. First there is the legend of a cavern in Devil's Tower that was littered with gold nuggets and it's c ertainly not true. However the riches of the old Holy Terror Mine remain underground to this day.
  • Found Gold: True -- In 1876 a group of seven black men arrived in Deadwood to prospect for gold.  Some racist miners sent them on a wild goose chase to a location some 15 miles west of Deadwoon in an area near the present-day ghost town of Tinton.  The idea was to get rid of them. It backfired. The seven black prospectors discovered a previously unknown, and rich deposit which they worked for awhile then sold the claim, leaving the Black Hills as rich men.
  • Hanging Tree in Rapid City: True -- The stump of a large old oak tree on Skyline Drive in Rapid City is said to be the remains of Rapid City's original "hanging tree." Whether or not that stump is the actual hanging tree is debatable. According to historical records, however, several people were indeed hung from an oak tree high on Skyline Drive for all to see. In fact hangings were fairly common in Western South Dakota in the early days.
  • Robber's Graves: True -- On a gravel road near Sturgis just off Interstate 90 about a mile east of the Black Hills National Cemetery lies the grave of Wm. (Curley) Grimes, an infamous highwayman who was killed in 1879 near Hogan's Ranch by a posse. "Lame Johnny" (mentioned elsewhere) is buried about 8 miles north of Buffalo Gap under the tree from which he was lynched.
  • Custer's Last Stand: Not Here -- Although Gen. (actually Col.) George Armstrong Custer spent a lot of time in the Black Hills and South Dakota in 1874, his final battle was actually about 200 miles west in Montana in 1876.
  • Black Hills Ghost Towns: True -- There are hundreds of ghost towns (and ghost mines) in the Black Hills. Most are very hard to find, as there is very little left in terms of physical remains. One, Spokane, on Playhouse Road just north of US 16A, is now a park and moderately well preserved.
  • Seth Bullock's Ghost: Not Proven -- The Bullock Hotel in Deadwood has made a nice little business out of promoting the Ghost of Seth Bullock and other para-normal things. We're skeptical. Seth Bullock was indeed a real person who came to Deadwood during the 1876 gold rush and was also a real sheriff and friend of Theodore Roosevelt. He wasn't quite as depicted on the HBO television series, however.
  • Calamity Jane & Wild Bill Hickok: False -- In later years, the woman known as Calamity Jane would have had it so, but she was never wife, lover or even girl friend of Wild Bill Hickok. Bill was a rather fastidious character who wouldn't have had much to do with Jane even if he had known her, and there's some doubt that he did. The only confirmed contact between the two was when they rode together on a wagon delivering a group of "ladies" to Deadwood in 1876. By the way, the pistol used by Jack McCall to shoot Wild Bill is now on display at the Adams Museum in Deadwood. 
  • Al Swearengen: True -- so true. The HBO television series "Deadwood" may be giving this character good press. In real life, Ellis Alfred Swearengen was a mean, nasty bar and brothel owner who allegedly had a criminal past, including murder, in the East before coming to Deadwood in the 1876 gold rush.  It's said that Swearengen made fortune operating the infamous Gem Theatre (which was really a brothel), but he died as a hobo in Denver when he fell under a moving train as he tried to hitch a ride.
  • World's Largest Crystal: True -- Taken from a mine in Keystone, the crystal of lithium ore was exhibited at the Chicago World's fair in 1896. It weighed several tons and had to be shipped out on its own railroad flatbed.
  • Sylvan Lake Resort: True -- A popular tourist destination from the 1890s until it burned to the ground in the 1930s, the Sylvan Lake Resort was famous as a place hosting quickie weddings. That was back in the days when South Dakota had a reputation for quick marriages that later passed to Nevada. In the 1930s the South Dakota legislature passed a law establishing a waiting period for marriages that effectively killed the quick marriage business. It was not a good day for the Sylvan Lake Lodge, but not as bad as the day a few years later when it burned down. A building by the same name still exists near Sylvan Lake; and although interesting and moderately historical, it is not the same.
  • Native American Holy Site: True, but... Yes, the Black Hills were always considered sacred by Native Americans. First the Crow and later the Lakota (Sioux). But it was never a place they inhabited -- or even went into after dark. It took a very brave soul indeed to stay overnight in the Black Hills before the Europeans came. One who was known to frequently go on "vision quests" in the Black Hills was Crazy Horse. Other Braves were known to enter the Black Hills and kill lone European prospectors as a rite of passage.
  • Deadwood Gold Rush: True, and more -- To be accurate the Gold Rush of 1876 covered the entire Black Hills, from the town of Custer to Deadwood. Deadwood was only one of several lawless mining camps. It became the most famous only because of its name (Who could resist a town named Deadwood?) and the fact that dime novelist Ned Buntline featured the characters of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Deadwood Dick in his novels. In fact, by some accounts, the town of Hill City was even more lawless with its infamous "Mile of Hell" -- a mile-long strip of saloons, opium dens, gambling halls and brothels. Even Keystone's Etta Camp was a lawless place.
  • The Thoen Stone: Fact or Fiction -- Visitors to the Adams Museum in Deadwood are invited to view the Thoen Stone, an artifact whose discovery (or creation) dates to 1887 and is named for Louis Thoen, a mason, who reported that he discovering it in a cave near Spearfish.  The stone purports to have been written by Ezra Kind in 1834 as he was being persued by hostile Indians.  The etching on the stone says a party of seven prospectors found gold in the Hills but all but Mr. Kind had been killed. There have always been serious doubts about the authenticity of the stone. It may have just been a hoax. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that explorers and mountain men did trek the Hills as early as the 1820s. And stories of gold in the Hills were well circulated before the "official" discovery of gold by General Armstrong Custer's expedition to the Black Hills in 1874. 
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