The Days of ’76 Museum is proud to sponsor Deadwood Historic Preservation’s efforts to document Deadwood’s historic trails system. From 1876 until the coming of the railroad in 1890, Deadwood was a transportation and communication hub for routes from Ft. Pierre, SD; Miles City, MT; Sydney, NE;, Cheyenne, WY and Medora and Bismarck, ND. The only way to get goods and services into or out of the area was by freight teams, stage coach, wagon, horseback or on foot. The location of these routes, along with the story of their importance and contribution to the development of this part of our history, is under-researched, underreported and dangerously close to being lost.
In 2008 the Days of ‘76 Museum co-sponsored with the Verendrye Museum a reenactment of the Ft. Pierre to Deadwood Trail. Work included the mapping of the original route using GPS technology and following historic maps, journal and newspaper accounts and even the physical remains of wagon ruts, signs and markers along the old trail. The event sparked great enthusiasm for both researching the history as well as reliving the journey. The wagon train travelled at a pace of about 15 miles per day, and at each evening’s stop humanities-based programs were presented around the campfire.
The Days of ‘76 Museum, with its large horse drawn vehicle collection and its location at Deadwood’s gateway – the very location where these historic routes entered or departed the city – is the logical organization to provide a base for this research and a home for this story. Last year the Days of ‘76 Museum sponsored a reenactment of the Miles City to Deadwood Trail, a communication and transportation corridor for the transfer of people, goods and troops between Deadwood, Ft. Sturgis and Ft. Keogh. The format was much the same as the Ft. Pierre to Deadwood Trail reenactment, with nightly humanities-based presentations around the campfire.
A variety of programs each evening featured presentations by authors and humanities scholars on various topics relevant to the trail. A DVD of the ride was produced, and a booklet is in development using photographs from the ride and GPS maps, combined with historic photographs and maps and text from trail organizers and humanities scholars involved in the project. Presenters included Paul Horstead and Jon Nelson, photographer and co-author of two books concerning Custer’s 1874 Black Hills Expedition (talks given on the ranches and locations where Custer camped 134 years earlier) and Ernie LaPointe, the only direct male descendent of the great Lakota Chief Sitting Bull, and author of Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy, Gibbs Smith, 2009. Deadwood’s Historic Preservation Officer, sponsored by the Days of ‘76 Museum, is developing a proposal for consideration by the National Park Service to have the Deadwood Trails project adopted into the National Trails System. The Deadwood Trail system would add important information to the movement of goods and people in the northern plains before railroads, and would provide information on the next wave of emigration following the Bozeman, Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, as well as adding important information about the effect of settlement on Native activities and populations. The emigrant migration ended about 1869, and the Deadwood Trail system tracks the non-Native activity in one of the last areas to be “settled” in the country, 1876-1890. The home base of the Deadwood Trails system research will be the new Days of ‘76 Museum which will provide exhibit space as well as providing archive space for research generated by this project.
Planning has just begun for a Medora-Deadwood Trail Project for 2012, sponsored by the Days of ’76 Museum. The Marquis de Mores, a French aristocrat, came out west with a “big idea” of transporting processed beef to the east in refrigerated railroad cars. It was a good idea, ahead of its time. The entrepreneurs in Deadwood were hungry for a route north, and the Marquis obliged by establishing a stage route from Medora to Deadwood in 1884. The 215 mile journey took an unprecedented 32 hours and 5 minutes! But service ended just 19 months later when the Marquis was unable to secure a government mail contract. Our trail ride will follow the successful formula we’ve used in the past, with extensive research and mapping before the trip, and humanities-based programming at each stop along the way. We expect it will take just under two weeks longer than the Marquis’ own stages.