Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Into South Dakota: In Search of Family


To head back home we traveled East, choosing to make a wide circle into the Black Hills of South Dakota, a place Jon and Daughter #2 had never seen. Our first stop was Deadwood...

infamous for the gold rush in the late 1800's and for the gunning down Wild Bill Hickok...

who is buried up in Mount Moriah Cemetery with Calamity Jane...
who never stopped loving him, though he preferred ladies of ill-repute. Her dying words, some twenty years later were that she be buried next to him. You can go see the graves, for $1.00 a person.

But we were in Deadwood for a different reason, in search of family. In 1890 Jon's great grandfather, Frank Kelly, bringing a team of horses from Nebraska, was contracted to help grade the railroad being built between Deadwood and the next mining town, Lead ( pronounced like "lead a horse)...
Don't know if these are pictures of Jon's Great Grandfather, I did some microfish newspaper searching at the Deadwood Library and Wikipedia Commons later on, there was quite a collection from a Deadwood photographer, John C.H. Grabill, more of his amazing snapshots of the West from a over a hundred years ago are featured here in a Denver Post blog.

Jon's grandfather was a toddler when the family came up for the summer, a drought and bad crops back in Nebraska necessitating them finding summer employment elsewhere.
 From a letter...

"I was three years old; it was in the Spring of 1890. I was standing in a covered wagon,
looking over the rear-end gate. I recognized the horses, wagon and driver immediately behind.
I knew that my little sister was with me and was sleeping on the bedding
 on the wagon box floor,and I was content because, I realized that Mother and the baby
 were with Dad on the wagon seat up front, although I couldn't see them
because of the canvas curtain between us.I remember all of that as my first memory
 but nothing from before. We were on our way to the Black Hills
where there was work for men and horses building a railroad between the towns of Leads and Deadwood, three miles apart..."
According to the newspapers, the summer of 1890 was quite a boom of activities where a man with a team of horse could make quite a bit of money, though there was a forest fire that threatened one of the railroad camps and there were some labor disputes, the newspaper hailed men like Frank Kelly, who came with their families and stayed the whole summer, compared to the wild transient single men who caused trouble for the growing town.
Of course my thought went to his Great Grandmother, stuck in the railroad camp, up the canyon from Deadwood, keeping house, or rather a wagon for the summer, with three children under the age of three. His grandfather's letter goes on to tell how returning to Deadwood in his eighties, he and his sister figured out where the camp was now a motel, with a restaurant  on the sight, which gave us two locations as to where the camp was, driving up the highway to Lead.
 I wouldn't be surprised, with Deadwood reputation as such a rough place with railroad works, miners, gambling houses with a few ladies of ill repute, it is possible Frank never brought his family into the town.
Augh-  just think what it took, preparing food on a wagon tailgate, cooking over an open fire, doing laundry when at least one, if not two children were still in diapers, hauling water from the creek. Something to remember when we think we have it so rough!
 I would not not recommend Deadwood today to anyone who didn't have a reason to be there. That part of the Black Hills had Casino laws past a few years ago and the historic town is well really a western Las Vegas and a little rundown at that. Leads on the other hand is frozen in time, still a mining town, surrounding a huge surface mine and with a lovely cemetery of history, didn't think to take pictures and no on will charge you a $1.00 to walk around the grave markers, the saddest, three brother, buried all together, with loving dedications from their mother and father, a mining cave in perhaps.
The railroad between the two towns is now gone, only the groomed path Frank Kelly help grade with a team of horses is left, the timbers and steel taken away.
Jon and Daughter #2 spent the morning riding it from Deadwood to Leads on their mountain bikes... 

 Back from vacation, in my blog reading this morning, I came across a great link to an article, thank you Design Mom. The article in the the New York Time, "The Family Ties That Bind Us.", is worth a read- and the jest is that a child's knowledge of family history, both the good and the bad, down to 20 questions of family knowledge- is a huge indicator on their well being.
Though the article does not really get to it- I have to put in- a kid who is raised by their actual biological or adoptive parents with consistency- are the ones who will hear the family stories and feel anchored by their family- okay- I am done with my rant on protecting our families....for now.
But, going on a family vacation through South Dakota is pretty cheap jaunt....
Looking in the rear view mirror to see your daughter, reading on a laptop the letter that her Great Grandfather wrote about his remembrances looking out of a covered wagon on the trail in South Dakota that you are now driving on....priceless!!


  1. What a great spring break. I'll read that NYT piece. I just finished a book called "the Orchardist", set in late 19th century eastern Washington state, where I grew up. It could have been written about some of my peeps and certainly fits over the frame of your historic photos above.
    "To know the land is the know the people" an idea Aldo Lepold talked about. And sometimes, to know the land is to also know Family.

  2. Fascinating to read this Julia. We've been doing the same recently, visiting places our grandparents lived and worked. it is a weird feeling to be somewhere that they helped shape and to try and imagine their lives.