Three towns that influenced my early life and created a start of several lifelong pursuits were Sundance – the start and finish of a military career, Spearfish – home to Black Hills State University – the beginning of a serious academic journey, and Deadwood – Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane began a lifelong appreciation of history and culture. These are our destinations as we end the next to last day of our epic, virtual western adventure.
Sundance is dominated by an extinct volcano on the edge of town – Sundance Mountain – that, once climbed, gives a view of not only the small county seat of Sundance but a vista of the nearby Bear Lodge Mountains, the vast short grass prairie of Thunder Basin National Grassland, and, off to the east, the dark, forested peaks of the Black Hills – home to gold rushes, casinos, and lost Native American dreams.
Of course, everyone has seen or heard of the infamous “Sundance Kid”, who began his nefarious criminal career by robbing the Sundance State Bank. Here was my first military assignment atop Warren Peak, maintaining high-tech, long range search radar to support B-52 operations throughout the north-central US. Here also is where I learned that low level non-commissioned officers can disrupt an airman’s military career by conveniently “losing” excellent performance reviews. My decision was made to pursue academia rather than a military career.
The second small town – Spearfish – is on the northern edge of the Black Hills and here is where I began my college education with night school taking courses in English and Psychology. Spearfish is also the northern gate to Deadwood, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Memorial which we will visit later today and tomorrow.
What can I add about Deadwood? Wild Bill Hickock was shot here in saloon #10 holding in his hand, according to legend, a full house of aces and eights. He is buried on boot hill along with Calamity Jane whose very name speaks of gamblers, rustlers, and outlaws. Here in Deadwood, like in all small towns across America, history was made. The gold rush of 1876 pushed the Native Americans out of the Black Hills to make way for settlers, prospectors, and two-bit outlaws that followed the money. What survives today is Homestake Mining, still sifting gold deposits from shallow mines that the prospectors overlooked, casinos bent on taking tourist dollars, and saloons which give the average American a view of the wild life of ages past. Deadwood is a neat visit but I wouldn’t want to live here!
Wow! Our winding tour of the Black Hills comes to an end tomorrow as we visit the granddaddy sculpture of all time in Mt. Rushmore. A brief visit to the Crazy Horse Monument complete our morning and we head east to our last stop – the Badlands! thanks for putting up with my remanences and, when the opportunity presents itself, please visit all of our stops and join us in celebrating America!