LIFE IN THE VALLEY
Descending onto the valley you get the feeling of a perfect vacation spot. A little town located at the end of a winding road. Nestled into the canyon where a meandering creek empties into a large lake. A place where you would escape from world and enjoy the slow life if just for a few days.
Once settled you do a little exploration along a trail or up a hill. Then you will soon realize that this place was once a lot more populated. People were not vacationing but actually hard at work as evidenced by all the mines, tailings, and indentations scattered in just about every ridge around the surrounding valley.
Mining was the activity that helped first populate Silver City and the surrounding hills. Up the creek on trail 40 or across any of the gulches, the efforts of would be prospectors lay there abandoned.
South of Silver City
Just south of town lies an area that early explorers referred to as the "The Unknown Land". It was accessible only through a foot trail (today's nugget or FSR 249). It was large area bounded roughly by today's Hwy 385, Rapid Creek, Mickelson Trail, and Hwy 16.
As an early 1900's South Dakota Guide puts it "Leaving Silver City there is a trail leading into The Unknown Lands. This is only a foot trail, since in many places it is overgrown with brush, blocked by fallen trees, and gullied out. The Unknown Land is a region...practically inaccessible except to hikers and horseback rides (sic), and in many places it is hard for a horse to find footing. High mountains, deep canyons, and tall timber are the principal features. The region abounds in game, being the home of most of the blacktail deer, outside the Game Preserve, in the Hills. Sometimes elk may be found hiding in some dark gulch. There are no streams of any size, so there is no fishing; but springs of pure sparkling water are found in all the gulches. Little lumbering has been done except along the edges, as the rough nature of the country prevents the transportation of timber without expensive roads or railroads. The hiker or hunter who penetrates these hills and valleys to make his camp finds himself in woods and mountains much as they were in the days of '76. (WPA, 407-408)
Back in 1876-79, many prospectors located mining claims along the bars of Rapid Creek from Pactola westward. They found gold, but no very rich strikes were made, and they concluded that the "mother lode" must be somewhere in the hills to the South and West, along the course of the stream. Some of the miners, more hardy than the rest, set out to prospect the hills, and penetrated into the wilderness seeking the source of the placer gold. They failed to find mines of any great value, although a number of quartz veins were discovered that yielded low grade ore.
About this time three brothers, named Scruton, built a cabin near the foot of the highest peak in this section which called Scruton Mountain (today's Seth Bullock). They had a mine somewhere in the vicinity and from time to time brought out gold, but they never told where the mine was located, nor did any one else ever discover it. They died without disclosing its location. It was this lost mine that gave the territory its name "The Unknown Land"
Works Progress Administration (WPA) "American Guide Series". A South Dakota Guide/Compiled by The Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration, State of South Dakota, with "Memoirs of a State Director", 2nd Edition. South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2005.
Picture: 1923 Pactola Valley - Boy with horse
An article in the Rapid City Journal in 1916.
The discovery of gold was good for Silver City. The surrounding hills held great prospects.
Rapid Creek's large drainage is subject to flooding during large concentrated rain events. These events have washed out bridges, railroad tracks, and other structures.
The picture shows a 1952 flood looking east from the current day location of the fire station. Other large floods have occurred in 1906, 1909, 1952, 1965, and most recently in 2008 when a stalled rain cloud dropped eight inches of rain in Rochford area. The column of water reached Silver City with a few hours.
MOONSHINING IN THE GULCHES
Pactola Valley was known as the "Valley of a Thousand Smokes". This is according to an article in the now-defunct Deadwood Magazine. On a clear day "the smoke was seen rising from moonshine stills set up in every draw." (Webb, 2004) Even today, one can still see moonshining artifacts scattered throughout gulches along Rapid Creek. John Clark, long-time Silver City resident, says there was a lot of activity in the area; a 1/4 mile west of town one can see a few of those gulches had a fair trickle of water. The moonshiner apparently had a supply of water to cool the vented steam and make the mash.
Bernice Musekamp, a well-known character in the Pactola area during the 30's and 40's, had some stories to tell about moonshining including the one about a Crouch Line train engineer. Ms. Musekamp told Deadwood Magazine that the engineer would leave a sign by the tracks at Pactola on his way to Mystic. He would pick up his moonshine on the return trip. He’d stow it (moonshine) in the tender and start to tap it. He’d be singing ‘Casey Jones’ about the time he reached Big Bend." There was an "awful curve" by Hisega, a few miles out of Rapid City, Bernice said, and "he rolled the damn train right off the track into the creek." (Webb, 2004)
Webb, Rena "Girls of the Gulch/Queen of the Rimrock". Deadwood Magazine, 2004.
Right: Picture of Mystic in 1907
TOUGH GOING ON THE PIONEER LIFE
A young Martin Wink came to Pactola in 1877. He died in a mining accident. He was buried in the Pactola Cemetery. During the construction of the lake, the cemetery graves were moved to the Silver City cemetery. Martin Wink's is one of the oldest graves. A stark reminder of the harshness of mining life.