Dakota Datebook

News from Deadwood


Today it’s back to the wild west of Dakota Territory. On this date in 1878, the Bismarck Weekly Tribune published “Our Black Hills Letter,” written by the Trib’s “Special Correspondent” in Deadwood. In the flowery Victorian vernacular of the times, it reads:

“Crime holds high carnival here in the Hills – at least it did a few days ago. Three were shot in a week. Two in a day is sufficient to raise the indignation of any community, be it situated in the far West, or in a more civilized town in the States. When the first man was shot there was little notice taken of the affair, and, when a few days afterward, in the morning, another was a victim to the accurate aim of a sixshooter, it was remarked that things were getting warm, but, when on the evening of the same day a worthy citizen was immolated on the altar of man’s fury, the populace themselves became satisfied that this promiscuous shooting had to stop somewhere.

“The idea spread with frightful rapidity,” the correspondent continued. “Numerous threats of ‘lynch him,’ ‘string him up,’ were made by the excited citizens.”

However, a Justice of the Peace called for calm, and the suspect was safely marched off to jail.

The correspondent continued his letter with news of an unexpected flash flood through the center of Deadwood that had washed away a number of cabins. Out on the Cheyenne River, the Bearey family’s coach was overcome, and “a boat was hastily constructed from a wagon box.”

In the correspondent’s words, “Into this trap were hurried the passengers, among whom were four children… The night was extremely dark. The river at this point is almost 150 yards wide, and the boat, when near the middle of the stream, capsized, and, being heavily loaded, sank. All were precipitated into the boiling, seething streams of muddy water twelve feet deep.”

Mr. Bearey grasped two of his children, and had a grip on the overcoat of a third. He was a good swimmer and managed to keep afloat, carried downstream over a quarter of a mile to a small island.  His wife, with an infant in her arms, had begun to go under, but the wagon driver grasped her by the hair, holding her head above water until they were carried safely to the same island.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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