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 Narrow Gauge in the Black Hills - Some History

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Joes Lines Posted - 02/08/2009 : 4:48:20 PM
I have been doing some historical research on narrow gauge shortlines in the Black Hills of South Dakota. What follows is some information that I've compiled that I thought might be of interest to some. In subsequent posts, I'll include a (longish) historical essay, maps, links, and a bibliography.

I have rarely seen layouts based on Black Hills prototypes. I am in the process of planning out an HOn30 modular layout based on the Galena mining district information included below, and have constructed several models which I will eventually photograph and post.

8   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
vamodeler Posted - 02/18/2009 : 09:51:54 AM
Excellent work. Enjoyed it. Really looking forward to seeing your history and layout progress.

Another source of information is the series by Scott Zieske in the NG&SLG entitled "C&NW Narrow Gauge in the black hills"
Part 1 - The Line. Jan/Feb 1980. pg 26-31.
Part 2 -Locomotives and rolling stock. March/April 1980. pg 32-36?
Part 3- Epilog. July/August 1981. pg 34-36?.

The late Edmund Collins drew plans for the combine, passenger car, ore car, and 4-8-0 locomotives of the FE &MV.

dougcoffey1950 Posted - 02/08/2009 : 5:18:55 PM
You have some great information here for Black Hills railraod fans. You might consider blogging it. Mike Hamer just did a nice article on blogging. I'd also offer to host it on my website for you.
In my opinion, the early Black Hills railroads have been long ignored.
I suppose you have read Mildred Fielders books. Her Railroads of the Black Hills is full of photos.
I see you left out Spearfish Canyon. There were some great scenes in that area. I tramped around the area looking for old sites. It's difficult if you don't know where to look and sometimes hard to see when you do.
I plan tgo build the Hoodoo mine one day soon.
Keep us informed.
Dutchman Posted - 02/08/2009 : 5:13:10 PM
Thanks for the summary. I poked around that area during the three years that one of our sons was stationed in Rapid City. Unfortunately, I wasn't back in the hobby at that time, and didn't take the pictures I would now.
Joes Lines Posted - 02/08/2009 : 5:06:22 PM

Richmond L. Clow, Chasing the Glitter: Black Hills Milling, 1874-1959 (Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society, 2002)

History of various mining operations and techniques in the Black Hills. Contains a number of valuable historical pictures of mining operations, headframes, stamp mills, and smelters.

Mildred Fielder, Railroads of the Black Hills (NY: Bonanza Books, 1964)

A vital work on Black Hills narrow gauge. Extensive coverage of rail operations throughout the Black Hills and packed with hundreds of historical photographs.

Watson Parker, Gold in the Black Hills (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966)

A popular history of the Black Hills gold rush. Contains a reliable narrative of Black Hills mining operations and many interesting anecdotes about the more colorful characters from the period (Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, et. al.). Seems to be a major inspiration for the HBO series Deadwood.

Bev Pechan and Bill Groethe, Images of America: Deadwood 1876-1976 (Charleston SC: Arcadia, 2005)

Part of the Images of America series, reprinting historical photographs. A good reference for modelers, with solid coverage of mining districts beyond Deadwood Gulch. Not much text, however.

Watson Parker and Hugh K Lambert, Black Hills Ghost Towns (Chicago: Sage Books, 1974)

An encyclopedia of Black Hills ghost towns, with many photographs and maps of settlements. Valuable in providing information on the location of settlements and mining operations that no longer exist.

Edward Raventon, Island in the Plains: A Black Hills Natural History (Boulder, CO: Johnson Books, 2003

A geological history of the Black Hills region, with important information on mining geology and the history of mineral extraction in the area.
All of the above works contain important photographic evidence, which unfortunately cannot be posted due to copyright.


Short history of Galena, SD

Bird's Eye View of Galena, c. 1890 (from the Library of Congress)

A small collection of historical photographs of Black Hills narrow gauge, including the "Natalie" engine on the Branch Mint line.

An online database of US mining interests. Provides historical and geological information on many defunct mining claims. I used this to help locate several of the mines served by the Galena spur of the DC and the Branch Mint Railroad

Another online database of settlements, mines, and geological features.Provides latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, which can be entered in Google Maps for locating precise locations. My route maps were helped enormously by this resource.
Joes Lines Posted - 02/08/2009 : 5:00:16 PM
Motive Power Table

Black Hills & Fort Pierre Motive Power

#1 Baldwin 2-6-0; 30 tons (“George Hearst); shipped 1881; renumbered B&MR 494 in 1901; scrapped in 1902

#2 Porter 2-6-0 (shop #493); shipped 1882; renumbered B&MR 493 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 530 in 1905; sold to Fitzhugh Company in 1904

#3 Baldwin 2-8-0 (shop #6691); shipped 1883; renumbered B&MR 492 in 1902; renumbered CB&Q 536 in 1905; scrapped in 1924. This engine was originally constructed for the London, South Park, and Leadville Railroad in Colorado. From 1917 on, it exclusively served the Homestake Mine in Lead.

#4 Porter 2-6-0 (shop #1145); shipped 1890; renumbered B&MR 491 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 531 in 1905; sold to Fitzhugh Company in 1904 or 1905

#5 Porter 2-6-0 (shop #11769); shipped 1891; renumbered B&MR 490 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 532 in 1905; scrapped in 1911
#6 Porter 2-6-0 (shop #17612); shipped 1900; renumbered B&MR 489 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 534 in 1905; scrapped in 1930

#7 Porter 2-6-0 (shop #18888); shipped 1901; renumbered B&MR 488 in 1902; renumbered CB&Q 533 in 1905; scrapped in 1930

Source: Fielder, 55

Deadwood Central Motive Power

#1 Porter 0-6-0 (“Deadwood” and “Little Betsy”); built 1889; renumbered B&MR 500 in 1901; sold to Fitzhugh Company in 1904. Engine was wrecked in a flood (1890), three collisions (1891, 1892, 1899).

#2 Baldwin 2-6-0 (“Lead City” and “Bridget”); built 1884; renumbered B&MR 499 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 539 in 1905; scrapped 1910. Engine was at some point converted to 0-6-0

#3 Baldwin 2-6-0 (“Ruby Basin”); built 1891; renumbered B&MR 498 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 535in 1905; scrapped 1910.

#4 Porter 2-6-0; built 1879; renumbered B&MR 497 in 1901. Engine was owned by Boston and Colorado Smelting Company in Argo, CO from 1879-1894. Engine was at some point converted to 0-6-0

#5 Baldwin 2-6-0; built 1896; renumbered B&MR 496 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 537 in 1905; sold to Colorado and Southern in 1930; scrapped in 1939. Engine was wrecked in a collision in 1927

#6 Baldwin 2-6-0; built 1900; renumbered B&MR 495 in 1901; renumbered CB&Q 538 in 1905; scrapped 1930.

Source: Fielder, 90.
Joes Lines Posted - 02/08/2009 : 4:59:23 PM
Galena Mining District Rail Map

Note: Subsequent research suggests that the Golden Crest Mine was not connected to the Branch Mint Railroad
Joes Lines Posted - 02/08/2009 : 4:57:30 PM
Map of Northern Black Hills Narrow Gauge

Black Hills & Fort Pierre Stations
Galena Junction
Bench Mark (? location)
Spruce (? location)

Deadwood Central Main Line Stations
Pluma – spur to Lead
Kirk – spurs to Ruby Basin district (Baltimore, Welcome, Mogul, and Carthage)
From 1916-1923, the line linking Deadwood, Pluma and Lead was electrified and ran trolleys

Deadwood Central Galena Spur
Galena Junction
Moll (? location)
Strawberry Spur – spur to Oro Fino
Griggs (? location)
Richmond (Sitting Bull Mine)
Joes Lines Posted - 02/08/2009 : 4:49:24 PM

Between 1875-1877, white settlers began to pour into the Black Hills, spurred on by news of gold discoveries during George Armstrong Custer’s reconnaissance of the area in the summer of 1874. Although the Black Hills were sacred to the Lakota Sioux and closed to white settlement by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, rumors from Custer’s expedition sparked a rush into the region. The administration of Ulysses S. Grant tacitly supported these incursions refusing to evict white miners and harrassing bands of Lakota and Cheyenne in 1875-6. The tensions created by white treaty-breakers led directly to the Great Sioux War (also known as the Black Hills War), most famous for the Battle of the Little Bighorn/Battle of Greasy Grass Creek in June 1876. Despite the Sioux victory at Greasy Grass Creek and continued resistance, US military pressure wore on Native American defenders of the Black Hills, culminating in the surrender of the Oglala Sioux leader Crazy Horse in May 1877. This effectively confirmed white miners' and settlers' claims from the previous several years.

Despite attacks by Native American defenders of the Black Hills, miners and treasure hunters flooded into the Black Hills during the Great South War. They first concentrated in the east-central hills, founding the modern towns of Custer, Hill City, Sheridan, and Rapid City in the winter of 1875-6. Settlement gradually spread northwards, with the first claims to mineral rights in Deadwood Gulch staked out in November 1875. News of extraordinarily rich panning opportunities in Deadwood and nearby Whitewood creeks led to a boom, and by March 1876, more than six hundred miners crowded into the narrow, steep valley. By the summer of 1876, the city of Deadwood was a thriving, if chaotic, boom town. Virtually overnight it had exploded into a roughneck tent city that more than 5,000 men now called home (Parker, 91-2).

The attraction of Deadwood Gulch lay in the relative easy of extracting gold. Virtually all of the early enterprises in the region were placer operations, with more organized claimants using sluice boxes to separate gold particles from the creekbed gravel. The real wealth of the Black Hills, however, lay in more expensive and labor intensive subsurface mining. Once gravel deposits in the region had been thoroughly mined, small scale miners gradually sold out to larger investors. The Homestake Mine in Lead, purchased by George Hearst (father of infamous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst) in 1877, is the most famous example of this trend.

Smaller gulches throughout the northern Black Hills also generated successful placer mining operations. Bear Butte Gulch was one example. Bear Butte Creek began approximately 8 miles south of Deadwood, and meandered north and east out of the hills towards what is today Sturgis, SD. Bear Butte, after which the creek and gulch were named, is an impressive outcropping of igneous rock that rises dramatically from the grassy plains east pf Sturgis. It was and remains a sacred site to many Native Americans of the Great Plains. Gold was first taken from the Bear Butte Creek in 1876 and late the same year, settlers laid out the town of Galena. The town took its name from the silver-rich lead ores that could be found in the area. By the winter of 1876-7, approximately 400 men had moved into the area and worked placer claims (Parker, 193-4). The gulch and surrounding mining claims became known as the Galena mining district.

The history of the Galena mining district claims illustrates the economically-marginal nature of the hard-rock deposits in the area. Various investors attempted to exploit the silver and gold ores in the area, but the cost of extraction – requiring hard rock mining, ore crushing and processing, and smelting – always seems to have worked against sustained industry. As quickly as it had boomed, the Bear Butte Creek settlement collapsed, contracting to a mere 49 permanent residents according to the 1880 census (Parker, 201). In 1877, the first subsurface operations began at the Florence Mine, but in spite of the operators’ construction of expensive on site crushing and smelting facilities, ore still had to be shipped out narrow canyon trails to Lead or Pluma for final processing. Several other mining companies also attempted to situate smelting operations on site, but found little success. In 1881, for example, the founders of the Sitting Bull mine constructed a smelter that operated for less than a year.

The most sustained attempts at exploiting the Galena deposits occurred in 1883, when J.H. Davy bought out the Florence Mine and constructed yet another smelter on site. Davy’s efforts also collapsed, in part due to legal wrangling with other mine owners over access rights to the richest veins of ore (Parker, 194). In 1896, Davy sold out to the Union Hill Mining Company. Like the Florence Mine, the Union Hill operation relied on off site ore processing, shipping their crushed ore to Kansas City for final smelting (Clow, 96-7).

The town of Galena experienced a mini-revival in the first decade of the 20th century. This was in large measure due to the expansion of rail service in the region, increased investment by the Union Hill Mining Company, and the expansion of milling and smelting facilities in the towns of Lead and Pluma. The cost effectiveness associated with these infrastructure developments meant that extracting gold and silver from less profitable claims, like those in Bear Butte Creek gulch, became cheaper and more efficient.

Rail had first come to the northern Black Hills in the 1881, with the founding of the Black Hills and Fort Pierre Railroad. Initially planned as a rail service for the massive Homestake Mine in Lead, the BH&FP was by 1901 a reasonably successful short line narrow gauge. Running on 36” gauge track, the railroad boasted more than 40 miles of track, owned seven engines (three Porter 2-6-0s, three Baldwin 2-6-0s and one Baldwin 2-8-0; engine #1, a Porter, bore the name “George Hearst”), and more than 100 cars. Through an agreement with the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad, the BH&FP had connections to standard gauge lines through to Rapid City. Operations on the BH&FP included some passenger and mail service, but primarily focused on transporting ore to various milling and smelting operations and hauling timber into Lead for use in the massive underground mining operations at the Homestake Mine (Fielder, 38-9).

The BH&FP’s sister railroad was the Deadwood Central. Founded in 1888, the DC provided service to Deadwood, Pluma, Lead, and the Ruby Basin mines to the west of Lead. Both regional railroads soon merged with larger corporate concerns. In 1890, the DC merged operations with the Burlington and Missouri River division of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad; the BH&FP followed in 1901.

The acquisition of the BH&FP by CB&Q in 1901 centralized operations in the northeastern Black Hills. Sharing trackage and rolling stock, business on both lines boomed and allowed significant expansion. This included adding a third rail on the line from Deadwood to Englewood, allowing standard gauge equipment to run into the northern Black Hills mining region for the first time. In 1902, the Deadwood Central extended a seven mile spur from Galena Junction to the town of Galena. This was a 36” narrow gauge line and provided the first rail connection between the Galena mining district and the narrow gauge network centered on the major mining centers of Deadwood, Pluma and Lead (Fielder, 78). The Galena claims, many now held by the Union Hill Mining Company, experienced a boom that lasted for several years (Fielder, 81).

The arrival of rail in Galena sparked the interest of a local entrepreneur named Jim Hardin. Hardin was owner of several small mines in the area. In 1903 he began an ambitious project to maximize the value of these holdings. Hardin first opened the Branch Mint mill at the lower end of the town of Galena, and began construction of the Branch Mint Railroad, a 3 mile, 36” gauge line connecting to several small and remote mines to the east and west of town. He had a small 0-4-0 (named “Natalie”) brought in as the major piece of motive power. Until the abandonment of the Branch Mint Railroad in 1912, “Natalie” connected Hardin's Branch Mint mill to the Hoodoo, Union Hill and Gilt Edge (sometimes referred to as the Gilt Edge Maid) mines to the west, and the Branch Mint and Two Bit mines to the east. Ore crushed in the Branch Mint mill could be loaded onto CB&Q ore cars at Galena, and transported to Lead, Pluma, or Rapid City for further refining and smelting (Fielder, 76-7). In the same period, the Black Hills Smelting Works also went online in Galena, primarily focusing on recovering precious minerals from the tailings of the 1870s Florence and Sitting Bull mines (Clow, 111). A cyanide process mill, called the Golden Crest, also was in operation at this time(Clow, 125).

Not much is known about life in and around Galena at this time. A bird’s eye view photograph of Galena taken in 1890 shows a narrow road with rows of widely spaced buildings winding at least a mile up the northwest bank of Bear Butte Creek. The same photograph also suggests something of the ecological cost of mining operations at the time, depicting a thoroughly deforested landscape and several scars of surface mining operations (image here. The long, narrow town seems to have been divided into three general neighborhoods. At the head of the gulch came Galena proper, followed by Cariboo, and finally and the bottom of the gulch, Hardscrabble (Parker and Lambert, 99). Other photographs show the presence of structures typical of a mining town – rows of saloons (with picturesque names like The Irish World, The Mint, and The Sudden Death) (Pechan and Groethe, 101), boarding houses (Reuther’s boarding house was the home of “Emma” a lady of the evening who inspired the names of three separate mines in the area), a general store (called simply “The Corner”, log cabins, and a post office (Parker and Lambert, 98). The town also possessed a one-room schoolhouse, suggesting that a degree of stability also existed Parker and Lambert, 99).

The final decline of the Galena district into obscurity seems to have been a slow process, extending through the 1910s and 20s. In 1912, Jim Hardin’s Branch Mint Railroad folded in 1912. “Natalie” seems to have remained in the Black Hills, assisting in track reconstruction for the CB&Q, but was eventually sold off to a museum in Billings, Montana (Fielder, 76). Traffic on the CB&Q spur to Galena continued intermittently until 1921 and the Interstate Commerce Commission approved abandonment of the line in 1927. The tracks were demolished and the rail recycled shortly thereafter (Fielder, 85). The fallout from the great stock market crash of 1929 marked the death knell for the Black Hills narrow gauge in general. The Chicago, Quincy and Burlington received permission from the ICC to abandon all of their Black Hills narrow gauge lines – more than 60 total miles – in 1930. The company parceled out the motive power. Two original BH&FP engines (#6 and #7, both Baldwin 2-6-0) and one original DC engine (#6, a Baldwin 2-8-0) were sent to Illinois for salvage and scrap; DC #5 (another Balwin 2-8-0) served the Colorado and Southern Railroad for nine more years before meeting the salvager’s torch in 1939 (Fielder, 85).


Richmond L. Clow, Chasing the Glitter: Black Hills Milling, 1874-1959 (Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society, 2002)

Mildred Fielder, Railroads of the Black Hills (NY: Bonanza Books, 1964)

Watson Parker, Gold in the Black Hills (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966)

Bev Pechan and Bill Groethe, Images of America: Deadwood 1876-1976 (Charleston SC: Arcadia, 2005)

Watson Parker and Hugh K Lambert, Black Hills Ghost Towns (Chicago: Sage Books, 1974)

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