April Featured Prospector: A Tribute to the Miners Who Didn’t Make History

April Featured Prospector: A Tribute to the Miners Who Didn’t Make History

First Gold is named because of our proximity to where gold was initially struck in Deadwood, and we’re collaborating with Deadwood History, Inc. to celebrate that history by featuring a Prospector of the Month.

This month’s featured photo is an unidentified Deadwood prospector who was panning for gold in the late 1800s or early 1900s. 

Panning was a common way to search for gold in the early days of Deadwood’s gold rush. It involves filling a container with gravel or rocks and using water to sift out the lighter substances while the gold sinks to the bottom.

As more mines opened and time progressed, other methods included picks, shovels, drills, explosives, and even cyanide. Seven mining camps were established in Deadwood Gulch by the spring of 1876, less than a year after the first gold was discovered there. By 1876, during the height of the gold rush, the town’s population had exploded. 

Thousands of miners poured into the Black Hills from all over the world. Immigrants came from as far as China – in fact, Deadwood’s Chinatown became the largest Chinatown of any region east of San Francisco at the time. An estimated 5,100 to 10,000 people were prospecting for gold in the region by the mid-1870s.

Homestake Mining Company, the deepest and longest-operating gold mine in the Western Hemisphere, employed thousands of miners alone. Except for when it made hand grenades in support of the war effort during World War II, Homestake Mine operated continuously as a gold mine from 1877 until 2002. 

And while some of the people who flocked here during that time became legends like Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane, or even local legends like Potato Creek Johnny, most of them are more like our unidentified prospector. We don’t know their names, or whether they found the gold that drew them here. 

We do know that mining created its own economy that shaped the area – Deadwood soon had a Main Street bustling with businesses catering to miners. “The Miners Magazine” was published weekly by the Western Federation of Miners in Denver, Colorado, and included a directory of local unions and officers. 

Historic photos show miners taking safety and rescue courses, and Lead City Miners Union materials show the miners had created a fully operating union with a constitution and bylaws by the turn of the century. 

Eventually, the mining petered out and Deadwood was reborn as a gambling and tourism destination. Featuring miners who formed this region is a fun way to tie into our local culture. After all, we all hope for the same thing – striking it rich. 

Want to try your luck? Book a room with us and see if you can strike your First Gold. No mining equipment required.

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