The Sitting Bull Mine; Silver, Luck and Lawsuits

copyright 2013 by Jeff Jacobsen

Sitting Bull mine entrance
(note: the mine is closed and locked now due to entrance instability)


The Black Hills of South Dakota are like a pimple sticking out of the western plains of the United States. About 62 million years ago the approximately one-hundred mile by sixty-mile mound started to push out of what had been a shallow sea bed. All this lifting and shifting of metamorphic and igneous rocks left a hodgepodge of geological formations that included deposits of gold, silver, copper, and other metals. After reaching its highest lift about 48 million years ago, the higher hills gradually eroded from weather and gravity. As the hills eroded, some of this gold freed from the weathered rock, being heavier, settled as flakes into stream beds as the water, dirt, and lighter rock gurgled its way downward to the surrounding plains.i

The Black Hills are known for the gold rush of 1876 that brought thousands of hopeful prospectors into a relatively small area of the wild west. In 1874 General George Armstrong Custer's Expedition announced to the world that they had found gold flakes in the streams that flowed through the weathered gulches. The prospectors came quickly as this news spread, despite a federal treaty with the Native Americans promising that the Black Hills would remain untouched and untrammeled by whites. Fortune hunters ebbed and flowed through the hills, even as the army tried to corral these treaty violators. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty between the U.S. and the regional tribes of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians stated that whites should stay out of certain Indian lands, including the Black Hills. But the army was not able to hold back the flood of gold seekers that Custer's announcement started. Many were rounded up and taken to forts in nearby areas, such as Fort Niobrara in Nebraska.ii Annie Tallent, who had arrived in 1875 in one of the first private expeditions violating the treaty, headed right back to the hills from her detention in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. She is famous today for establishing a school system in South Dakota.

For those who might seek out such treasure, Congress in 1872 had passed a federal mining law to cover how discoverers of ore could stake and hold a claim. There had been several gold rushes before the law was passed, in Alaska, California, Colorado, and elsewhere, so the need for such a law was great. The law explained how to stake a placer (streambed) claim, and a “quartz claim,” where a body of ore was found in the ground. Some bureaucratic details were left to the local authorities to work out, but otherwise this was the law of the land, even up to the present day.

The Indians felt obliged to try to stop the trespassers and there were skirmishes here and there that killed both Indians and prospectors. The prospectors, feeling the call of Manifest Destiny, viewed the Indians mostly as an infestation. Deadwood offered a reward of $250 per dead Indian.iii Edwin Curley, a reporter from Britain who tramped amongst the mining communities, said “I have even heard some people in the Hills who had found the [gold] dust, and wanted to keep it to themselves, say that the Indian scare was an excellent thing, because it kept so many good-for-nothing people away and prevented the Hills from getting overpopulated.”iv

Two of the returnees from arrest were Patrick Donegan and John F. Cochran. They had snuck into the Galena area in 1875, about 6 miles southeast of the more famous Deadwood gulch, and found a chunk of silver in Bear Butte Creek.v This “float” or piece of ore came from the northern slopes of Custer Hill. They followed up the steep sides looking for more float that would lead them to the source. About 200 feet above the creek bed they found a horizontal layer of rock containing galena. Galena is lead sulphide, a compound that in this area had silver with it as well as the lead. Before they were arrested and shipped off to Niobrara they staked their claim and wrote their names next to the discovery, as the 1872 mining law dictated.

While gold was everybody's main goal, silver would get you about $1 per ounce, while gold at the time was around $20 per ounce. But then again, if you could locate a good vein of silver, that was nothing to feel self-conscious about. After all, wages were in the area of $2 to $4 a day.

The first silver claim in the Galena area registered at the courthouse was along the western slopes of Custer Hill made by the Merritt brothers. In July 1876 they staked their claim and started digging into the vein of galena they had found about 100 feet above Bear Butte Creek.

In September 1876, Cochran and Donegan formally filed their Sitting Bull claim with the courthouse. They placed large wooden stakes at each corner, about 750 feet east and west of their discovery location, and about 150 feet uphill and 150 feet downhill from the vein. They posted their names next to the discovery. And they started digging.

The entire hills were brimming with men with picks, shovels, panning and sluicing equipment, and just enough other supplies to keep them going. Most were amateur prospectors, though some with more experience came from Colorado, Montana, and even California mining territory. With little more than the report from General Custer's expedition to go on, rumors became powerful forces. When Richard Hughes had been in the Black Hills for about a month, a stampede to False Bottom Gulch near what is now Maitland got going in June of 1876. A new rumor started that some miners had discovered that the area bedrock that had already been investigated was in fact not the bedrock, and they had dug deeper to the actual bedrock and struck gold.

This story did not seem probable enough to engage serious attention. But such is the credulity of the average prospector – who, whatever discouragements and disappointments he may have experienced in former stampedes, is ever hopeful of striking rich placer diggings – that hundreds flocked to False Bottom. The gulch was located in three-hundred-foot claims from the head to the prairie. The excitement died as rapidly as it had risen, when it was discovered that all was a hoax.”vi

It was not until February 28, 1877 that the Black Hills were legally opened to settlementvii although the military had given up enforcing the ban long before this.

The explorers in the Galena region found that there were two almost horizontal layers of galena ore in the gulch. One was where the Merritts had staked their claim, about 100 feet above the Bear Butte Creek on the west side of Custer Hill. This was called the lower contact. The other was about 300 feet above that, which is the one the Sitting Bull tunneled into. This was toward the top of a geological formation that came to be called the Deadwood Formation, because the same almost horizontal rock layers in Galena also stand out as a cliff in the lower part of Deadwood. Several claims opened up along the upper contact as it was called, including the Florence, Savage, War Eagle, Custer, and the Neptune. Some found ore with enough quantities of silver to make an income, and others just managed to blast nice holes into the hill.

The Sitting Bull claim looked like a good find. They got a few investors to help procure equipment and started digging two tunnels into the hill. In December 1876 the local paper declared “The Sitting Bull is a new discovery at Bear Butte, and prospects as well as the best previously located, and from appearances is a true mine.”viii There isn't much record of what they got out of their claim until 1879, where a Mining journal says the mine shipped out $14,000 in silver and lead from the local smelter.ix

The town of Galena grew quickly and by 1877 already had a hotel, restaurant, two saw mills, three saloons, and several retail stores.x The McDonald smelter was built this year, the first in the Black Hills. Smelting is a process where heat and chemicals separate the metals from the rock. The El Refugio, Florence, Merritt, Washington, Sitting Bull and several other mines were working away. The Richmond lode was discovered by J.W. Kyte November 1, 1877.xi

claim boundaries including Sitting Bull and Richmond

While rumors would pour hordes of the amateur and more gullible this direction and that, other more level heads went where the proven values were. In 1878 such a man seeking fortune came into Galena. Col. John H. Davey, originally from Chicago, brought his wife and son Frank (all of 17) along and moved into the quickly growing town. By this time there were about 75 houses and 400 miners in the area.xii Davey already had money, though, but the source of these funds and his military monicker is unknown. His search was for a functioning mine with good potential income. Davey had the year before been involved with the Belle Eldridge gold mine, a few miles closer to Deadwood in Spruce Gulch.xiii The Deadwood paper said Davey was “owner of many rich mining interests in the hills,”xiv and mentions his purchase of a placer claim near Whitewood.xv This would seem to imply that he came to the hills with some cash on hand. But by his own admission he had no previous mining experience.xvi

After about a year of snooping around the Galena area, Davey leased, then purchased the Florence mine, directly across the gulch from the Sitting Bull. The Florence, run by Robert Flormann, had been the most successful mine in the area up to that time. Flormann had driven several hundred feet into the hill and found rich veins of galena and silver.

In June 1880 Davey purchased the Sitting Bull from Cochran and Donegan for $7200.xvii He went on a sort of buying frenzy, purchasing the Florence mill, the Yellow Jacket mine upstream about a mile, and a share of rights to some other claims.

Mostly from his own resources, he started expanding his operations. He built a water ditch, a smelter to process the ore, a blacksmith shop, a stable for four mules for the Sitting Bull (named January, February, March, and April) and hired over one hundred miners. Most of his efforts went into the Sitting Bull, however. And this gradually began to pay off, though he was pouring most of his money right back into the mining enterprise.

The silver, lead, and gold needed to be separated from the rock, somehow. Milling involved crushing the ore, then using one of three main methods at that time for this procedure. Crushing was generally done in two steps. First, a jaw crusher would break the rocks that came directly from the mine, which were as big as a man could toss into an ore car down to fist size or so. A jaw crusher acts just like a jaw, where one metal plate moves back and forth toward another stationary plate. The moving jaw is angled so the rock slides downward as the jaw opens, then it is crushed as the jaw closes. The resulting smaller pieces are moved to the stamp mill. This is generally 5 upright iron rods about 12 feet tall, held side by side in a wooden frame. Each rod weighs about 850 pounds and has a larger base where the ore passes underneath it. A cam-shaft lifts each rod about 10 inches and then drops it onto the ore. The cam-shaft is spun fast enough so each rod drops in its turn about 100 times per minute. Water is used to move the rock under the rods and to wash away the finer pieces to the next step in the milling process.

Once the ore is crushed, the particles can be sorted to varying degrees by weight. Lead, silver and gold are heavier than the quartz, sandstone, or whatever other rock material surrounded the metal, so often a system of sorting the particles by weight accomplished a good amount of getting rid of the waste rock. With the amalgamation process, the particles were washed with water over a sloping copper plate covered with mercury. Mercury attracts these metals like a magnet attracts iron. This method, however, let up to 1/3 of the metal wash through with the waste rock. Up to 22 % of the mercury was lost as well.xviii Amalgamation was the most popular milling method in the Black Hills.

Chlorination was a second milling method that involved a lot of salt, a chloride. This would convert the metals into another state that could be easily precipitated from the rock. The crushed rock was first “roasted” or heated in huge drums before the chloride was introduced.

Smelting was the third milling method. It involved heating the ore to melting point, mixing it with “flux” to congeal the metal, then pouring it away from the “slag” or non-metallic material. This process required a skilled foreman because the precise formula needed to be suited to the ore being processed at any moment. Assays were constantly done to keep things at their optimum. This was a dangerous endeavor as well. It was said of the Iron Hill smelter in Carbonate Camp (the Black Hills' other silver mining district) that “the arsenic fumes from its operation permeated the clear mountain atmosphere, and all the cats in town died.”xix

Each mill was uniquely designed and built to handle the specific type of ore for the mine or mines at hand. If a mine could not do its own milling, all the ore would have to be shipped far away to national mills. Most ore from Galena went to the Omaha Smelting Works in Omaha, Nebraska. Transportation costs were high, for good reason. A mule train would trek over bad trails through the hills to Sturgis, 13 miles away. Then they would haul by ox cart over the plains to Pierre for a steamboat ride down the Missouri to Omaha, a total of over 600 miles from Galena. Later when the train came to Sturgis that cut the cost some. But still, hauling heavy rock hundreds of miles was expensive, so only the “high grade” ore with 50 or more ounces of silver per ton was worth shipping if a profit was to be made. Fortunately “much of the ore from the Sitting Bull mine was rich, containing as much as 2,000 ounces of silver per ton, but generally the grade was very much lower and considerable quantities of the ore yielded only 6 or 8 ounces per ton.”xx The lower grade ore was piled on the dump, awaiting some cheap method to remove the silver.

The mills proved to be an impediment for Davey to gear up his operation. He first bought the McDonald smelter. This smelter was inefficient and let a large percentage of the silver pass through, so Davey built his own mill, which he opened in February of 1882. He was proud of this enough to hold an open house for all to gaze at the new building and impressive equipment.xxi But it didn't work too well either.

In June of 1882 the Deadwood paper reported that Davey was netting $280 per day from his mines.xxii He purchased the Florence mill in September 1882.xxiii This was a chlorination mill. Fortunately, a salt spring about 60 miles away near Newcastle, Wyoming provided the needed chloride. “Colonel Davey has an invoice of 200,000 pounds of salt on the road in from Saginaw,” said the local paper.xxiv “With the new mill he will use 100,000 pounds of salt a month.” This required hauling all that tonnage 60 miles over unroaded terrain. All these expenses ate deep into Davey's pocket, but he proclaimed “at least I'm paying my way.”

The Florence Mill ran ore from several mines. Up to 12 tons per day came from Davey's Yellow Tail mine with an average of 90 ounces of silver per ton.xxv The nearby Washington mine sent their ore for refining. The Florence and Red Cloud mines came as well. In January 1883 a local reporter calculated that the mill was shipping out $6000 in silver and $500 in lead daily.xxvi

In 1883, after returning from an educational trip back east, Davey built his third mill. This was called the Davey smelter. By April of 1883 Davey's expenditures were a reported $200,000xxvii so it was his good fortune that high grade ore was in abundance.

Davey smelter

Mining in the Black Hills was no easy task for anyone. There were floods in the spring. The biggest flood came in May of 1883 and washed out every bridge between Galena and Deadwood, along with a few housesxxviii. Winters were harsh, with plenty of snow to block transportation and cold wind to discourage the more timid. The cold weather froze the water supplies needed for milling. The isolation of the mines raised expenses and labor for everything that was needed, from food to lumber to equipment. Any special tools such as Burleigh drills could take weeks to arrive from St. Louis, Denver, or whatever city hundreds of miles away they had to order from. Housing had to be found or built for the miners. Stables were needed for the horses and mules, and hay had to be brought in to keep them going. Hundreds of cords of wood were needed to keep the boilers running to power the stamps and other equipment.

By mid-1883 Davey had most all the pieces in place for an efficient operation. His mill and smelter were working well enough. He was bringing in about $500 per day in profits, from the silver mostly, but also the lead and some small amount of gold. He was employing about 125 miners, and his newly built 16 room house was the headquarters for Galena social life. But not everything was going smoothly.

Davey's son Frank was also trying his hand at investing. He had partnered with Patrick Gorman in purchasing the McClellan claim, just east of the Sitting Bull. A dispute arose over this partnership, so the friendliness between them had subsided. One day in the fall of 1882 the slight, teenaged Frank and his escort Billy Thatcher popped into the post office to get the mail. A drunken Gorman spied them and started a quarrel with Frank. Gorman, a big Irishman, started manhandling Frank, who took out his pistol in defense. Gorman easily took the gun away, at which time Frank's companion Billy stepped in, shooting Gorman, who died minutes later. Thatcher was tried for murder, with Col. Davey putting up a considerable sum for his defense. He was found not guilty by reason of self-defense, and thereafter left the territory.xxix

Col. Davey found his own troubles with the Richmond claim owners, the Sitting Bull's neighbors to the southwest. The Richmond claim was owned by Michael Duggan, Daniel Egan, John Oleson, and some minor partners. Bordering that on the east was Davey's Tiger Tail claim, just above the Sitting Bull on the hill. And a bit south of the Tiger Tail was the Silver Terra owned by the Richmond gang. They became suspicious that Davey might be digging into their Silver Terra claim as he bore south from the tunnel openings. Davey had previously offered to buy them out, but they had larger vision than that. Since their claims were higher on the hill, they were above the rich upper contact layer of rock that stuck out all along the Sitting Bull claim. So beginning in June 1882 they dug a shaft over one hundred feet down, so close to the Sitting Bull property line that Col. Davey complained that their tailings were landing on Sitting Bull When they hit the upper contact ore body, they shot southeast toward their Silver Terra claim in hopes of heading Davey's miners off before they crossed the Silver Terra property line.

Above ground the Richmond group was telling Davey not to go past their claim boundary. Davey cited the Apex Law from Congress' 1872 federal statute. The Apex Law says that any ore body sticking out of your claim, when followed underground uninterrupted, can be followed even though it goes past your own claim's boundary line. This is what I have, said Davey. The Richmond folk begged to differ, calling the ore body a “blanket formation” that sticks out all around the hill, not just on Davey's property. Several claimants around Custer Hill were digging into the Upper Contact, as the ore layer was called. The argument didn't stop Davey's prodigious miners.

When the Richmond tunnel connected to Davey's diggings, right at the southern boundary of the Tiger Tail line, there was physical confrontation of some type, enough for Davey to post a 24 hour guard at the junction. So talking didn't work, and direct confrontation didn't work. Next stop, the courthouse. In August of 1883 the Richmond owners (now with the backing of New York investors), filed suit and received a temporary injunction against the Sitting Bull mine. Davey had to stop digging. All he could do was process the ore he had already dug left on the dumps, which was lower grade ore. The trial in front of Judge Church, who admitted he knew nothing of mining law before this case, would decide whether the apex law or the blanket formation best fit the particular circumstances.

The citizens took sides. The Black Hills Daily Times supported Davey with a scathing editorial blasting the Richmond proprietors. “A shaft was sunk to the depth of 133 feet, but encountered nothing of value, whereupon a drift was run at a depth of 100 feet, and finally tapped the Sitting Bull on its dip. Enough of this ore was taken out to salt the shaft to send east for the purpose of bamboozling green investors and for other questionable purposes.”xxxi 125 Galena residents worked for Davey, so their allegiance was obvious. But other mine owners that were tapping into the upper contact were somewhat afraid that their claim could be jeopardized by an unfavorable court ruling. If Davey could go past Richmond property lines, could he not continue on through other claim boundaries as well?

I have not read the 7000 pages of the original trial that included 95 witnesses.xxxii I have read the 700 page summary of the 1885 appeal by Davey after Judge Church ruled against him. This document is mostly quotes from many of the witnesses and some discussion from the original trial that the Richmond won on November 15, 1883. Many of the witnesses were miners, while others were either mine owners, surveyors, or mining engineers. There is much testimony about the angle of the ore body, since the apex law considers this. There are experts from both sides disputing whether the ore body stuck out of the hillside or whether it was hidden, again considering the apex law. There are descriptions of the tunnels and arguments about the equipment used to measure the dip and angle of the ore body.

One part of Davey's defense was that the Silver Terra, which claim Davey was now digging under, was not a legitimate claim. For both the Richmond and Silver Terra claims, there are no ore bodies to be discovered, until you dig 100 feet or more down to the vein that Davey was digging in. Everything on Custer Hill above the Upper Contact is limestone or sandstone. How could these be legitimate mining claims when there was no “discovery” of ore, and in fact no ore to discover? Davey's council asked Daniel Egan on the witness stand relevant questions such as "State what steps, if any, or what work you had done, prior to the filing of this location certificate, toward making a discovery of any vein, lode or ledge of quartz or other mineral bearing rock, within the limits of this location?"xxxiii Richmond attorneys objected to the line of questioning at every chance, and Judge Church sustained their objections. Along a similar line, Davey claimed that no annual work had been done on the Silver Terra as required by the 1872 Mining Act. Again, Judge Church simply quashed this line of argument.

For a flavor of court testimony, here is John Dodd, one of the Sitting Bull miners:

I have been a miner for the last 18 years in Nevada,

Idaho, Montana and Dakota. In Nevada I was engaged

in quartz milling, in Idaho in quartz and placer, in Mon-

tana in placer mining mostly, and in the Black Hills in

quartz mining. I have known and worked in the Sitting

Bull mine at Galena for over a year.

The works there have disclosed a very extensive quartzite

vein, that has been followed into the hill between six

hundred and seven hundred feet. The vein has been continuous

all the way, and the limestone hanging wall is also contin-

uous. On the outside the formation has been broken over

for a distance of from forty to sixty feet, and the tunnel is

there timbered up. From the end of the timbers the limestone
hanging wall is smooth and supports itself.

I saw the foot wall of this vein in a little shaft on the

outside that had been sunk about four feet deep; it was

about three feet in the shale, and I supposed the shale was

the foot wall. It is altogether a different formation from

the quartzite. I also saw it in the workings about 150

feet south of this, going into the mine, where the same

material is disclosed in the bottom of a little shaft. The

distance from the limestone hanging wall to the shale foot

wall is, I judge, 11 to 12 feet.

The Sitting Bull vein is composed of quartzite, galena,

carbonate and chloride ore, occupying the distance be-

tween the hanging wall and foot wall-eleven to twelve

feet thick.

The vein goes into the hill after passing the timbers,

where you strike the contact, on an incline to the south

face. The direction of the incline is southeasterly, but I

do not know the degree. The course of the vein itself is

easterly and westerly; and the vein can be seen by workings

and exposures- from the most extreme easterly

workings to the most extreme westerly workings - about

seven hundred feet. By the workings the vein is shown

to have an easterly and westerly direction. I judge that

it is exposed about three hundred and fifty feet east and

three hundred and fifty feet west of the main working

tunnel. The apex of the vein, shown in the workings of

the Sitting Bull, is disclosed in many places in the loca-

tion. It is disclosed at the west end of the works, then

going east about forty or fifty feet the apex of the vein is

again disclosed by a tunnel. Going still further east forty

or fifty feet more there is another disclosure of the vein

that shows ore. We took tons of ore out of there. Going

east from that about thirty feet there is another tunnel that

discloses the same. Going east from this last place,

not over fifty feet, there is an excavation that has exposed

the vein all along there. The apex of the vein is shown

at all these workings I have mentioned.

I consider the top of the vein the apex, whether covered

or not. It is immaterial whether it crops out naturally, or

is uncovered by work - in either case it is the apex. The

end of the vein is the apex, whether exposed or not.

I know where the vertical south side line of the Sitting

Bull is in the inside workings. It was pointed out to me.

The little shaft that discloses the shale foot wall is just on

the north side of it. The vein passes that side line on an incline,

hut I do not know at what degree. If I were guessing,

I would say from five to ten degrees downward in-

clination. The inclination is continuous from the south side

line to the face of the workings. The contact is between

the quartzite and the hanging wall, and is as well defined

as I ever saw in any vein. There is a soft slip or gouge

between the limestone and the quartzite or ore, and this

is continuous all the way down.xxxiv

The witness goes on for a few more pages. This is just one of ninety five witnesses, who were of course cross-examined as well. I'm pretty sure someone not in the mining business would have had trouble staying awake at this trial. But Dodd was pointing out two important aspects of the mine, the angle of the rock incline, and the outcropping or apex sticking out at the surface of the Sitting Bull claim. These were important for Davey's defense using the Apex Law.

In May of 1885 the appeals court upheld the original decision against Davey. He appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Cover of Richmond V. Davey appeal

Davey was now getting poorer very quickly. The injunction stopped him from digging in the Sitting Bull, his crown jewel. So he had little income, and a lot of legal expenses. During the trial he borrowed $80,000 from Orange Salisbury, president of the First National Bank of Deadwood, at 24% interest, to be paid by any profit that would come from mining his properties.xxxv But he had lost the Sitting Bull in this process when he couldn't keep up payments. Judge Church kindly gave him a chance to redeem his property, which he did in June 1886. But by now, Davey's appeal to the Dakota Territory Supreme Court had failed, and he was getting tired of the whole thing. Nothing he did after the trial compared to his income before it. The best estimate is that from 1881 through 1883, Davey had made $750,000 in silver mining, but most of that was long gone.

In 1887 Davey was managing the Hester mine, about a mile upstream from the Sitting Bull. He was fired after a year. In December of 1887 the paper reported “Household effects from the Galena residence of Col. J H Davey were brought to Deadwood yesterday for sale,"xxxvi no doubt to help satisfy his debt. He ran the Rich Mill near Strawberry Creek but this seems to have amounted to little. Nothing was working out. Finally exhausted, in 1889 he sold all his properties to K. C. Barton,xxxvii packed up his wife and son, and moved to Idaho. He stuck with what he knew and started into silver mining there.

Col. Davey left his mark, however. He presided over the biggest boom in Galena's history. He ran the best producing silver mine in the Black Hills, without selling stock. His mills helped other local mines process their ore efficiently enough to make mining economically feasible. And the Richmond-Sitting Bull lawsuit helped settle mining law up to the present day. “The judgment of the trial also had lasting effects on the other mines in the Black Hills and other parts of the United States as it more clearly outlined the difference between the Apex Law and the Blanket Formation.”xxxviii


Orange Salisbury wound up with the Sitting Bull Mine after Davey's monetary fall. In June 1888 he sold it to the Richmond Silver Mining Company. But the Richmond was having a tough go of it themselves. In around 1890 they combined with the Merritt Mine, which was also in the doldrums.xxxix In 1891 G.L. Havens was managing the mine and drove over 1000 feet of new tunneling to the south and east. Between August 1889 and July 1891 $41,000 in ore had been extracted, averaging $97.48 per ton.xl In 1892, though, the mine is reported as idle.xli On December 22, 1892, Clarence H. Scrymser bought several mining properties at a sheriff's auction. He had sued the Richmond Silver Mining Company (over what I do not know) and won. He paid $2500 for the Sitting Bull, $500 for the Richmond, and generally just a few hundred dollars for the 13 other claims, two lots in Galena, and water rights, for a grand total of $38,750.xlii This collection of claims made a nice contiguous body to work with. I don't know anything about Scrymser, but there is a web site that has a Charles H. Scrymser being buried in New York in December 1896.xliii This would make sense as Richmond Silver Mining was a New York company. Scrymser must have sued over some stock issue perhaps.

In 1893 the price of silver dropped about 20%, which pretty much slowed silver mining at the time. But then in 1896 a ray of hope arrived in Galena. A group of mining claims combined to form Union Hill Smelting Company. This included gold claims up Strawberry Gulch as well as the silver claims around lower Galena and north toward Lost Gulch. They leased the Sitting Bull in March 1896. The Black Hills Mining Review reported in 1897 that “the old Sitting Bull-Richmond mine is prominent among the big company's possessions and is in better shape for profitable working today ever before in its history. The mile or more of its splendid tunnels are in perfect order, a force of miners having been steadily employed during the past year taking out ore and making needful preparations for extensive future work”xliv Thirty miners were working two 12-hour shifts under C.B. Harris.xlv Galena was coming back from the dead.

Union Hill mill, Sitting Bull mine

The Union Hill had purchased the old Davey Smelter and remodeled it.xlvi It wasn't profitable for them, so they began construction on a 120-stamp mill in 1898. This was a huge building by Galena standards and was meant to process the ore from many mines in the area. They started a smelter in Edgemont, but this was never finished.xlvii The Burlington railroad began work on a spur to the mill in 1902, expecting to be hauling ore and supplies in great quantities. But, in 1902 Union Hill folded. They had overextended themselves and fell like a house of cards.xlviii The Black Hills Mining Review later called it “the fruit of mismanagement and roguery.”xlix It didn't help that the price of silver had fallen that year to 49 cents per ounce. Galena was bust again.

Henry Earle, a banker from New York, was now the owner of the conglomeration of claims around the Sitting Bull and formed the Richmond-Sitting Bull Mining Company.l C.B. Harris leased the Sitting Bull from Earle. Harris, who was the main assayer in Galena, had always been a believer in the wealth of the Sitting Bull and his name shows up over many years in relation to the mine.

James D. Hardin was a mine promoter from the Two-Bit area just a bit west of Bear Butte gulch. He had taken notice of all the building and conglomerating that Union Hill had done, and surmised that the carcass might not be completely dead. The Burlington spur had arrived in Galena in1902, making transportation costs from the mill much less. And silver prices were slowly climbing. In 1904 Hardin had rounded up a bunch of investors from back East and formed the Branch Mint Company, with $10 million in outstanding shares of $1 He combined the Union Hill properties and others to total 200 claims. He began remodeling the never-opened Union Hill mill for the new cyanidation process. In 1902 Homestake's Charles W. Merrill, known as “Cyanide Charlie,” had perfected a new milling process that captured a much higher percentage of precious metal. Cyanidation was much more efficient than smelting or chlorination, and could be used on the more difficult ores where the gold or silver was locked in the rock with other minerals. Hardin also built a 3-mile narrow-gauge rail from the Union Hill and Hoodoo mines upstream at Gilt Edge.lii A little locomotive named Natalie towed eight ten-ton ore cars back and forth through the once-again reviving town of Galena.liii By the end of 1905 Branch Mint had spent over $250,000 on acquiring over 200 properties, finishing their mill, and other developments.liv

A miner died working on the Branch Mint;

May 11, 1906, I was called to the Branch Mint mine at Galena, where I there found William McCracken had been killed. McCracken was one of the laborers who were cutting a 16x18 foot station on the 200-foot level. They were using guides for the cage to run in and these guides were taken out before each blast. They had prepared to blast eleven holes and were taking out the guides. The cage tender had warned the men that he was going to lower and gave the signal, but in some manner McCracken was caught under the cage and killed. The verdict of the coroner's jury was that in their opinion the deceased had thoughtlessly stepped into a position of danger and was accidentally killed

Harris and Earle meanwhile were investigating the feasibility of building their own cyanide mill for their mines. Harris went to New York in 1905 to consult with Earle.lvi Also in 1905 “184 tons of rock from the dumps of the Sitting Bull were shipped to the Imperial Gold mining and Milling company plant at Deadwood and returned $5.91 per ton. The... values recovered were .10 ounces of gold and 4.65 ounces silver per ton and 1.75% lead.”lvii Somewhere around 1905 a brochure promoting the Sitting Bull was published. It quotes several prominent sources praising the mine, such as below;

Doctor Persifor Frazer, of Philadelphia, vice-president of the International Congress of Geologists, after a most thorough and comprehensive examination of the RICHMOND mine, reports: “The mine deserves the high reputation which it has hertofore enjoyed. The dips are gentle, which means practically that it is a horizonatal sheet, easily mined, offering advantages of good holding ground rendering the employmnent of expensive timbering unnecessary. It seems much more promising now than at any time before, and all this contitutes a sufficient reason for a successful camp.”lviii

The only interaction between the Sitting Bull and Branch Mint was that Branch Mint processed some tailings from the Sitting Bull, but this turned out to be unprofitable.lix In 1907 Branch Mint was employing 75 people and still looked strong.lx But then, in 1912, Branch Mint went into receivership.lxi Once again a company over-extended itself for the amount of income they could obtain. Even though Hardin tried everything he could to continue, Galena fell silent.

Branch Mint Mill

But people did not want to give up. In 1910 H.C. Osterman and Paul Danckwardt started building a smelter farther downstream from the Branch Mint mill. This mill, designed by Danckwardt, was to process the ores from the Florence and Sitting Bull mines.lxii I don't understand why they didn't jump on the cyanidation bandwagon as that was cheaper and more versatile than smelting. They built the mill under the name Black Hills Smelter Works, but it never ran. The foundation of the mill still stands.

At some point before 1913 K.C. Barton became the next owner of the Sitting Bull conglomerate. C.B. Harris was there as well, having obtained power of attorney over the properties. When I was growing up in the 1960s I thought of the mine along the creek where a tall metal head frame was as being the Double Rainbow mine. The tunnels from this mine go under Sitting Bull boundaries in the lower contact deposits. But in February of 1931 in DeWolfe Barton's time, the conglomeration of mines was incorporated as Double Rainbow Mining Company. It can be confusing looking up these mines because of this, where “Double Rainbow” might mean something connected to the conglomerate, or the shaft, or even the Sitting Bull. And I have seen the Sitting Bull called Double Rainbow Mine as well.

Several reports were made on the Sitting Bull in the 1910s. Joseph Boreo, a mining engineer, wrote in 1913 that “this property is an absolutely safe and profitable proposition, which, under proper management, must give some very high return.” Ralph A. Meyer, a Deadwood construction and metal engineer, wound up with an interest in the company. He wrote a glowing report on the mine in 1919, claiming there were on average 30 to 40 ounces of silver per ton, plus some gold He estimated at least 1 million tons of ore were available, with an average of $3.50 per ton profit.lxiii A short while later Louis Noble, a miner, wrote a paper proposing that the mine could profitably be reopened. Noble assumed an investment of $175,000 was needed for a cyanidation mill, tramway, and improvements. He calculated about 500,000 tons of producable ore was left, with a $1.75 per ton profit. A.H. Oleson, “miner,” wrote a report on the mine, also in 1919. He concludes that “the mine is ready for a mill immediately” and suggests $3 a ton in profit should be expected.lxiv Obviously, someone was investigating the mine for a possible restart.

In 1922 DeWolfe and Rexford Barton, sons of K.C. Barton, started digging, especially in the lower contact below the Sitting Bull and east a bit, right above the Bear Butte Creek. The Barton Tunnel went back about 350 feet, with unknown results (this tunnel entrance has since collapsed). They were encouraged enough that in 1931 they built a cyanidation mill at creek level, about 100 yards west of the Barton Tunnel and below the Sitting Bull tunnels.lxv They cranked it up and ran it for six weeks before deciding that it had been built incorrectly for the type of ore they were mining.lxvi They had reportedly spent $1 million on this venture.lxvii In 1931 silver was just 30 cents per ounce, so there was not much incentive to remodel the mill. It shut down and lay idle until it was torn down in 1945. All that remains is the cement foundation.

Before he died in 1939 Seth Galvin, who lived in Galena since 1882, wrote in his Galena history that the Richmond-Sitting Bull mine had produced $2.5 million in silver and other metals.lxviii

Some time after this The South Dakota School of Mines, along with American Cyanamid Company and the Denver Equipment Company looked for a more efficient method of processing the Sitting Bull ore. In 1947 three students at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City wrote a “Research Report on The Double Rainbow Ore (Richmond-Sitting Bull Mine).”lxix They concluded that some of the ore was especially problematic; “the silver is combined with the manganese oxide, and, in such a condition, proves difficult to separate. No satisfactory process has yet evolved for freeing this 'trapped' silver.”lxx However, they also reported that “the mine should yield a satisfactory margin of profit.”lxxi

In 1954 the U.S. Bureau of Mines drilled test holes in the Galena area.lxxii

The next spurt of activity was not until the 1960s. In 1964 another group of School of Mines students, writing a report for their Geology 401 class, wrote “Upper Contact Mines, Galena District, Lawrence County, South Dakota.”lxxiii They pretty much stuck to geological descriptions. That same year Newmont Exploration Company and Hecla Mining Company drilled test holes, all on Double Rainbow properties.lxxiv

In 1968 David Garske reported recent activity;

In the winter of 1966-1967 the Double Rainbow Mining Company began a drilling program near the entrance of the old Double Rainbow Mine, which is southeast of Galena above Bear Butte Creek. All holes penetrated the Deadwood formation and some mineralization was noted. On the basis of these holes an OME loan was secured to sink a shaft and do the exploratory drifting. A 290 foot vertical shaft was sunk, and exploration drifts were extended into the ore zone.”lxxv

The Homestake Mining Company contracted to do this exploration. They also blasted hundreds of feet of new tunnels in the Sitting Bull mine, testing to see if the vein extended far enough to keep a good supply of ore should the mine be reopened. They assayed the ore every few feet as they tunneled along the outer fringes of the previous diggings. I have not been able to find any report that shows what their investigation concluded. But since they left after their exploration was finished, it must not have been as fruitful as they had hoped. Silver at the time was about $2 per ounce.

richmond shaft from the inside
bottom of Richmond shaft

Ross Grunwald lived in Galena in the 1960s working on his PhD in Geology from the South Dakota School of Mines. His exhaustively inclusive thesis contains maps of area mining, a list of all the producing mines, and a geological and historical explanation of the area. His timing was good as the mine exploration was going on at that time, which gave him access to the mines as well as a front-row seat to the action then.

The Double Rainbow Mining company, formed in February of 1931, finally dissolved in 2001. The only mentions of the company after their mill debacle I found were in 1951 and 1967. So while the corporation lived on, it seems that between 1931 when the Barton mill was closed and 1967 when Homestake came in to do exploration work, not much happened.

After Homestake pulled out of their exploration, they eventually tore down their head frame (although the pieces are still there), and trucked off the tailings that were piled up across the creek. Not much happened after that. I first went into the mine in about 1975 with some friends. There was no obstacle to just walking into the tunnel entrance and not even a “no trespassing” sign. It was quite an adventure since there are many thousands of feet of tunnels that criss-cross this way and that, and no one had a map. We laid out paper strips with arrows pointing toward the exit every 100 feet or so. The tunnel was open as long as I've known of it, until about 2010. Granted Grace, Inc. owned the entire top portion of Custer Hill then, including the Sitting Bull. They played tug of war with would-be explorers over the entrance. They would put up chain link fencing to block the entrance, but someone tore that off. They built a metal gate and locked it, but someone cut off the lock hasp. Finally, after failing to sell their holdings as one big property, they held an auction in the summer of 2011. My brother Eric and I bought the Sitting Bull. Today the road is blocked with a locked gate, and the tunnel entrance is locked.


tour of mine

The 9.16 acres that encompass the actual Sitting Bull claim are like a long rectangle bent a bit in the middle. It's entirely on a steep north-facing slope of pine and spruce forest starting about 200 feet up from Bear Butte Creek. It is approximately 300 feet north and south, and 1500 feet east and west. It was difficult to find the boundary markers even though the neighboring properties had been surveyed in 2006. Surveyors generally hang colored plastic tape near corners and property lines, so that helped me immensely. I have yet to find the middle northern marker, however, which is probably where the Richmond tailings are. One of the markers is supposed to have a rock with words chiseled into it from the original survey, but I have not seen that. A narrow road comes up into the property from the county road from the east.

There is a small spring about 50 feet uphill from the tunnels that runs usually from May through August or so. Homestake had built a square cistern there to catch the water and use it for drilling. Metal pipes go from the cistern into the Sitting Bull, and head down to the Double Rainbow shaft as well. Since the shaft is hundreds of feet below the cistern, I'm thinking this gave them pretty good water pressure for free.

By the time of the 1883 injunction the tunneling in the Sitting Bull had gone back about 700 feet. Wide rooms had been dug out when high-grade ore was found. The roof is essentially horizontal limestone, so it is very stable in most places so there was no need to timber anywhere except toward the entrances. There were through its history five tunnel openings. Just outside the tunnels a narrow road hugged the side of the steep hill, going both west and east. As the lower grade ore was piled up just outside the tunnels by simply dumping it, some flat areas could be built up a bit, but otherwise there wasn't much room to build or put anything. There was a blacksmith shop and a horse barn for the four mules right next to the tunnels. Good ore was hauled in rail cars to a chute that dropped down to creek level where the smelter and mill were. A ways above the bottom of the chute was a wooden wall to stop the tumbling rock and protect the area where horse drawn wagons loaded up for the short trip to the mill. The smelter to the west had its own ore delivery system called a tramway, so I'm not sure if that was just a chute or perhaps a cable car system.

Today the tunneling goes almost straight south about 1700 feet, and the tunnels travel east and west about 1000 feet. There are about 2 miles of tunnels in total, often interconnected. As you go south, it is pretty much level all the way back. But when you go west, you're generally going uphill, and when going east you're generally going downhill at about a 7% grade. Of the five entrances that had been used throughout the mine's history, only the eastern one is still open. Homestake used the next westerly one as well when they were tunneling in the 1960s but they seem to have back-filled it when they left. A packrat has found a way in there and has built a nice home just inside that entryway.

Most of the tunnels are approximately 7' by 7' squared construction. The early mining opened up rooms that are about 30 feet across. They trusted the roof enough that there are no supports in these rooms. There is not much left in the mine as far as equipment except a bench, a rusty old barrel and a work table.

From reading my thermometer that I move around once in a while, the tunnel is generally about 44 degrees year 'round, and humid. It is completely still, dark and quiet, as there is only one entrance. There is a white fungus that grows here and there, especially in the “Bad Air” drift toward the back. The fungus grows along the ground and even on the walls in places like veins branching out. The packrat, the fungus, and a few bats are the only living things in the mine.

There is only one place that I've seen where you can easily see galena in the walls. I have no training to detect what kind of rock I'm looking at otherwise, so I'll just say the rock mostly looks like sandstone, with a few places showing a yellow, chalky pocket of rock. To a non-geologist it is a bland mine.

Outside there are the cistern that looks like a very weathered garage, the foundation of a building just up the road from the current entrance, and huge tailing piles the cascade down the steep slopes. Two jumbled piles of lumber indicate where some of the buildings had been. Other than that, there is not much to show how much work has been done to this claim. The mills have long ago been torn down, and all that remains is a slight indication of a foundation where the chlorination mill was, and a small slag pile next to where the smelter had been.


The history of the Sitting Bull mine shows that high-grade silver ore was in abundance in places along the upper contact layer that runs through the claim. From the 1870s up through the 1960s different groups have dug and processed the ore, with varying success. For unknown reasons the last mining was stopped. So can the mine ever open production again? Most investigations throughout the years concluded that it could be a profitable venture. The main problem, however, is transportation. Just as when Col. Davey started mining after he bought the Sitting Bull, there was no place close to process the ore. Today, there is no mill in Galena nor anywhere nearby. Either a mill would have to be built nearby at huge expense, or some way would have to be discovered to haul tons of ore out of the middle of nowhere. And even then, it is not known how much ore is left in the area that would prove profitable. I don't think re-opening is in the near future at any rate, even though the price of silver is high at this time.

So for now the Sitting Bull Mine will be left to the packrats and bats.

Panoramas from inside mine;

Sitting Bull Mine, pancake entrance

Sitting Bull Mine, old entrance


i John Paul Gries, Roadside Geology of South Dakota (Missoula. MT: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 1996), 214

ii Ross Grunwald, 1970. “Geology and Mineralogy Deposits of the Galena Mining District Black Hills, South Dakota. A thesis submitted to the Graduate Division in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geology.” PhD Diss. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, SD. 9.

iii Richard B. Hughes, Pioneer Years in the Black Hills (Rapid City, SD: Dakota Alpha Press, 2002), 143.

iv Edwin A.Curley Curley's Guide to the Black Hills. (Chicago, 1877), 102.

vGrunwald, p. 9.

viHughes, pp. 94-5.

vii Black Hills Mineral Atlas, South Dakota, Part 2 (May 1955). US Dept. of Interior, Bureau of Mines, Information Circular 7707. p. 3.

viiiBlack Hills Pioneer, December 16, 1876 p. 4

ix Engineering and Mining Journal, November 22, 1879, p. 382

x Joel Waterland The Mines Around and Beyond. (Rapid City, SD: Greling Printing Center, 1991), 130.

xiLawrence County Recorder's Office, Deadwood, SD.

xii Grunwald, p. 11.

xiii Annual Mining Review, 1879, p. 102

xiv Black Hills Daily Times, July 22, 1878 p. 1 col. 2

xv Black Hills Daily Times, September 6, 1878 p. 4 col. 4

xvi Black Hills Daily Times, May 10, 1881, p. 1 col. 2

xvii Grunwald, p. 11.

xviii Larson, Willard. Early Mills in the Black Hills, 2001, p. 69,80.

xix Mildred Fielder A Guide to Black Hills Ghost Mines. Aberdeen, SD: North Plain Press, 1972), p. 33.

xx J.D. Irving, Economic Resources of the Northern Black Hills. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904), p. 171.

xxi Black Hills Daily Times February 7, 1882 p. 4 col. 4

xxii Black Hills Daily Times June 2, 1882 p. 4 col. 4

xxiii Black Hills Daily Times September 27, 1882 p. 3 col. 4

xxiv Black Hills Daily Pioneer, October 4, 1882, p. 4

xxv Black Hills Daily Times, January 9, 1882 p. 1 col. 4

xxvi Black Hills Daily Times January 12, 1883 p. 2 col 4

xxvii Black Hills Daily Times April 22, 1883 p. 3 col. 4

xxviii Lawrence County Historical Society, Some History of Lawrence County (Deadwood, SD: Lawrence County Historical Society, 1981) 629.

xxix Klock, p. 32, and Fielder, 1978, p. 146-7

xxx Black Hills Daily Times July 21, 1883

xxxi Black Hills Daily Times September 9, 1883 p. 2 col. 2

xxxii Michael Duggan, p. 591

xxxiii Michael Duggan p. 34

xxxiv Michael Duggan, p. 70ff

xxxv Black Hills Daily Times March 25, 1885 p. 3 col. 3

xxxvi Black Hills Daily Times, December 11, 1887 p. 4 col. 1

xxxvii Fielder, 1978, p. 157

xxxviii Waterland, p. 145

xxxix Waterland, p. 151

xl Black Hills Mining Review vol. 11 #18, 5/5/05, p. 15

xli Waterland, p. 147

xlii Lawrence County records, Deadwood, South Dakota

xliii Find a Grave,, viewed November 4, 2012

xliv Black Hills Mining Review p. 6 vol. 3 #35 9/13/97

xlv Black Hills Mining Review, vol. 2 #39 10/5/96 p. 7

xlvi Richmond L. Clow, Chasing the Glitter, Black Hills Milling, 1874-1959 (Pierre, SD: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2002), 97

xlvii Larson, p .87

xlviii Fielder, 1978 p. 187

xlix Black Hills Mining Review Oct. 27, 1905, 14

l Waterland, p. 147

li Black Hills Illustrated, p. 172

lii Fielder, 1972, p.194

liii Larson, p. 89

liv Black Hills Mining Review December 1, 1905, p. 8

lv Annual report p. 7

lvi Black Hills Mining Review, April 21, 1905

lvii Grunwald p. 305

lviii “Richmond Sitting Bull Mining Co., Black Hills, South Dakota” brochure, circa 1905

lix Waterland p. 121

lx Scott, p. 10

lxi Fielder, 1978 p. 198

lxii Clow, p. 111

lxiii Ralph Meyer, (April 4, 1919). “Report on Richmond Sitting Bull Mining Co. Galen South Dakota”

lxiv A.H.Oleson, (June 10, 1919). “Report on Sitting Bull Richmond Properties Galena, S.D.”

lxvBlack Hills Weekly, (November 26, 1931), “Mill Nearly Completed at Double Rainbow”, p. 1

lxvi Grunwald p. 12

lxvii Paul G.Friggens, “Ghost Town of Black Hills is revived by mining activity”, Denver Post, December 26, 1930

lxviii Grunwald p. 305

lxix Elton W. Geist, George P. Schmid, and Seth C. Schaefer, (May 27, 1947). “Research Report on The Double Rainbow Ore (Richmond-Sitting Bull Mine).” subtitled “A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment for a Bacheolor of Science degree in Metallurgical Engineering”

lxx Ibid p.6

lxxi Ibid. p. 44

lxxii Grunwald, pp. 207-213

lxxiii K.L. Keester, R.A. Skramstad, J.T. Wood. 1964. “Upper Contact Mines, Galena District, Lawrence County, South Dakota”

lxxiv Grunwald, p. 13, 214-239

lxxv David Garske, (1968). “Mineralogy of the Lower Contact Zone of the Double Rainbow Mine, Galena, South Dakota”. Wyoming Geological Association Guide Book p. 77