Mail carrier and minister slain in summer of ‘76
The hot summer months of 1876 were violent ones in
the Black Hills. Enraged
by encroachment of white men into their sacred Paha Sapa, marauding
bands of Sioux Indians returning from their victory at the Little Big
Horn were exacting murderous revenge.
Deadwood, with its large population of well-armed
men, was safe from attack, but Black Hills newspapers were filled with
accounts of Indian raids, killings and stock thefts at the smaller
settlements of Spearfish, Custer, Crook City and Centennial.
Sensational headlines in the Black Hills Pioneer of August 5, 1876 (Stock Stolen by Red Devils, Indians All Around Us were the
mildest) called attention to accounts of Indian depredations. In the
same edition the Pioneer reported
the head of an Indian killed near Crook City had been brought into town,
displayed to the citizens, then turned over to Dr. Schultz, “who upon
removing the brain, found it to weigh 44 ounces. When we remember that
Webster’s brain weighed just 54 ounces we can rest assured that the
Indian killed was one of no mean intellect. He was a young brave about
26 years of age.”
Monuments dedicated to two men murdered in that
perilous month -- pony mail carrier Charles Nolin and Deadwood’s first
minister, Preacher Smith – have been erected on Highway 85 north of
Deadwood and on Junction Avenue in Sturgis.
Charles “Red” Nolin was ambushed, killed and scalped while
carrying mail to Deadwood on the Sidney-Deadwood trail. On the evening
of August 19, Nolin reined up at Alkali Creek (present location of Black
Hills National Cemetery) where a wagon train hauling hay to Deadwood had
stopped for the night. Warning Nolin they had heard Indian war cries in
the vicinity, the freighters urged him to spend the night and accompany
the train into Deadwood the next day.
Nolin was anxious to complete the ride he had promised his mother
back in Nebraska would be his last. Disregarding the good advice, he
mounted up and headed out. True to his promise, that was Charles
Nolin’s last mail ride.
The next morning the wagon train party found the mail
scattered along the trail near Nolin’s mutilated body and dead horse.
They dug a shallow grave with their hay forks and buried him near the
site of the present day monument in Sturgis. Nolin’s remains were
later moved to Bear Butte Cemetery.
A day after Nolin’s was killed Rev. Henry Weston Smith set out
on a 10-mile walk, leaving a note on his cabin door: “Gone to Crook
City to preach, and if God is willing, will be back at three
Walking was the usual mode of transportation for the
Methodist missionary. He walked beside a wagon train from Cheyenne to
the Black Hills earlier that year, preaching his first sermon in Custer
City. The crowded dirt main street in Deadwood was his church, a fact
later pointed out by Captain C. V. Gardner.
Friends concerned about Indian danger warned the missionary
against attempting a solitary walk to Crook City and pleaded with him to
carry a gun. “The Bible is my protection. It has never failed me
yet,” he told them.
never returned from Crook City. His body was found on the trail, hands
clutching his Bible and blood-stained notes for his sermon in his
Bullock described Rev. Smith’s death in his August 21 letter to Rev.
J. S. Chadwick in Louisville, Kentucky:
Also killed near Crook City on that tragic August day, Charles Mason was
buried in a separate wooden coffin in the same grave as Preacher Smith.
Although his death was attributed to Indians, some historians have
theorized Preacher Smith
may have been killed by lawless whites.
missionary’s body was later moved to the new Mount Moriah cemetery
where a life-size statue placed on his grave in 1891 was eventually
destroyed by vandals. In 1914 the Society of Black Hills Pioneers
erected a monument on the Deadwood-Spearfish road, not far from where
his body was found.
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Deadwood Magazine ©2002