A log cabin built by the Patterson family about 1885 stands on the site where Custer's expedition camped in August 1874. This photo of the Patterson family (circa 1904) was taken by pioneer photographer Fred Farrar and is in the collection of Chuck Childs, Rapid City, who until 1995 owned the cabin that is still in use. Mr. Patterson sold vegetables from his farm to the Homestake Mercantile store at Nemo.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Childs.
Homestake Hotel Annex: William
and Jenny Boylan (far right) were pioneer homesteaders in the Piedmont area who ran the
Nemo hotel in the early 1900s while their son Ed (in doorway) and wife Helen (seated at
left) operated the Piedmont ranch. William Boylan hauled mail from Piedmont to Nemo.
William and Jenny Boylan's grandson, Basil, lives in Piedmont and at age 90 is still
active enough to help his grandsons move cattle.
|Nemo originated as 1800s Homestake company
We are like a family here.
Enchanted by the scenic setting, the history and people of a tiny Northern Hills community, a Colorado attorney is renovating the century-old buildings of a former Homestake company town.
After buying the Nemo Guest Ranch and Ox Yoke Ranch last fall, Jim Hansen and his wife Nancy embarked on an ambitious restoration program, beginning with the structure that was originally a company store, a branch of the Hearst Mercantile Company.
"We've committed to honoring the land and the history," said general manager Brian Einspahr, "and we're taking great care to restore the buildings without changing the historic elements." Einspahr and the Hansens have discovered there's a wealth of Black Hills history centered in the little logging town located 10 miles northwest of Rapid City, 15 miles southeast of Deadwood. Even before the Nemo Post Office was established in 1889, out-of-luck newcomers, finding all available placer claims taken up in Deadwood Gulch, fanned out to locate claims along Boxelder Creek that flows through the valley.
Various theories have developed about the origination of the Nemo name. Some oldtimers say it was derived from Jules Verne's 1864 subterranean fantasy, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; others claim it's an Indian word meaning "nowhere" and still a third faction maintains it's 'omen' spelled backwards.
|However the name was conceived, Nemo became
one of the 67 post offices established in Lawrence County in the late 1800s and is one of
six still in operation, along with Deadwood, Lead, Spearfish, St. Onge and Whitewood.
The men with Custer's 1874 Black Hills Expedition were possibly the first white men to traverse the area's rugged terrain. Enroute back to Fort Abraham Lincoln after exploring the Southern Hills, Custer's expedition camped west of Nemo while scouts looked for a pass through the limestone canyon walls. Their exit route is now known as Custer Gap.
Once the news of Custer's gold discovery on French Creek spread across the country, eager gold seekers rushed into the Indian treaty lands. From Deadwood Gulch they fanned out to settle little communities throughout the Northern Hills.
Benchmark. Greenwood. Slabtown. Rotting logs and scattered stones mark foundations of log cabins the miners left behind when those settlements became just names on Forest Service maps. But the town that was born from a mining company's timber needs refused to die, although the population dropped from 258 in 1910 to 40 in 1988.
Two years after Custer's 1874 expedition left the Black Hills the Manuel brothers took $5,000 worth of gold from their Homestake mining claim in Lead. In June 1877 California mining entrepreneur George Hearst bought paid $70,000 for the claim and incorporated it as the Homestake Mining Company.
Homestake's expanding mining operation consumed a staggering amount of timber each year (five million board feet of lumber and 20,000 cords of wood) as fuel for steam-powered mills and railroad engines, mine supports and employee housing. Shortly after Shortly after President Grover Cleveland set aside a million acres of timber as the Black Hills Forest Reserve in 1897, the nation's first application to purchase timber was submitted by Homestake superintendent T. J. Grier.
Homestake built a sawmill at Este, three miles southwest of Nemo, ran a branch line of a narrow gauge railroad through Nemo to Este and bought out the 143-acre Nemo placer claim, present site of the Nemo Guest Ranch, for company headquarters. The mining company constructed offices for a superintendent and clerks and houses for families of sawmill employees. Single men lived in the boarding house or 16-room hotel, paying a dollar of their $3.25-per-day paychecks for board and room. A store, butcher shop and one-room school served the day-to-day needs of the 200 residents.
In 1913 Homestake moved milling operations to Nemo. The town grew into a thriving little community with the Hearst Mercantile store as a central gathering place. After finishing their shift, sawmill men stopped in to pick up snuff or tobacco, gloves or overalls, hoist a cool one and swap tales. Housewives didn't linger when they did last minute shopping for the evening meal; the store was primarily male territory.
Some things haven't changed much in the past 110 years. Although the present store is about half its original size it is still the hub of the Nemo community. Today's shopper picks up a loaf of bread or carton of milk, instead of a 100-pound sack of flour, a slab off the huge cheese wheel, a block of salt or bag of feed. And men still stand around the pot-bellied stove, swapping stories over a can of beer.
Bob Deen, whose father ran the store in the 1930s, compared Nemo to Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Woebegon, but "it wasn't fiction," he said. "It was one place where Norman Rockwell could have spent a lifetime and never run out of material."
Between 1900 and 1920 Nemo's population more than doubled, from 200 to 500 residents. Overcrowded school facilities were replaced with a modern new schoolhouse (containing such conveniences as indoor bathrooms) in 1926.
Described as one of the best preserved buildings of its type in the Black Hills region, the two-story white schoolhouse on the National Register of Historic Places is now a vacation home to five couples from Minnesota who bought the abandoned school building in 1995 for $38,000.
From 1933 to 1942 young men enrolled in President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps lived at the C.C.C. camp at Este. They built campgrounds, roads and Forest Service houses, and improved thousands of acres of timber in the Nemo area. Another Civilian Conservation Center (Job Corps) became part of the community in 1965. At the live-in facility four miles northwest of Nemo, disadvantaged young men and women study for their GED while participating in vocational training programs
After Homestake moved its milling operation to Spearfish in 1940, Nemo was virtually a ghost town until a Martin cattle rancher brought new life to the dying town.
Frank Troxell bought the town in 1946 and his dream of Black Hills dude ranch became a reality. Naming the resort for their 4 T brand, the Troxells set to work restoring the aging timber camp buildings. Homestake's office building became a western-themed restaurant; vacant homes and the old meat market were remodeled into lodges and cabins; the old Hotel Annex became home to Troxell family members.
Hollywood discovered Nemo in the 1950s. Western film makers shot location scenes at the 4 T, utilizing as authentic props the antique stage coach and chuck wagon still on display at the site.
Meantime, just a few miles down the road, Harley and Freddie Roth were staging championship rodeos at their Ox Yoke ranch with the help of South Dakota's own World Saddle Bronc Champion Casey Tibbs. Casey married Miss South Dakota of 1954, Cleo Ann Harrington, at a New Year's Eve ceremony. The wedding reception was held at the Ox Yoke in January of 1959.
Roth also supplied mules, cowboys, horses and old army supply wagons for the movie makers. An article in the Tri-State Livestock News said Roth's spread had "movie stars living in the guest rooms, bronc riders in the bunkhouse, cattle buyers in the kitchen."
Much of the excitement at the Ox Yoke Ranch died when Harley Roth was killed in a plane crash in 1961. A new generation of fun-seekers attended concerts and dances at the big red barn in the 1970s and 80s, but in 1991 the Ox Yoke's red barn,a landmark on Nemo Road for nearly 90 years, burned to the ground
Through several changes of ownership in the past 30 years and a name change, the Nemo Guest Ranch has remained the heartbeat of the little Lawrence County town. In the past few months the store, the 4 T cabin and the Brandin' Iron restaurant have been extensively renovated by the new owners, Jim and Nancy Hansen, who were married in the store last December.
Designated an official Centennial Community, Nemo held a three-day celebration of its 100th birthday in 1989. Current and former residents contributed articles to a commemorative book detailing the town's history. Nemo, South Dakota: One Hundred Years was edited by Elton and Norma (Troxell) Adams. "The optimistic thinking of the Nemo people is a special quality that binds us together.We are like a family here," the book said.
Enthusiastic residents support a Nemo Community Association, a little log church, the volunteer fire department and auxiliary (the Nemo Fire Belles), serve on the Job Corps Community Relations Council, organize clean-up days and an annual Pioneer Picnic, yet still find time to lend a helping hand to neighbors.
It's a close-knit community filled with people who wouldn't think of living anywhere else. In the Nemo centennial book Lois Weston wrote:
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