Black Hills


From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This page: Gillette, Newcastle, Sundance, Moorcroft

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Gillette, 1924
1913 view of Gordon Avenue below left.

Strictly speaking Gillette is not in the Black Hills of Wyoming being some 23 miles to the west of the Belle Fourche which is regarded as the western edge of the Black Hills. Gillette was founded in 1891 with the arrival of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Originally the railroad was going to follow Donkey Creek with the station to be at Donkey Town, then a tent city providing a place of resort for the railroad workers. Edward Gillette, a surveyor and engineer for the railroad and and after whom Gillette is named, located a shorter route which avoided the necessity of a number of bridges had the Donkey Creek route been used. As a railhead, the town experience immediate growth similar to that of the railheads on the Union Pacific discussed with regard to Benton on the Ghost Towns page, having a commissary operated by Kilpatrick Brothers and Collins, contractors for the railroad, as well as 7 saloons and 3 dance halls. As the railroad moved west, however, the boom ended and by 1894 the commissary had closed and there were only 2 saloons, 2 stores and 1 restaurant. Nevertheless the town survived and in 1911 Campbell County was created out of parts of Weston and Crook Counties. The County is unique in that it is named not after one, but two individuals, Robert Campbell (1804-79) who was a partner with William Sublette in the fur trade, and John A. Campbell (1835-80), the first territorial governor.

Gillette, 1911
1919 view below right.

Robert Campbell emigrated to the United States from Northern Ireland in 1824 and was advised to seek mountain air as a cure for his tuberculosis. Thus, he joined Ashley's fur trading company and by 1826 was in charge of the various trapping parties. He became a partner of William Sublette and was present at the Battle of Pierre's Hole. In 1835 the business was sold to Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick & Company. Campbell was one of the few white men trusted by the Indians and participated in the negotiation of the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1869. Both Campbell and Ashley served as co-executors of the estate of Jedediah Smith.

John Allen Campbell, a brevet brigadier general during the Civil War, was appointed territorial governor by President Grant and served between 1869 and 1875. Although he is most noted for signing in 1869 legislation providing for the first universal sufferage in the United States, Gov. Campbell may also be regarded as the father of the Wyoming National Guard. At his urging the Legislature in 1870 authorized the formation of volunteer militia units. As a result several short lived units were formed in the Territory including the Cheyenne Rangers in 1873, the Wyoming Home Guard in Laramie and Cheyenne in 1874, and the Wyoming Rangers in Lander. Following his service as governor, Campbell served as an assistant secretary of state and as American consul in Basel, Switzerland.

Newcastle, Wyoming

Compare with 1953 photo below left. Newcastle was established by J. H. Hemingway, superintendent of the Cambria Coal Company, and was named by him after his hometown in England. The first lots were sold on Sept. 10, 1889. The same day all of the inhabitants and businesses of Tubb Town, located on Salt Creek and the Custer-Belle Fourche Trail picked up lock, stock and whiskey barrel and moved to Newcastle. One saloon owner loaded the bar on the back of a wagon and continued to serve his thirsty patrons on the trek. Tubb Town had been established a year before in anticipation of the Railroad coming with the inhabitants of Whoop-up which had been established the year before, moving to Tubb Town for the expected prosperity. Unfortuantely, the Railroad went to Newcastle instead.

Newcastle shortly thereafter was incorporated and the first mayor, Frank W. Mondell 1860-1939) was elected on Nov. 12, 1889. Mondell, a Republican, was elected to Congress in 1895, was succeeded by John Eugene Osborne in 1897, and was returned to Congress in 1899 and continued to serve until 1923. He was responsible for an amendment to the act creating territorial status for Alaska that authorized women's sufferage. He also served as majority-leader at the time that Congress authorized submitting to the states a constitutional amendment authorizing women's sufferage.

By 1895, Newcastle had a population of almost five times that of Cambria, an older town some 10 miles away. See discussion of Cambria.

Sundance, undated

Although, the Black Hills were reputedly the first area of Wyoming to be explored, it was also the last. Joseph and Francois Verendrye, French-Canadians, explored portions of Montana and Northeastern Wyoming as early as 1743. Because of Indian threats the Black Hills were not explored until much later than the rest of Wyoming. Early expeditions, however, included those of G. K. Warren in 1857, and that of George A. Custer of 1875. This is not to say that no European explorers ventured into the area until then. As indicated on Photos II, Sir George Gore's expedition of 1855 ended abruptly near present day Sundance. Valentine T. McGillycuddy, a surgeon and topographer assigned to General Crook's 1876 campaign in the Black Hills (1876 photo, left), reported the finding of the ruins of a cabin in indicating the presence of trappers in the area from an earlier era. McGillycuddy is later noted as the assistant post surgeon at Fort Robinson at the time of the death of Crazy Horse. Later, he described the death of Crazy Horse:

He was but thirty-six. In him everything was made secondary to patriotism and love of his people. Modest, fearless, a mystic, a believer in destiny, and much of a recluse, he was held in veneration and admiration by the youngest warriors, who would follow him anywhere. These qualities made him a danger to the government and he become persona non grata to evolution and to the progress of the white man's civilization, Hence his early death was preordained. At about eleven p.m. that night in the gloomy old adjutant's office, as his life was fast ebbing, the bugler on the parade ground wailed out the lonesome call for Taps, "Lights out, go to sleep!" It brought back to him the old battles; he struggled to arise, and there came from his lips his old rallying cry, "A good day to fight, a good day to die! Brave hearts...." and his voice ceased, the lights went out and the last sleep came. It was a scene never to be forgotten, an Indian epic.

The bayoneting of Crazy Horse by Indian Police is still a matter of dispute; that is, whether it was murder or was Crazy Horse attempting to escape when he realized that he was to be a prisoner. McGillycuddy also served as the head of the Pine Ridge Agency in Dakota Territory where he came into comflict with Red Cloud particularly with regard to his attempts to starve the Indians into submission to his plan of sending the children off to boarding school at Carlisle to become white men and women.

Moorcroft, approx. 1928

In 1876 Alex Moorcroft, after whom Moorcroft is probably named, became one of the first settlers of the Black Hills area of Wyoming when he settled on Sand Creek near present day Beulah. Two other versions of the naming of Moorcroft exist: (a) that the town was named by the first postmaster, Stocks Miller, after a town in Scotland, and (b) it was named after an 1890's visitor to the area who liked to hunt. The latter two explanations would appear to be improbable. An exhaustive search has been made to locate a Moorcroft in the U.K. Only three places (other than roads or streets), named "Moorcroft" were found, one a lunatic asylum that existed in the 1840's at Uxbridge in Middlesex, a colliery that existed in the late 1800's in Wednesbury in the West Midlands, and a pottery. The colliery is a possiblity in light of the naming of Cambria and Newcastle. Locations along the railroad were most often named by the railroad itself, usually with a pattern. As to the visitor in the 1890's, the post office bore the name Moorcroft in 1889.

Moorcroft Hotel, approx. 1910

The railroad reached Moorcroft in 1891 and the town rapidly became the largest shipping point on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. The town was on the Texas Trail and at its height in 1894 some 32 herds passed through going from Texas to Montana. Each herd had from 2,000 to 3,000 head. By the early 1900's the town had 3 general stores and 5 saloons.

In 1880 stage service was established between Spearfish, S.D. and Sundance.

Sundance, undated

Sundance is most noted as having given its name to Harry Longabough, aka, the Sundance Kid. Longabough, born in New York State, found himself down on his luck near Sundance and stole a horse belong to the VVV Ranch. Captured by Crook County Sheriff Ryan near Miles City, Montana, he served 18 months in the Sundance Jail. Following completion of his sentence he wandered to Belle Fourche, S.D. There he bragged about his experiences in the jail with such bravado that he earned the sobriquet "Sundance."