Spearfish Stockade (1876-1877) - A stockaded fort established in 1876 by gold prospectors in present-day Spearfish, Lawrence County, South Dakota. Abandoned as a fortification in 1877.
Gold was first discovered in the Black Hills of present-day South Dakota on 2 Aug 1874, by two civilians with Lt. Colonel George A. Custer's 1874 cavalry expedition. Meager amounts of gold were found along French Creek in the portion of the Black Hills that was then on the Great Sioux Indian Reservation. Custer's expedition was allowed on this reservation by the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty but that treaty prohibited any settlers or miners on the Sioux Reservation. Custer's task was to map the Great Sioux Reservation and to select a fort site to protect the 26 million square mile area. Custer also was to confirm reports of gold in the area if he could. The Custer expedition was a massive undertaking with over 1000 men, 1900 horses, and 50 Indian scouts.
Reports of the French Creek gold discovery quickly spread and were greatly exaggerated by newspaper accounts of vast riches in the Black Hills. Immediately companies of men formed to enter the Black Hills to stake claims before all the best spots were gone. Because all of this activity was illegal, Custer's men soon became engaged in removing the companies of men as they found them and the Sioux began killing as many as they could. The companies of miners responded by building their quarters in stockaded compounds to protect themselves and their claims. These stockades were generally named after the elected leader of the company. Many of these stockades formed the basis for present-day towns like Sturges and Spearfish. The illegal population soared to some 12,000, well beyond the ability of the military or the Sioux to manage and Congress acted in 1877 to remove the Black Hills from the Sioux Reservation.
The origins of the Starfish Stockade began with the organization of the "Centennial Party" in Ames, Iowa in January 1876. The party originally had 14 members and John Johnson was elected captain. This party departed Ames, Iowa on 1 Mar 1876 for the goldfields of the Black Hills. They arrived at Custer City on the 16th of April but found little activity and moved on through what is now Deadwood and Lead City and down into the Spearfish valley. Along the way, the party had gained and lost members and at times had joined with other parties but still retained its membership. On the 29th of April the "Gay Party" and the "Smith Party" joined forces with the "Centennial Party" and a townsite company with 45 members was formed. The Spearfish townsite was then laid out by S. Burk with a pocket compass.
It became necessary to build a stockade for protection against hostile Indian raids and that was completed in September 1876. John Johnson, captain of the Centennial Party recalled the layout of the stockade in a letter to the Queen City Mail published on 27 Feb 1895 as: "...only half a block was used as a stockade" with "...oak posts set firmly in the ground at both ends of the half-block and at the back end of each of the vacant lots." He indicates that the enclosed space was "140 X 100 feet." Johnson furnished a drawing that shows his memory of the stockade that differs from the current NPS diagram at the site and in the Walking tour brochure. At the time the stockade was built all of this land belonged to the Sioux and land claims were technically illegal. The following year (1877) Congress removed the Black Hills from the Sioux Reservation and the need for the stockade ended.
Marker in front of the Wells Fargo Bank.
Visited: 10 Jun 2020