On the Northern Loop

The trip northward from Denver to western South Dakota is through the grassy plains of Colorado and eastern Wyoming. Easy riding while looking at the open terrain that is easy to spot various wildlife.

Located within the beautiful Black Hills, we stayed (2 nights) in this wonderful lodge at Custer State Park (outside Custer, SD). President Calvin Coolidge used this location as the “Summer White House” in 1927.

 

Custer State Park is home to many animals. During scene drives, we observed elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and many buffalo.

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Two outstanding landmarks are located near Custer: Mt. Rushmore is a national treasure. It’s actually a National Memorial that is operated by the National Parks Service.

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Located 16 miles (26 km) away is a treasure that greatly impacted me. On our entire trip, our guide talked much about Native Americans. The Crazy Horse Memorial – the world’s largest mountain sculpture – stands as a tribute to all North American Indians.

Started in 1948, it still has a long way to go to completion. I know I won’t see it in my lifetime. Maybe our new great-niece (born this past July) will see it. Then again, maybe her kids.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is so big, Mt. Rushmore would fit in the head area behind the face (in the hair). The picture below shows a model of the final product with the mountain sculpture in the background.

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After leaving Custer, we travelled 2-days westward toward Yellowstone National Park – with stops along the way.

Deadwood, South Dakota – a town established as a result of the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1874. It’s also linked to western legends as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Some readers may remember this past post about my link to Deadwood – a headstone near my home marking the grave of Charlie Rich – the one who dealt the infamous Dead Man’s Hand of aces and eights.

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Devil’s Tower National Monument – declared as the US’s first National Monument in 1906 – is a butte of igneous rock located in northeastern Wyoming. We took a 45-minute walk around the base, and observed climbers!

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After a night in Sheridan, Wyoming, the trip through the Bighorn Mountains was a pleasant surprise – especially because I’d never heard of them.

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Cody, Wyoming, located near Yellowstone’s east entrance, is home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This stop was an unexpected surprise as it is 5 museums within one: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum – as well as a research library.

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Next Post: Yellowstone

For more posts about this trip, click here.

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On the Headstone’s Story

Many of us remember Charlie Rich – the country music singer and songwriter known as the Silver Fox. His biggest hits were Behind Closed Doors and The Most Beautiful Girl, and the latter earned him two Grammy Awards.

I recall the first time I passed the beautiful and unique headstone near the road in a small town cemetery not too far from my house, but I knew his man wasn’t the Silver Fox – who was actually Charles Allan Rich. However, research would deliver a few surprises about the Cincinnati connection in this tale.

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I never stopped to look at the headstone, but it’s uniqueness and significance always caught my eye. One day it was gone. I’ve heard different reasons for it being missing, but for the next 10 years or so, I would think about Mr. Rich when driving past the cemetery … especially wondering about the missing headstone.

Several months ago, I noticed the headstone had returned. I don’t know why, how, or if any changes were made, but I was happy to have it back. Much has happened since it last stood tall – especially starting this blog. I knew it had to be featured in a post, so I visited the grave … and now the rest of the story.

Miners formed Deadwood in the Dakota Territory in 1876 as a result of the Black Hills gold rush. The town’s namesake were the many dead trees occupying the surrounding canyon walls. The name stuck and the town is still there today in what is now west-central South Dakota. Deadwood is also a great name for the colorful and lawless legends of the new American frontier of that time … the wild, wild west.

Charlie Rich was born (1859) and raised one county north of Cincinnati. Being unmarried, young and adventurous, he traveled west seeking fortune.

Away from Deadwood, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was a skilled sharpshooter and quite the character. His legendary status involved time as a lawman, hunter, tracker, winner of duels, and participation in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. He also drank, gambled, and indulged in more than his fair share of fun. In other words, many knew Wild Bill.

In 1871, Hickok met Agnes Thatcher Lake, a widow and experienced circus performer who was 10 years older. They married on March 5, 1876 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Oddly enough, Agnes grew up in Cincinnati – so they traveled to Cincinnati for their honeymoon and to meet Agnes’ friends. After a few weeks in Ohio, Wild Bill felt the need to head west to search for gold – so Wild Bill took the train back to Cheyenne (leaving Agnes in Cincinnati). Later, he joined a wagon train bound for Deadwood – arriving in June or July.

Two interesting things happened on August 1, 1876 in Deadwood. Wild Bill wrote a letter to his wife with these words:

Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife—Agnes—and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.

That evening at the Nuttall, Lewis & Mann’s No. 10 Saloon, Wild Bill played poker with several men – including Jack McCall. While Wild Bill won the money, others (including McCall) lost. Wild Bill returned some money to McCall so he could get a meal, but he also cautioned McCall about playing again before repaying his debts.

The next afternoon, Wild Bill Hickok returned to the same saloon for more poker. Charlie Rich, whom Hickok had met in Cheyenne earlier in the year, was the dealer. Rich was sitting in Wild Bill’s favorite seat, so Wild Bill asked Rich to changed seats. Rich refused, but Wild Bill joined the game.

Charlie Rich dealt the game of five-card stud. Jack McCall entered the saloon. He saw Wild Bill seated at a table, and approached him from behind. While saying, Damn you, take that! – McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok in the head from point-blank range, instantly killing him.

Headstone Deal

Wild Bill Hickok’s card hand was two black aces, 2 black eights … thereafter known as Dead Man’s Hand. In this case, the jack of diamonds was his down card.

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The townspeople buried Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, the town where he still lies today. Agnes visited her husband’s grave in 1877. While there, she made arrangements to place an iron fence around her slain husband’s grave. She eventually married a third time, and died on August 21, 1907 in New jersey. Interestingly, she is buried here (in Cincinnati) next to her first husband at Spring Grove Cemetery.

But what about Charlie Rich – the dealer – the man whose gravesite is near me? Several years after the shooting, he returned to Ohio where he worked, married, had a family, and died (1929) – three weeks shy of his 70th birthday.

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In time, the family decided to honored the man who dealt the infamous Dead Man’s Hand with a special headstone – the man who family says never dealt another hand.

Headstone Whole

This is the side that one sees when driving by Evergreen Cemetery on Rt. 126 just outside Miamiville, Ohio. Some of the other images from the other side appear in this post … and this headstone tells quite a story!