On a recent early morning in Buffalo, SD, you could easily be transported back to a time when real “horsepower” was one of the few modes of travel in the region. The sun was just cresting the horizon and in the midst of dusty prairie lands and dirt roads, folks were organizing a wagon train with numerous outriders. The teams, singular riders and impressive array of buckboards, covered wagons, buggies and open-air carriages, would embark on a journey across the very same route that was utilized during the late 1880s to 1900s to ferry tourists and goods to the surrounding areas.
The event, which began Aug. 25, concluded in Deadwood on Sept. 1, 2012, with a full parade of horses, riders and wagons down historic Main Street. Turning off Main Street into the Days of ’76 Museum entrance, the dust was kicked up just as it likely had over 100 years ago. Sponsored by Deadwood Historic Preservation in an effort to document Deadwood’s historic trails system, the ride traces the original route used from 1876 until the coming of the railroad in 1890. Deadwood was a transportation and communication hub for routes from Ft. Pierre, SD; Miles City, MT; Sydney, NE; Cheyenne, WY and Medora and Bismarck, ND. The only way to get goods and services into or out of the area was by freight teams, stage coach, wagon, horseback or on foot. The location of these routes, along with the story of their importance and contribution to the region’s history is often ignored.
Days of ’76 Museum cosponsored a reenactment of the Ft. Pierre to Deadwood Trail with the Verendrye Museum in 2008. The original route was mapped utilizing historic maps, journal and old newspaper accounts. Wagon ruts, signs and markers along the old trail were also used to guide the participants in the 2008 ride. An outgrowth of that initial event is the interest that continued to build in the historic routes and created the opportunity to take part in such a specific and unique event this year.
The Days of ’76 Museum, with its large horse drawn vehicle, has a logical part in the telling of the story of these trade and tourism routes. The 2012 Medora-Deadwood Trail Project will be followed by next summer’s 2013 trek covering the first leg of the journey – Medora, ND, to Buffalo, SD.
Beef and the need for goods is what initially sparked the on-going trade routes of this event. Antoine de Vallombrosa, (Marquis de Mores), a French aristocrat, came out west with a “big idea” of transporting processed beef to the east in refrigerated railroad cars. Interest from the businesses and residents of Deadwood drove the development of the eventual trail. The Marquis established the stage route from Medora to Deadwood in 1884. The 215 mile journey took an unprecedented 32 hours and 5 minutes. This recent “half ride” was completed in roughly ten days with ample opportunity for engagement with others on the tour and of course, rest for the horses and mules who took part. Dogs, kids, experienced wagoneers and enthusiasts also joined the trip, some taking part in the entire grassy voyage and some participating for 3-4 day stretches.
Overall, some 25-plus wagons drove the grasslands from Buffalo to Deadwood during this recent effort. Over 150 riders participated as well, enjoying starry nights around a campfire, amazing meals served by a variety of local vendors, opportunities for education and dialog with local ranchers who hosted each day’s events.
The Ray and Linda Gilbert Ranch, just one of the families who provided access for the participants of the ride, gave full berth to the arriving wagons after the first full day of wagon and horse travel. A majestic site (and sight) not far from Buffalo, the Gilberts place, played gracious host to folks whom they were already acquainted as well as welcoming first-timers. The Gilberts completed the entire ride, officially heading up the ride as lead wagon. Dick Herman and LeRoy Dean acted as trail bosses. The folks who helped to realize the riding of this Southern Route were 2012 Committee members: Linda and Ray Gilbert, Gordon and Lil O’Dell; Jim Emery; Kathy Thompson; Dawn and Wilbur Newland; Gregg and Nadine Radtke; Jon Mattson and Karin Savoie.
As planning continues for next summer’s 2013 trek – Medora, ND to Buffalo, SD, excitement is building already. The event is likely to have more riders, more wagons and more enthusiasm to reconnect with new friends made on this year’s ride. The various permitting and permissions to travel across such a diverse terrain covered in this journey took in excess of a year to obtain. For more information and registration for the 2013 leg of this historic trail, please be looking for details in future issues of Tri-State Livestock News.