Horatio Ross & Custer's Black Hills Gold Find

Last Updated by Brian Gevik, Text by Gary Enright - Director - 1881 Courthouse Museum - Custer on
All Images courtesy: 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer

Horatio-Ross001.jpg

An odd coincidence links the man who discovered gold in the Black Hills in 1874 and the man who discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in California 25 years earlier. 

Horatio-Ross002.jpg

The coincidence is that neither man became rich by being the first to discover the precious metal.

Horatio-Ross004.jpg

Horatio Ross accompanied General George Custer on the 1874 Black Hills Expedition and discovered gold on French Creek near what is now Custer, SD.

Horatio-Ross003.jpg

James Marshall was a New Jersey native who failed at farming and while working for John Sutter building a water-powered mill on the American River in California, discovered one of the richest gold fields in world history.

Horatio-Ross005.jpg

The Horatio Ross discovery of gold in the Black Hills, presented a problem because this was disputed territory. The Black Hills was part of the Native American Reservation which encompassed the western half of the state of South Dakota.

Horatio-Ross007.jpg

While the “Permanent Camp”, located just east of the present-day City of Custer, Ross staked out a claim along with a dozen others who saw the potential for rich deposits in French Creek.

Horatio-Ross008.jpg

Once General Custer and the Expedition left the Black Hills in August of 1874, newspaper articles appeared nationwide and gold prospectors began pouring into the ‘forbidden’ territory. The U.S. Army quickly responded by chasing the gold-seekers out of the Black Hills, but by the summer of 1875, Horatio Ross and hundreds of others flocked westward to search for gold. 

Horatio-Ross009.jpg

For months miners and prospectors searched the creeks in the Custer area until richer and more promising gold strikes occurred near Deadwood in the northern “Hills”.

Horatio-Ross011.jpg

Horatio Ross laid claim to several sites near Custer and remained in the town for 30 years. During that time he worked his gold claims but in the end most of his income came from showing tourists, visitors, and new miners, the location of the spot where he discovered gold in 1874.

RossThumb.jpg

On May 14, 1904, Horatio Ross died in Custer at the age of 66.  He is buried in the Custer Cemetery. And oh, by the way, the man who shared Horatio Ross’ fate, James Marshall, lived out his life on a little acreage near Coloma, California where he survived on a small pension given to him by the California State Legislature.  He died in 1885 at the age of 75, also a poor man.

Visit the 1881 Courthouse Museum Web site.

Educational Resource: Activity Idea  I-Spy - That’s Not My Habitat During this activity your students will participate in a hands-on observation/habitat challenge. You will notice an increase in the development of your students' observation skills. Also, this is a great activity that encourages students to take a closer look at the habitats around them.
 

Dakota Midday

Interview with Gary Enright, Director, 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer


Host: Lori Walsh

"Personalities" with Chuck Anderson. Vintage radio interviews with well known and not so well known South Dakotans.

Personalities: How the Volga Germans Came to America

The Dakotas are a product of Native American and northern European cultures. With a deeper look, one can see the...

Personalities: Baxter Black

The nation knows his tongue-in-cheek performances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. People from the heartland...

Personalities: Roy and Lucille Fitz Pt. II

In this continuation of the story of Roy and Lucille Fitz, the De Smet couple discusses the reality of the...

Personalities: Roy and Lucille Fitz, Part 1

Sadly, we're losing senior South Dakotans able to share first-hand remembrances of what life was like here in the...

Personalities: Huron Native Candace Hilligoss on Her 1962 Cult Film Classic, "Carnival of Souls"

Candace Hilligoss grew up in Huron during the 1940s and 1950s and graduated from Huron high school. After three...