The Charles Nolin Monument and Film - Sturgis, 1932

Posted by Brian Gevik on

In 1876, Charles "Red" Nolin was a 24-year old mail carrier on the trail between Sydney, Nebraska and Deadwood. (Some accounts say that he delivered the mail from Fort Pierre to Deadwood.)

On August 19, Nolin encountered a group of freighters camped along Alkali Creek southeast of present day Sturgis. They'd ended a day's work of hauling hay on the trail from Rapid City to points north and west. Members of the group urged Nolin stay with them for the night and not press on to Deadwood. They believed there were hostile Natives in the area and felt the ride would be too dangerous.

Nolin rode on anyway. According to several accounts, Nolin told the party that he was eager to complete his journey, having promised his mother that he would return home once he'd completed the delivery.

He didn't get far. Nolin's mutilated body was found the next day near what is now Junction Avenue in Sturgis. By all accounts, Nolin was killed by Indians.

On May 30, 1932, a monument to Nolin was dedicated on the spot where his body was found. Two surviving members of the party that met Nolin on his last ride attended the event. In addition to the momument, a dramatic re-enactment of the Nolin incident was produced in the form of a silent film.

The video clip below shows scenes from the dedication event as a lead-in to the dramatic re-enactment. (It's believed that the filmmakers misspelled Nolin's name as "Nolan.")

Images of the Past The Charles Nolin Monument and Film - Sturgis, 1932 A 1932 film re-enactment of the 1876 murder of a mail carrier on the Deadwood Trail.


Nolin's death on the trail was not the only murder that August. Reverend Henry Weston Smith, known in Deadwood lore as Preacher Smith, was killed south of Deadwood on August 20th, the same day Nolin's body was found. Indians were blamed for Smith's killing but no one was ever brought to justice. And a white man named George Mason was reportedly killed by Indians after having himself killed a Native man. Mason was buried on the same day as Reverend Smith.

1876 was a time of exceptionally high tension and violence in the Black Hills. The Battle of the Little Bighorn had been fought in June of that year; Deadwood was growing as a viable settlement town built on land promised to the Lakota Sioux in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Native Americans have not always been portrayed accurately or with much historical context in movies. Visit this PBS site to view clips and read more about the Independent Lens film "Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian."

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