Ghost Towns of South Dakota: Tinton
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Tinton South Dakota

In the Black Hills, you don't have to wait till summer to go chasing ghost towns. Sometimes a four wheel drive and a pair of snowshoes can get you there.

Your SDPB correspondent tested that proposal out with an auto/snowshoe excursion to Tinton. (Incidentally, SDPB has a Tinton connection. Tinton-born artist Diana Tollefson hosted the South Dakota Public Television series Draw With Me in 1960s and 70s.)

Here's how and why you might want to make a winter trek to Tinton.

How?

From the I-90 take exit 8, turn left onto McGuigan Road, drive three miles. Turn right on Tinton Road (from here it's all gravel roads which are plowed, but will likely be covered with packed snow), drive about ten miles, then right on Beaver Creek. After about four and half miles, you'll pass a few houses shortly before you get to a point where there is no maintenance, and the road is likely to be impassable even in most 4WDs.

From here, you can park on the shoulder and snowshoe about two and a half miles. There is no clear off-road pass through the forest. The easiest path is just to walk Beaver Creek another mile and change, to where it meets Schoolhouse Gulch/Boundary Gulch Road and hang a right. As you walk through quaking aspen and ponderosa forest, you'll probably peep black-capped chickadees scouring for velvet mullein seed or pecking for morsels foraged under tree bark. You might encounter deer, elk or a mountain lion.

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As you approach Boundary Gulch, you'll briefly cross into Wyoming then back into South Dakota, and descend into the valley. Just before you reach Tinton, you'll see an aluminum warehouse owned by the present mining operation on the left side of the road. Tinton is just ahead to the right. There are no trespassing signs posted but you can see the town from the road.

Why?

You'll be walking alone in the beautiful, snow-covered northern Black Hills and see what's left of the "capital" of the old Tinton tin mining district.

The Tinton Tin Mining Company built Tinton between 1902 and 1904, to house workers at the nearby Rough & Reaady Mine and an ore-processing mill. The town had a bank, general store/assembly hall, post office, grade school, newspaper (The Tinton Times, edited for a time by Estelline Bennett, author of Old Deadwood Days), and a boarding house.

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The town park was named after Theodore Roosevelt, who visited the young town with his friend Seth Bullock in 1903. According to Christopher Hills' history Gold Pans and Broken Picks: The History of the Tinton Mining Region, trouble started early when the Company mishandled the rape of a local woman by a miner, leading to a "wildcat" strike, and eventually to disinvestment by the company's backers in England.

The company downsized and lingered, ramped up briefly, but too late, when tin prices rose during WWI, then went bust after Armistice. The workers left, though the structures were sometimes used as a camp by placer miners panning for gold. During the Great Depression, the Gold Reserve Act raised gold prices, and Tinton surged again, then faltered during WWII when the War Production Board shut down gold mining operations.

The Black Hills Tin Company attempted to slow Tinton's decline with mineral and timber harvesting operations, but by 1950 there were only fourteen residents. In 1953, the Tinton mill burned down. The last Tinton resident left in 1959, though there were a few town reunions in the 1960s.

There are still mining operations in the Tinton district, but the forest is gradually reclaiming Tinton town — a fading relic of an era when hard labor could buy you a home with million dollar views in the Mountain West. For now, Tinton has the largest number of extant structures of the ghosted Black Hills mining towns, but eventually it will go the way of Preston, Carbonate Camp and the many forgotten towns of the prime mining era.