A Note from Cottonwood Corners

One of the first reports of a general roundup of the cattle in South Dakota appeared in the May 7, 1880 edition of the Omaha Daily Bee.  The paper reported that “The general round-up of stock of northern Nebraska, a portion of Wyoming, and Forsythe and Custer counties in Dakota Territory, will commence May 20.”

At that time, there were ranchers who housed their cattle in Forsythe and Custer counties on the western edge of the Dakota Territory.  For pasture, they considered the entire Wyoming Territory their open range.

One of the main routes into Deadwood in 1880 was the Sidney Trail.  The bulk of the treasury shipments and the Deadwood mail was carried over this road for many years.  A daily stage line connected Deadwood with the Union Pacific in Nebraska.

A reporter for the Omaha paper in 1880 indicated that the road was excellent and that the stage was satisfactory.  However, he did report that “under the best of circumstances a stage journey of 267 miles is irksome, especially during November, and I lingered before the red hot stove in the Sidney hotel until the rattle of the coach and the crack of the driver’s whip announced that it was time to begin the journey.”

Just after leaving Sidney and heading north, they entered a wide-open plain which stretched north to the Platte River.  This area furnished grazing to immense herds of cattle which helped to make up a large portion of the wealth of western Nebraska.

About thirty miles north of Sidney travelers got their first view of the North Plate River and they crossed it at the Clark Bridge.  Until four years earlier, there was a ferry at this crossing which did a lucrative business.

In 1876, Mr. Clark built the bridge and had already made a fortune from the exorbitant toll fees he extracts from those who cross the river.  Fifty cents was charged for each passenger and eight dollars for a freighter’s outfit.  Rumor had it that he had cleared nearly $100,000.  That would be $2.9 million today!

After going north of Camp Clark for a short distance, the stage came to “Cathedral Rocks,” a huge pile of limestone, covering about thirty acres with their tops over one-hundred feet above the plain.  Located west of the stage road, Cathedral Rocks, and Chimney Rock were two prominent guides on the old California Trail along the Platte.

On the second day out from Sidney they crossed the Niobrara and in the evening entered Dakota Territory.  The Black Hills are strategically located between the south fork of the Cheyenne River and the Belle Fourche River (the north branch of the Cheyenne River) which come together near the eastern border of Meade County.

After crossing the south fork of the Cheyenne River, they entered a rolling country, interspersed with numerous streams and fertile valleys which later played an important part in the agricultural development of Dakota.  They passed the rich valley of Rapid Creek and to their right Rapid City, a distant fifty miles from Deadwood.

Later, they leave the foothills and make a sudden turn to the left and plunge into the mountains.  After following the canyon of Whitewood Creek, a sudden turn in the road reveals the city of Deadwood.  It appeared to be a bleak and wild place.

The reporter indicated to his paper in Omaha that he was glad to get out of the coach and stretch his tired limbs on the hotel porch, happy that his three day journey had come to an end.  He was ready for “the comforts of a soft bed and a square meal.”

Travel in those days was not always easy, convenient, and a pleasure.


The 1902 roundup started at the mouth of the Niobrara River on May 25th.  Wagon #1 began the organized roundup of cattle which had strayed from their home range hundreds of miles to the north and northwest during the previous winter.

The Niobrara and Keya Paha rivers each provided a natural barrier for the cattle which had drifted to the south because of the severe and vicious winter storms.

Shortly after the Dakota Territory was created on March 2, 1861, Yankton became the capitol and officials immediately began to organize the territorial government.

One of the first tasks was to establish counties and elect the territorial legislature.  Todd County, the territory north of the Niobrara and Keya Paha rivers and west of the Missouri (including the Fort Randall Military Reservation) was one of the first six organized counties established in the territory.  Nine unorganized counties (including Gregory County) were also created.

You are invited to attend the August 10th meeting of the Gregory County Historical Society Meeting to learn more about the 1902 roundup and the ten days of working cattle on Bull Creek Flats.  You will also meet the first representative of Todd County.

The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Burke Community Center.  Everyone will be given a 20-page outline with maps and illustrations of the roundup.  You will be seated at tables and are encouraged to bring a pen so you can make notes and mark locations on the maps which are important to you.


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory Times-Advocate on August 3, 2022

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