Galena, South Dakota is another of the little boom towns in the Black Hills that sprang up during the 1876 gold rush that are now called ghost towns. Though there is still quite a bit of life left in this unincorporated community not far from Deadwood. From the many signs cautioning “Ghosts on Road”, Galena today is where the echoes of life long ago live harmoniously with the apparitions of a few families still calling this place home.
The town’s current residents have done well making nice little homes deep in the Black Hills, repurposing much of what was left over the years. This mix of artifacts – from the town’s beginnings and present day – make for a worthwhile walk along Galena Rd. for those seeking a little history. One can expect to see pieces from the town’s beginnings as a gold and silver mining camp starting in 1875, or remnants from the mid-19th century, all neighboring a modern home with a manicured yard, prominently displaying relics from the area’s full 140 years. Strolling along the road with the ghosts, its not hard to imagine the story of this town.
There were numerous mines and claims in the area, with the first dating back to March of 1876. During Galena’s first boom, the town was home to nearly 400 including a few marginally famous pioneering types. One, a woman named Sarah Campbell, was the first woman in the area to file a mining claim. “Aunt Sally” as she was known, came to the region as a cook on Custer’s 1874 Expedition and was also believed to be the first black woman in the Black Hills.
It was also during this time that Thomas Francis Walsh moved to the region seeking fortune by supplying tools and carpentry services for those seeking gold and silver. Walsh would later get in the game himself and strike it rich in Colorado with the Camp Bird Mine in 1896. He became one of America’s few multimillionaire tycoons and might be best known for giving his daughter Evelyn Walsh McLean the famed Hope Diamond as a wedding gift.
During this time, Galena had all the amenities of a thriving community. There was shopping, a post office, hotels, newspapers, two churches (although supposedly the Methodist Church, while built and standing for a century, never officially opened as the minister hired stole offering money and skipped town), saloons, an opera house, a doctor, an assayer, barbershop, railways and a phone line. The schoolhouse, which was built in 1882, is the best kept carryover from this era.
By 1897 though, mining activity had been inactive for nearly a decade and it’s reported that by the first years of the 1900’s, Galena was starting to ruin. In 1902, the Burlington Railroad came through town and the town saw a resurgence, albeit a very short one. By the end of the Great Depression, all the mines had closed, except for The Double Rainbow.
During the ’40’s, Galena was home to arguably its most famous citizen – Tootsie, the singing coyote. Found as a pup and given to Galena townie Fred Borsch by Ollie Wiswell in 1947, Tootsie was a popular fixture at Borsch’s liquor store in Deadwood and in the Days of ’76 parade. She was proclaimed South Dakota’s State Animal in 1949. Her fame would only continue to grow with advertising spots for Western Airlines, ten-state promo tours and a White House appearance where Tootsie was pictured with President Eisenhower and then Vice President Richard Nixon prior to her death in 1959. She was buried in Galena behind Borsch’s cabin.
In the early 1970’s, Homestake Mining Company reopened the silver mine when the Hunt brothers cornered the silver market and ran the price up to $50 an ounce.
Today, several families still call Galena home, and the Galena Historical Society continues to work on preservation, particularly of the old Galena schoolhouse, which closed in 1943. The Society hosts a historic walk and fundraiser every year when photos and interpreters are setup throughout the town to share Galena’s story. The next walk is scheduled for June 11, 2016.
To get to Galena, from Deadwood, take US HWY 385 S for seven miles to Wild Bill’s Campground. Turn left onto Galena Rd. and follow it for three miles. From Rapid City, take SD HWY 44 to US 385 N, take a right and head 19 miles to Wild Bill’s Campground. Take a right at the campground onto Galena Rd. and follow for three miles.