Photocopy of an oil painting created by Mrs. George Christian circa 1880 of the Hat Creek Stage Station and Fort, which is actually located in Wyoming on Sage Creek, an unfortunate frontier history misnomer.
Publisher’s Note: In our newspaper’s ongoing effort to bring our readers informative and entertaining stories about our county’s unique history, this week we are debuting a new series entitled “Fall River Foundations" featuring the small towns that helped found our county, but in some cases now, have only their foundations remaining,
This first story features the former town of Hat Creek which no longer exists, but future installments may also include some of the county’s smaller communities which are still on the map but have far fewer residents than years’ past.
By Charity Maness
Hat Creek may be known to some as a creek that feeds into Cherokee Creek and then on to Angostura, or a lush valley fed with clear waters. Yet, at one time, there was also a little town bearing the same name.
The town of Hat Creek once lay to the east side of Hat Creek, just north of Ardmore and east of Rumford on private property.
While both Ardmore and Rumford were geographically nearby when threat of natural or manmade disaster occurred, the townsfolk would often run to Oelrichs for aide.
Often, the townsfolk of Hat Creek would find themselves outnumbered by local tribes not happy with their encroachment on their land, but seemingly just as often, they would also find themselves at the mercy of local gangs.
One such gang garnered the moniker ‘The Hat Creek Gang’ with their criminal activities making headlines in the Black Hill Daily Times in July 1877.
According to the newspaper article, the gang of robbers attempted to enter the cabin of a one-time jailer by the name of O. Gove. The robbers were ordered to halt but ran into the surrounding brush. Gove and his friend Clarence Wolcott fired upon the rebels, one which they recognized as Bill Bevins, the leader of the gang. No bullet found its target with Gove stating that Bevins “is a desperate man and will not be captured if it is at all possible…”.
However small, Hat Creek was, according to U.S. Postal History, a town prominent enough to receive its own post office in 1890. In August 1892, the acting postmaster appointed Mrs. J. Frangen, vice L. D. Powell resigned. Frangen held that position for only one year as the post office closed in 1893.
In the early years, those in search of gold and daring enough to venture to the Black Hills in search of riches, were relieved to hear of a garrison located in Hat Creek. But upon arrival to the area the would-be miners were beyond discouraged to find that such a post did not exist, it never had existed, at least not in South Dakota.
In the late 1870s Captain James Egan was tasked with creating a fort in the Black Hills. While attempting to locate Hat Creek and infiltrate the southern Black Hills with his cavalry, pack train and infantry Egan found a large amount of opposition from the local tribes, thus causing quite a bit of meandering travel to find a suitable place for an outpost. Though the goal was to build in the Black Hills, the first suitable stream they could find was Sage Creek, just north of Lusk, in the state of Wyoming. However, since the original goal was a fort on Hat Creek, the name stuck and in 1875 Hat Creek Fort was built, regardless that it wasn’t anywhere near Hat Creek and in the wrong state.
While news of settlers residing in the area of Hat Creek does exist in the late 1870s, properties began being homesteaded and recorded as early as April 1892. In 1892 John T Holenback recorded a homestead in Hat Creek and in March 1893 another homestead was recorded by James Graham.
It may be surmised that at one time Hat Creek was a small successful cattle town, as in the fall of 1899 the State Democrat newspaper ran a story of Colonel M.D. Skinner of Lansing, Mich., formerly a newspaper man, purchasing a 1,150 acre cattle ranch in Hat Creek along with 200 head of cattle “with which to stock his ranch, and he will devote himself to the business of stock raising”.
The cattle from Hat Creek were found to be prize winning cattle.
In April 1901, C. M. Lamson, a cattleman from Hat Creek, entered 16 of his steer in an Omaha, Neb., stock show bringing home first prize.
Yet by 1913, cattle was not the only valuable commodity in Hat Creek, as South Dakota was on the verge of discovering liquid gold.
In November of that year, the Ardmore Oil Company was sinking their first well at Ardmore, a town just a few miles south of Hat Creek, with a future eye on the oil rich areas along the Hat Creek.
Following quickly on the heels the liquid gold discovery came the realization that the soil surrounding Hat Creek was filled with a wealth of nutrient rich soil prefect for farming, and the Hat Creek valley was reborn, once again.
Today, the town of Hat Creek is but a memory and the name Hat Creek is mostly known for its winding ribbon of fresh water that cuts through many cattle ranches near Highway 71 and marrying its clear waters with those of the Cheyenne.