Fall River History Conference at Mueller Center well attended

Photo by Marcus Heerdt

Custer-based author and photographer Paul Horsted holds a copy of the newly revised and updated fourth edition of his book “Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition.” Horsted was one of several presenters at the 19th annual Fall River History Conference at the Mueller Civic Center on Saturday, Jan. 20.


By Marcus Heerdt

HOT SPRINGS – The 19th annual Fall River County History Conference was held at the Mueller Civic Center on Saturday, Jan. 20, and was attended by a large crowd of about 115 people. The event is the largest annual fundraiser for the Fall River County Historical Society/Pioneer Museum.

Jean Staben presented on an interesting, or infamous, Black Hills character, and many have probably driven down the gravel road in Custer County that is named after him, or hiked along the creek that also bears his name.

“Lame Johnny,” whose real name was Cornelius Donahue, was nicknamed as such because he walked with a noticeable limp. He was born in Philadelphia sometime in the early 1850s, lived in Texas for a while, and then found himself in the Black Hills in the 1870s.

At some point, he changed his name to John Hurley, leading to the nickname “Lame Johnny” or “Limping John,” and may or may not have been an outlaw, depending on who a person would have talked to at the time.

Wanted for stagecoach robbery (one that he most likely did not commit), Lame Johnny was taken into custody by soldiers from Fort Robinson, Neb., and was to stand trial in Deadwood.

It is unclear what happened next, but while being transported to Deadwood, Lame Johnny was hung in a cottonwood tree along a creek near Buffalo Gap. That creek is now called Lame Johnny Creek.

“Unfortunately we don’t always live through our great adventures,” said Staben.

Local rancher Bernice Landers was the unofficial star of the day, and entertained the crowd with original, lively, and humorous cowboy poetry, of which she recited on stage by memory.

Acclaimed author and photographer Paul Horsted of Custer gave a presentation about the newly revised fourth edition of his book “Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition.”

Horsted is the author and co-author of numerous “then and now” books, where he finds historical photos of a certain place, and then travels to the spot where that picture was taken in order to show what the location looks like today (known as repeat photography). His works include “Crossing the Plains with Custer,” “The Black Hills Yesterday & Today,” “Treasures of the National Parks Yesterday & Today,” and “Yellowstone Yesterday & Today.”

His book “Exploring with Custer” has been updated just in time for the 150th anniversary of the 1874 Black Hills Expedition. The book, which is now 36 pages longer than the previous third edition, includes new photographs, primary sources for first-hand accounts, as well as many other changes.

Horsted said that he is currently working on a yesterday and today book for the entire state, and showed a sneak preview of some of the old photographs of a certain place next to his new pictures.

Learn more about his work at www.paulhorsted.com.

In the middle of the day’s events, outgoing Fall River County Historical Society/Pioneer Museum president Carol Sides and Pioneer Museum manager Dawn Johnson gave an update on all of the happenings over the past year.

Sides said that even with the downtown Hot Springs construction project, the number of visitors to the museum in 2023 remained strong. She also stated that the museum will be getting a new roof sometime in the spring.

Johnson reminded the audience that there are volunteer opportunities at the Pioneer Museum for the general public, and that the Fall River County Historical Society is currently looking for new board members. If interested, call the museum at (605) 745-5147, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit www.fallriverpioneermuseum.wordpress.com.

Fall River County Herald Star

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