Historical Women of the Black Hills
Written by Dolsee Davenport
March 5, 2021

The history of the Black Hills includes contributions by a few famous women.  On this special day, International Women’s Day, we’d like to celebrate the achievements of these women and their contributions to the Black Hills region.

During the winter of 1837, Sarah (Aunt Sally) Campbell left her job on the riverboat to live in Bismarck. She immediately hired herself out as a laundress, cook, and midwife and established a successful self-employed service business.  Through the ensuing years in Bismarck, Sarah Campbell became known as “Aunt Sally” and was the first black woman to own property and an independent business in the Dakota Territory town.  She was later hired on as a cook and laundress for General Custer’s 7th Cavalry Expedition of 1874, and would be the first non-native woman to enter the Black Hills.  Aunt Sally joined a group of about 20 people and returned to the Black Hills in 1876. She became the first woman to claim a gold mining site on French Creek in what would become the town of Custer.  During the remainder of her life, Sarah owned a half-dozen mining claims and purchased a ranch near the northern Black Hills town of Galena. She raised cattle, which provided a supply of fresh beef for the miners and settlers. She hired miners who worked her claims and was able to harvest a substantial income from a silver mine that she named “Alice Lode.”  Sarah never stopped diversifying her sources of income. When necessary, she still provided laundry services, volunteered as a nurse when needed, served as a midwife, created a “wood camp” selling firewood to miners, railroad workers and settlers. She was truly one of the early entrepreneurs in the Black Hills.
(From Sarah "Aunt Sally" Campbell - Survivor Extraordinaire by South Dakota Public Broadcasting)

Annie Donnah Tallent, who with her husband David and their son Robert joined the Russell-Collins Party, also known as the Gordon Party in 1874.  Mrs. Tallent was the only woman of the Gordon Party.  From her history, from her life in the next quarter century as a school teacher and postmistress, from those who knew her personally, she was a woman of high principles and good morals.  She was rendered a tremendous service in compiling her history.  The Black Hills or Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs, was published in 1899.  It started out to be a story of the expedition but the author wrote in the forward, “The scope, however, has been broadened so as to embrace, as nearly as practicable, all the important events that have transpired in the Black Hills during their 23 years of history.”  The Black Hills is regarded as an authentic record of those years and is used extensively by researchers.  It is now out of print and the few volumes that are in existence are cherished and guarded. 
(From The Dakota Territory Times, Summer 2005-Old Time History of the Black Hills -Special publication of the Custer Chronicle)

In 1876, Calamity Jane settled in the area of Deadwood, South Dakota, in the Black Hills. There, she became friends with Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Utter, having traveled with them to Deadwood in Utter's wagon train.  She would later end up in Custer as the chief waitress of a local restaurant.  In the early days, diseases spread rapidly in the communities of Custer County once they got started.  Students and teachers, frequently, and sometimes whole families suffered epidemics of scarlet fever, diphtheria, and typhoid.  One of the oft-repeated episodes of Custer’s history was a small pox epidemic during which Calamity Jane nursed many through the devastation when others were afraid to go near the sick men.
(From the Custer County Historical Society’s, Custer County History to 1976)




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