South Dakota is one of America’s most famous locations for gold. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the term “Black Hills Gold”, the very moniker is referring to the gold found within the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gold rush in South Dakota was put into action by George Armstrong Custer in 1874 when he and his 1,000 men searched the Black Hills area for gold. What they found were mostly placer gold flakes but their exploration created a buzz which pulled many explorers into the state in search of the yellow bounty.
The actual bounty in South Dakota was eventually found by Alex Engh, Mark Harney and Moses Manual when they found a hard rock deposit of gold in Lead and founded the Homestake Mine. All of the gold found in the Black Hills has most likely eroded away from the Homestake deposit. The mine stayed in operation for over 125 years and produced 10% of the world’s total gold through operation.
Horatio Ross was the very first to discover the gold along one of the creek beds in the 1870’s. His findings struck up another gold rush into the great hills of South Dakota. To this very day there are still those finding rich pockets just waiting to be mined. Thankfully, a lot of the land is still available and open to gold panning for those that want to try their hand.
Where to Prospect
Despite the fact that many areas are open to panning, you will need to do your research to make sure you are in an area that you can prospect. The national forest within the Black Hills is open to prospecting as long as the area isn’t claimed, but most of the better ground will already be claimed up. Keep in mind also that the forest backs to privately owned property. If you’re seeking to pan in any of those areas you will need prior approval from landowners. It’s always a good idea to get quality maps for your area and make sure you are in a good area.
Despite the red tapes and slight difficulty in finding a good spot, this still an area rich with gold. Spring Creek, Rapid Creek, Battle Creek and Castle areas have gold. These area was once teeming with miners seeking their fortunes. If you can find access, you should be able to find some some nice gold.
Most people recognize Deadwood from the history books. Deadwood was one of the prime locations during the South Dakota gold rush due to its ideal location within the Black Hills. During this time, around 1874, the town filled with miners hoping to strike it rich. The town was known for being rough and lawless making it a hard life. This is also the location of the famous death of Wild Bill Hickock.
Like the settlers of the past you’re here searching for gold! You can head off on your own but much of what is available around Deadwood is now offered through way of tours.
You can see one of the largest South Dakota gold nuggets on display in Deadwood. The famous Potato Creek Johnny gold nugget went on permanent display at a Adams Museum right downtown. The nugget weighs 7.4 Troy ounces and was found in nearby Potato Creek by Johnny Perrett in 1929. It is an immensely popular piece of history and has been secured as such.
There are underground tours that will give you a better look at what an actual mining operation looks like. The most famous underground mining tour is into the Broken Boot gold mine which is over a century old. You’ll go down into Broken Boot Gold Mine where you follow behind an old ore-cart track that goes deep into the mine shafts.
The tour is a great eye opener for everyone as it illustrates how thousands of miners hacked away into the depths of the earth in an age of no technology, electricity, elevators and automatic ore carting. After you’ve had a firsthand look at the hard work that went on below the surface you can come back up for air and enjoy some gold panning.
If such tours are your thing then do not miss out on the Black Hills Mining Museum and the famous Homestake Gold Mine tours in Lead. The mining museum will take you on a guided tour underground and the Homestake tour is a guided surface tour across the mine. Both tours have options for gold panning.
If you want to get out and away from the crowds but don’t have enough experience of time to go searching for the best locations yourself, you can hire a personal guide. These are locals that are well versed in the area and can take you deeper into the area they are familiar with. Depending on the amount of time you have available you can create a custom trip that lasts anywhere from a partial day up to a week. If you do go this route, and plan for more than an afternoon, you’ll need to bring some camping gear.
Deadwood is a prime option for guided panning tours and based on your enthusiasm, you can choose a tour anywhere between a few hours of panning to a week of camping and panning. There are companies that provide complete camping equipment, pick up and drop facility along with fully guided panning experience. If you choose this option, you can leave all the hassle of tour planning on the company and focus on the gorgeous nature and gold.
There is a plethora of surface tours covering several old lode mines across South Dakota that provide the opportunity to find panned gold, gold nuggets and grab a strand of history. Such tours can not only quench your thirst for gold panning but also sharpen your appetite for a much more closer to the nature panning experience like the original explorers used to do.
Getting a guide can be a great option if you want to get down to it. So much time can be spent surveying and trying to find a hot spot. These men/women will take you right to a place that they’ve known to be fruitful so you’re much more likely to come away with something significant. Of course, half the fun is the search so if you have time you might just want to wander until you get a feeling.
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