Keystone History


Keystone Area Historical Society
410 3rd Street
Keystone, South Dakota 57751

Ph: (605) 666-4494

     Keystone Characters

Of special interest is the memorabilia of Carrie Ingalls, the younger sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. Carrie came to Keystone in 1911 to be a reporter for “The Recorder,” a Keystone newspaper. Carrie married a local widower and mining man by the name of David Swanzey. She lived in Keystone until she passed away in 1946.

A Facility with Many Stories to Tell

The Keystone Historical Museum is housed in the old Keystone Schoolhouse building of early Victorian architecture. Built in 1899, it served as Keystone’s full-time school until 1988.

The Museum houses early day mining tools, historic pictures and photo collections, rock and mineral collections, and historic displays including Carrie Ingalls memorabilia.

  Fred Cross

Fred Cross was the first white man to settle in the Keystone area, building a cabin on his mining claim up Buckeye Gulch, just below today’s Powder House Lodge on Hwy 16A. He established a small settlement in Buckeye Gulch, known as Crossville, now gone and largely forgotten.

Fred is recognized as the first miner to establish a stamp mill for crushing ore, realizing that the placer deposits were merely the frosting on the larger underground cake. Fred never struck it rich, but he did become the first Registrar of Deeds for Custer County in 1877 and he played an active role in the government of the southern Black Hills.

  Jennie Franklin 

No “Holy Terror”

Upon Frank’s return, his wife, Jennie, was furious. She was soothed when Bill said, I have named the mine after you, my dear sweet wife.” It was not until several days later that Jennie Franklin learned the name of the new mine was the “Holy Terror.”

Although Jennie, no doubt, became furious with Frank when he was on an alcoholic binge, there is little evidence that she deserved the dubious honor which Frank bestowed upon her and quite a lot of evidence that she was a caring mother and a good neighbor and a concerned Keystone citizen, probably endowed with a good deal more common sense than her husband.

 ‘Wild Horse’ Harry Hardin 

Landstrom’s “Old Prospector”

Keystone has had many unique inhabitants, one of the more famous being Harry Hardin. Harry was born in Nebraska in 1896 and was raised in Aberdeen, SD. In 1922, Harry established several mining claims near Keystone but golden riches never came his way.

For many years, Harry made a modest income by posing for tourists with his pack burro, “Sugar Babe” on Keystone’s “Strip.” During the 1980s, Harry became famous as the “Old Prospector” logo for Landstrom’s Black Hills Gold. Harry died in 1984 at the age of 88 and now resides in Mountain View Cemetery in Old Etta Camp, with a beautiful and unique headstone and a perpetual view of Mount Rushmore. Harry’s favorite saying was, “Everyone’s got to believe in something.”

Paha Ska 

Known as the “Good Will Ambassador” for the community of Keystone and South Dakota, May, 24, 1997 was declared Paha Ska Day by proclamation of Gov. Bill Janklow. Paha Ska was honored for his 40 years (1957-1997) of promoting Keystone. He was very visible on Winter Street dressed in his native war bonnet, standing along side his horse, Kippy.

Paha Ska is a talented painter and is famous for the art of painting on buffalo hides.

Keystone Partners 3 Miners 

  • Left -Jacob F. Reed
  • Middle – Thomas C. Blair
  • Right – William “Bill” Franklin (also known as “Rocky Mountain Frank.”

  David Swanzey

It was David Swanzey and Bill Challis who were with Charles Rushmore, a New York attorney, during that memorable day in 1885 when the massive granite mountain, known at various times as “Cougar Mountain,” “Sugarloaf Mountain,” “Slaughterhouse Mountain,” and “Keystone Cliffs” was named for Charles Rushmore. Mr. Swanzey was later a depot agent for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), which hauled spodumene and amblygonite (lithium ores) and feldspar out of Keystone during the first half of the 20th century.

The CB&Q railbed is now used by Black Hills Central Railroad (The 1880 Train). The tracks into Keystone were destroyed in the flood of 1972, were restored in 2001.

Ben Black Elk

“Rocky Mountain Frank”

On June 28, 1894, William Franklin, better known as Rocky Mountain Frank, and his adopted daughter, Cora Stone, were hiking at the base of Mount Aetna. Cora picked up a piece of quartz loaded with gold, thereby locating the richest lode in the southern Black Hills.

Bill Franklin walked to Rapid City (20 miles) to file his new claim. His mining partner, Tom Blair, encouraged him to name the new claim after his wife, Jenny Franklin. Bill filed on the new claim and was so jubilant that he partied for several days in Rapid City.

  Alex Madill

The Black Hills “Tin Boom”

Alex Madill was one of the early shareholders in the Etta Mine, located in 1883 as a mica mine just south of present day Keystone. Along with A.J. Simmons, a personal friend of Mark Twain, they hoped that a black mineral in the Etta Mine was silver ore. The ore turned out to be cassiterite, an ore of tin, and thus started the infamous Black Hills “Tin Boom”.

British capitalists invested literally millions in the Harney Peak Consolidated Tin Mining, Milling and Manufacturing Company, which proceeded to gain control over 90% of area tin deposits in what became the largest land grab in Black Hills history. Vast deposits of tin ore never materialized, however, and very little Black Hills tin ever made its way into galvanized pails and cans. Huge mills in Etta Camp, Glendale and Hill City were closed down soon after construction due to the perception among British investors that they had been hoodwinked. They had been.

Alex Madill was also one of the locators of the Bullion Mine just north and the adjacent street now bears his name.

  Ben Black Elk

This Lakota Sioux was a fixture at Mount Rushmore for many years following World War II. He attracted much attention from the visitors and had many stories to tell. He mostly posed for pictures garbed with a single eagle feather.

It is perhaps safe to say the more pictures were taken of Ben Black Elk at Mount Rushmore than any other person. He was often dubbed the “Fifth Face on the Mountain.” After Ben’s demise, the National Park Service would not permit a Native America to appear at Mt. Rushmore in their native dress on a semi-permanent basis. Ben appeared in numerous Hollywood movies.

  Thomas C. ‘Tom’ Blair 

Tom Blair was an early day miner in the Keystone area. He was a partner with his father-in-law Jacob Reed and William Franklin. They located the first producing gold lode claim in 1891 in Keystone. The claim was named Keystone because Jacob Reed was a native of Pennsylvania, the Keystone State. Thus, the townsite was named.

Tom Blair and Bill Franklin located the famous Holy Terror Mine on June 28, 1894. Jacob Reed passed away between the two locations. Blair and Franklin sold their interest in the Holy Terror to Al Amsberry and Fred Fayel. The latter two had the resources to put the richest gold discovery in the southern Hills into production. Blair went on to Nevada in hopes of striking another bonanza and passed away there in 1909.