We made it to Custer State Park late in the day. We wanted to stay in the park but rooms were scarce and cost $225. DH was stilling looking for the $39.95 special and nearly had a stroke. We called ahead to Custer where story was the same, but we found an Econo Lodge reasonably priced with one room left. We had them hold it until we could get into the town of Custer. In the early evening we walked the town, looked in shops and considered a supper out but nothing was appealing. Lots of grease, carbs and such which sounded too heavy after a hard day.
We returned to our room where I got into the tea basket for broth, crackers, and fruit. We fell into bed. The next morning we planned our day’s strategy. We drove the scenic routes around Spearfish, the area where some of Dances with Wolves was filmed. We skirted Deadwood and Lead, and headed right for Belle Fourche which I had a strange and unusual longing to see.
Following the Spearfish Scenic route
Last winter while reading of wild and loose women of the Old West, I met Dora DuFran on the page. When I saw her picture, I just felt like would like this woman should we ever have met despite the fact that she was a prostitute. Dora probably started her loose behavior around the age of 14 as she did not want to live the hard of life of her mother which poverty, kids, and hard work. She did not want to remain a working girl either. She learned early to satisfy men for money, but she was smart and calculating moving herself up to owner and house madam at a young age. The men liked her and liked the house she ran because she made her girls bathe and used only pretty girls. (The ratio was 100 men to one woman so even ugly women had certain kinds of work in the Dakota West.) Dora called her house Diddling Dora’s and eventually had a string of Cat House in the area.
Belle Fourche is French for Beautiful Fork and the town sits at the intersection or forks of three rivers. This small town became a place for shipping out cattle and sheep. It was also very near all the gold strikes in the Black Hills so a woman had plenty of changes for a certain kind of work. Dora was a good citizen otherwise. She was known for helping cowboys down on their luck or feeding anyone who was hungry. He was unusual in her line of work because she made a good marriage to a man she loved, who helped her run her business. Today the town still is busy but has some empty storefronts like all small towns struggling to stay alive.
We visited a few antique stores in the small downtown and a lovely visitor’s center. I found a lovely old Blue Willow teapot that I did not need for a semi-reasonable price. It is fairly old and my imagination wondered if it had poured tea in a sod house nearby years ago. The original building where Dora’s place of business was still stands, although it if for sale now. I was told it is beautiful inside with an impressive fireplace and pressed tin ceilings. I was thrilled to see the building and could picture Dora’s gals hanging out those upstairs windows, twirling long curls, and calling to rowdy, dust covered drovers riding down the street!
Then we left town and meandered over to Deadwood, the town where Hickok was killed. We went into the bar where he was shot, still there and serving drinks, gaming, and food. The inside was dark and the wooden floor gritty with an absorbent product that shuffled until your feet like loose dirt. We did not stay long. We walked the streets which were so commercial with souvenir shops and casinos. We had a hamburger lunch on a patio and then left town. I had seen enough.
We went to drive through Custer State Park, an absolutely gorgeous mass of acres. The land, the lakes, the forests, the animals…I wish I lived close enough to enjoy this beautiful place more often. There is a wildlife loop you can drive and often see animals. There is a huge herd of buffalo throughout the park and often they are near or standing in the road. There are antelope, elk, buffalo, big horn sheep, deer. We were told that to see the elk you had to be early in the morning or late in the evening. It was evening as we drove through but we never sighted an elk.