In the late 1800s, gold rush fever swept the American frontier. Men hoping to get rich hunted for gold deposits on the outskirts of rugged mountain towns. One such town was Mystic, South Dakota—which is located in the shadow of the Black Hills. In 1879, Mystic—also known as Sitting Bull—had a population of 100 eager gold miners.
In 1875, a team of geologists discovered gold near Castle Creek. Potential gold miners eventually founded a settlement named Sitting Bull near the creek. In the beginning, Sitting Bull generated a great deal of excitement. In the 1880s, it was apparent that nearby Deadwood and other settlements farther north offered more fruitful mining opportunities.
Sitting Bull didn’t immediately fade into obscurity because the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad decided to build a rail station in the settlement—which the rail company renamed Mystic, Some say that the rail company had the town of Mystic, Connecticut in mind when they chose the name, while others claim that all who set foot in Sitting Bull were struck by the mystical quality of Castle Creek and the surrounding woods.
After the railroad came to town, Mystic was home to a handful of mining operations, including a costly ore extraction business which proved far too inefficient to turn a profit. In 1906, the Dakota, Wyoming, & Missouri rail line set up shop alongside the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy rail. The Dakota rail line greatly bolstered the transport of mining materials from the Black Hills.
Despite the austere days of the Great Depression, tourism and a bustling saw mill kept Mystic flourishing until the early 1950s. A series of floods and the decline of rail traffic and mining ultimately led to the demise of the town. The last train rumbled through Mystic in 1983.
Today, Mystic is a scenic ghost town which is home to several structures that have withstood the test of time. Visitors can explore a chapel, and a handful of cabins which are surrounded by blooming wildflowers. A well worn bike path which follows the former tracks of Mystic’s rail lines is the ideal way to spend an afternoon exploring what life in a gold rush settlement was like.
Meticulously preserved gold rush towns like Deadwood get a lot of shine, but seeing a mining town that has been partially reclaimed by nature is one of the best ways to appreciate the true ruggedness of frontier life.