KOTA News Extra: Deadwood's Hidden Treasures - KOTA Territory News

KOTA News Extra: Deadwood's Hidden Treasures

The discovery of gold in 1874 set off one of the last great gold rushes in the country. Miners moved into the northern Black Hills, and Deadwood was born. Practically overnight, the tiny gold camp boomed into a town that attracted gamblers, gunslingers and gold seekers from every walk of life.

While photos provide a rich history, it wasn't until the summer 2001 that archivists discovered the story buried beneath Lower Main Street.

"This really was a crash course into Deadwood's unique history," said Mike Runge, archivist with the City of Deadwood.

Runge was part of the crew that began uncovering the past. The four-year dig would become South Dakota's largest archeological collection. It included 187 Chinese coins, some dating back 100 years before Deadwood.
"They had this wonderful and really unique culture that they brought into the American frontier," Runge said.
"The Chinese played an important role in settling the Deadwood Gulch," said Kevin Kuchenbecker, Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer. "They were businessmen, residents, merchants, miners and so seeing the tokens, the coins, the currency in the ground is really neat."

But, since seeing the light of day for the first time in more than a century, the coins were infected with Bronze Disease.

"We scanned the coins in 2010 and made a pretty startling discovery: the coins themselves were slowly disintegrating," Runge said.

Only about 20 percent of the coins have legible markings. But they won't last long without protection.

"If left in the condition they are today, we could lose them," Kuchenbecker said.

Deadwood's Historic Preservation team commissioned the Maryland Archeological Conservation Laboratory for a cure. The lab technicians will remove corrosion, desalinate and cover each coin with a protective coating.

In the end, they'll look much like the frontier era guns discovered around the same time as the coins.

"At the time, the guns were pretty corroded.  They resembled a gun, they had the look and feel of a gun, but they were also heavily corroded," Runge said.

The guns were sent to Maryland last year. The X-ray and cleaning process revealed something startling: one of the guns, an 1868 or 69 Colt revolver, was loaded. Another revelation: the brass trigger guards did not oxidize like the iron on the rest of the guns, revealing the serial numbers. So, Runge and his team will eventually be able to track the guns' path to Deadwood.
"These serial numbers will tell us when the gun was created and where it was shipped to," Runge said.

In addition to the guns and the coins, more than 250,000 objects were excavated in the Chinatown dig including these magnificent ceramics.

And there could be more beneath the streets of this old west town - history that made Deadwood famous.

"It's still out there and we're still searching for it and we're still piecing the puzzle together," Kuchenbecker said.
Mike Runge anticipates the Chinese coin collection to be on display sometime next year. The guns will be available for public view this summer.
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