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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gold Occurrences in South Dakota

Before it closed in 2002 the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota was the deepest gold mine in North America. It had operated almost continuously since 1874 where the gold was found in association with cummingtonite schist. The depressed price of gold at the time the mine was closed in 2002. The mine has been since converted by the National Science Foundation into an underground laboratory devoted to the search for neutrinos and other subatomic particles from space.

Until the recent discoveries of large gold deposits in the Carolinas and Georgia South Dakota had the distinction of being the eastern most state that was a large producer of gold. It also has the distinction of having a war between the Indians and Whites over the gold deposits in the Black Hills, an area that was considered sacred by the Sioux. This led to the Battle of Little Bighorn in eastern Montana where the 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer was virtually wiped out by the Sioux warriors.

Airforce One flying over Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Within a year of the Battle of Little Bighorn the Black Hills were swarmed with thousands of gold seekers. Although gold was known to occur in the Black Hills it was not a safe place for white men to venture because it was considered as sacred ground by the Sioux. The gold discoveries came fast and furious until he finally culminated in the discovery of the Homestake mine in 1876.

During the early days of the gold rush in the Black Hills mostly action was centered around Deadwood where the famous Western gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down while playing poker holding the dead men hand of aces and eights.  It wasn't too long before gold was discovered on the other side of the mountain in Lead that was developed into the Homestake mine. The mine is now owned by Barringer Gold and they have not decided to reopen gold-mining here, but there were plenty of other gold mines in the Black Hills that over the years also produced gold.

Crystalline Gold from South Dakota

There are still plenty of opportunities for small-scale miners in the Black Hills, but you have to keep in mind that the early prospectors were pretty thorough in their search for gold. What they lacked were some of the modern devices for finding gold that we now have. These new devices make it possible to find gold that the old-time prospectors missed. Placer gold can be found in many of the rivers and streams of the Black Hills as well as rivers that lead out of the Black Hills.

Another place where metal detector comes in handy is prospecting in rivers and creeks. Every year more gold is eroded from the banks of creeks that finds its way into the water courses. This does not mean that you shouldn’t overlook the use of more conventional tools like gold panning kits and dredges for mining placer gold.
The other gold that is present here is what is termed lode gold that is found throughout the bedrock of the central Black Hills. This is an area of pre-Cambrian rock that was thrust up through the sedimentary rocks that surround it by earth actions in four different geologic episodes in the past.
Erosion from the rocks of the Black Hills has reached as far east as Minnesota in the form of a conglomerate. Gold is often associated with conglomerates as fossilized placer deposits. The conglomerates east of the Black Hills may prove to be another area containing gold. The largest gold mining district in the world is the Witwatersrand in South Africa that has produced more gold than all the other mining districts in the world combined is also hosted by an ancient deposit of conglomerate.


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