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Bismarck-Deadwood Stage Trail Historic Marker

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For three years, from 1877 to 1880, a thriving stagecoach and supply line ran between Bismarck, the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the Black Hills gold town of Deadwood in Dakota Territory. The Bismarck-Deadwood Stage Trail Historic Marker is found by a roadside stop on the north side of Highway 21, half a mile east of Flasher. The marker located at the stop explains the history of the trail and commemorates the brief economic boom associated with the trail.

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After the Custer expedition discovered gold in the Black Hills in 1874, Bismarck merchants wanted a route for shipping goods and for transporting gold seekers to the hills. In late 1876 after a treaty opened the Black Hills to Euro-Americans, the Dakota Territorial legislature quickly authorized construction of a road from Bismarck to Deadwood. In 1877 the Northern Pacific Railway Company and the Minnesota State Company formed the Northwest Express and Transportation Company to open a 240-mile trail to Deadwood.

The first stagecoaches left Bismarck on April 11, 1877, with sixty-eight passengers. Regular tri-weekly stages began May 2, 1877, and soon they were running daily. The company operated twenty-six Concord coaches and freight wagons pulled by 200 teams of horses. In addition to the freight and passenger revenue, the stage company was awarded an annual mail contract. The company erected an elaborate headquarters building in Bismarck at Main and Ninth Street and employed 175 men.

By the summer of 1878, the editor of a Denver newspaper proclaimed, “The Bismarck route from the Northern Pacific Railway is the best patronized road running into the Black Hills.” A year later all of the rooms in Bismarck hotels were filled with people bound for the hills.

The transportation boom ended suddenly when the railroad reached Pierre, South Dakota. In 1880 the company moved most of its equipment to Pierre and opened an alternate line. After that the service on the Bismarck line was cut to tri-weekly trips and was soon abandoned.

All that remains to represent this flurry of activity are a few wagon ruts, such as those found near the Bismarck-Deadwood Stage Trail Historic Marker site, and the ruins of several stage stations (see Cannonball Stage Station).

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