I drove around Edgemont, South Dakota, looking for the dirt road that headed straight north out of town…I’m probably the only person who has ever gotten lost in Edgemont, but I somehow did. I drove around and around in circles, down Main Street, then back on to Highway 18, over the railroad tracks, where I could see the damn dirt road I was trying to get on, then back on to Main Street from Highway 18…
Finally, I saw a hard left turn, the turn I had been looking for for the last 20 minutes, and thankfully it was just a road and not one of the millions of rattlesnakes that call the hills around Edgemont home- had it been a rattlesnake it would have bitten me in the ass- it was so painfully obvious after I finally found it.
On past the Highway Department storage building, under the Highway 18 bridge, and I was finally on my way down the desolate dirt road that leaves Edgemont and takes the random visitor or local rancher to Dewey and Burdock.
Rumbling over the gentle hills and around the sweeping bends in my Dodge, I was soon on my way to nowhere- my favorite place.
Antelope, prairie dogs, horned toads, and rattlesnakes are about all that call this arid edge of the Black Hills home today. A few times in the past people tried to make a go of things out here, and Dewey and Burdock are the reminders of those people and their efforts.
Burdock was the first stop on my trip, from the extreme little that I could find regarding Burdock, it laid about halfway in between Edgemont and Dewey, just slightly off the main dirt road. None of the locals I had met and talked to in Hot Springs, Edgemont, or the handful of other Black Hills towns I had already visited knew much (if anything at all) about Burdock. A few had heard the name, but had never known of a town existing in the rough geographic area I was heading for, another guy said Burdock existed long ago, but nobody could remember where or when.
I continued my wandering route north, armed with a cell-phone that had no service, and a 40-year old map my Dad had given me prior to my leaving Colorado. Burdock was a dot on this map, and apparently I was heading in the right direction.
I was daydreaming and staring off to the west as I came around a lazy bend in the old dirt road, and just about missed my destination. A quick glance back to the right caught a few crumbled sandstone foundations, some rusted metal, and a crude sign made of an old drive chain that read “Burdock”. I pulled off to the side of the main road in a small clearing, and took a walk through downtown Burdock.
Two or three sandstone and concrete foundations, a rusted stove and it’s pieces, some bailing wire, and a handful of porcelain shards and broken green and amber glass bottles are all that remain of this forgotten place. It was hard to get an idea of how big or small Burdock may have been, or when it may have existed. It was probably much like the other towns in the area- small camps that popped up as the railroad was being built in the 1880’s, a few permanent structures were built, and rapidly disappeared as the line was completed. I found some old pieces of a cast iron stove buried in sage brush growing out of one of the foundations, picked them up, took a few pics, and put them back where they had been undisturbed for many, many years.
My grand tour of Burdock finished, I hopped back in the Dodge and continued north in search of Dewey.
Dewey is a bit more of a booming metropolis than Burdock. Dewey still boasts a population of seven, and the State of South Dakota has been sure to mark this with a white sign with black lettering as you approach the bustling business district, so the traveler doesn’t confuse Dewey with the numerous other…well nevermind Dewey is the only town within a 50 mile radius.
Anyhow, as I pulled in to Dewey that same odd twist of luck that caught me in Modena, Utah struck again- I arrived in town at precisely the same time as the train. I once again pulled over, shut off my engine and waited as the train passed, the crew staring out the windows of the engine quizzically at me, wondering what the hell anyone who didn’t belong out here was doing out here???
And there were a handful, well seven to be exact if the sign is current, of people who belonged to Dewey. From what I could tell there was one rather large, comfortable looking ranch just west of the main part of town, and I assumed this is where the entirety of the Dewey population called “home”.
There was a school, the standard 1880’s-1910’s style one-room country schoolhouse type that seems to spring up in the most inhospitable, uninhabitable, unlikely places all over the high plains and mountains of the west. It was, however, long closed. A well kept church with a lone electrical wire running to it, and a pair of outhouses stood behind the school. Three donkeys and a horse scratched at the ground behind the church, and for a minute one donkey entered an outhouse, but came out before I could get a photo.
A handful of small cabins, and what looked like an old storefront or two were spaced out across the area, and few larger ranch buildings in disrepair made up the rest of Dewey.
The northbound dirt road ended at Dewey, taking the road west you eventually reached Highway 85 and Newcastle, Wyoming. Heading east (as I did) took you along a nice dirt road into the Black Hills that meandered it’s way through hills and pastureland largely inhabited by cows and deer until you once again found the blacktop heading to Custer or Hot Springs.
A day or two later after my visit to Dewey and Burdock, as I sat on the porch by the fire pit at my uncle’s ranch, my 92 year-old Grandmother told me about a little town just north of Edgemont on the way to Dewey. She told me about the schoolhouse, the people, and the 3 or 4 businesses that were there, and she wondered if there was anything left. She said it was a place called “Burdock”…