E. T. PEIRCE
A BLACK HILLS' PIONEER
Frontier life in the Black Hills!the latter seventies; the days when General Custer met
his tragic death on the Little Big Horn at the hands of the wily Sioux; the days when many a western ruffiian who
had violated frontier ethics, attended his own "neck-tie party," without questioning the invitation he had
received, and died with his boots on, without the quiver of a muscle; the days when the red-skinned warrior fell
upon white emigrant trains and left the Tatters' naked skulls to bleach in the hot mountain sun: the days when
Wild Bill (Harry Hickok), the master gunfighter of them all, who, single handed and alone, armed with a shotgun,
several revolvers and a bowie knife, killed in quick succession and almost in unison all nine of Jake McCandles'
band of outlaws who attacked him, but who later lost his own life in Deadwood at the hands of a cowdardly cur,
Jack McCall, who dared not use his gun in the open, but who slipped into a vacant room, stealthily opened an old
door that led into the room where Hickok was sitting, and shot him in the back; the days when "Calamity Jane"
(Mary Cannery), the most noted and adventuresome female dare-devil in all history, a woman who sought for Indian
fights, lynching bees and ruffian mix-ups with a greater fiendishness than her contemporaneous frontiersmen hunted
for gold, who camped on the trail of Wild Bill's slayer until she avenged his death, and who now lies in an
almost unmarked grave beside that of Wild Bill amid the whispering pines on the sun-baked slope of White Rocks
in front of the city of Deadwood, 5,200 feet above the seaah! these were also the stirring pioneer dasy
of "Doc" Peirce.
Peirce came to the Black Hills in February, 1876, and settled on a claim along French creek.
He sluiced three days, got fifteen cents in gold and contracted rheumatism.
Although an eastern lad by birth, Doc could handle a gun with the best of them. To act as
sheriff in a western mountain country in those strenuous days when the only law was a code of unwritten border ethics, required a man of great
courage, of poise, of skill and of some degree of intelligence. Such a man was Doc Peirce. The counties of
Custer and Forsythe were united for civil regulationif such a thing were possible. Peirce was chosen
sheriff in 1877 by the gold seekers who were prospecting in that region.
But, trouble arose. Under the federal law the territorial governor had a right to appoint all
the county officers. He refused to recognize the election of Peirce and his colleagues, and instead he appointed
political tenderfeet from the east. The frontiersmen around Custer got angry, elected a new set of officers of their
own and ordered those to vacate who had been appointed by the governor. They refused. Then some unwritten history
A commission was also sent out by the governor to locate the Black Hills' county seats. They
were a bunch of professional grafters. They demanded half of each town site that was given a county seat. The
towns already established as county headquarters, all refused. These political sleuths then moved the county
seat of Lawrence county from Deadwood to Crook City; the county seat of Pennington county from Rapid City to
Sheridan, a mining camp; and the county seat of Custer county from Custer to Hayward, a little town across the
line in Pennington county, thereby leaving Custer county without any legitimate county seat and giving Pennington
E. T. PEIRCE
There were not many people left in Custer during the winter of '77-8. But those that were left
were a bunch of fair-minded, hard-headed pioneers who knew litte about territorial law, but who were generously
endowed with a supply of that uncommon kind of sensecommon sense. Above all they loved fair play,
whether in a shooting fracas or in the civil administration of their affairs. Doc Peirce was one of them. To their way of democratic reasoning he was their legitimate sheriff.
Now, these carpet-bag politicians had taken the records of Custer county over to the new county seat
which they had ingeniously located in Pennington county. The people of Custer county wanted them back.
''How can we get them?" they said to each other.
"I'll tell you," said Sheriff Peirce, "we'll simply go over and get them at the point of a gun.
I'll lead! If we can get them without a fight, so much the better; if with a fight, a fight goes, but here we go
for our records!"
They got them got them without a fight, but they got their "foot in it." A slab-sided,
shabby-bearded, imported United States mulligrub, seeing that resistance meant bloodshed, whispered to his
colleagues and said: "Let 'um take them: but take that cigar box there that we get our mail in and set it in
the register of deeds office." The fellow did it.
Doc Peirce and his confederates had to walk past this empty little box that smelt so strongly
after a large Virginia weed, to get the records. In a short time after they had returned to Custer they were
surprised one day by an imported deputy United States marshall, clad in a brilliant uniform, mounted on an
imported steed, who served warrants on them to appear before United States Marshall Leonard Bell of Vermillion,
who was then at Rapid City.
They went to Rapid City, were bound over to the next term of court, each one under $500 bail
their bondsmen being required to justify to double this amount. Impossible, of course, in that new country, to
get such bondsmen, without going a long distance horseback or on foot. Bell saw the trap and he refused to hear
the case. But the fellows had been resourceful enough to foresee that Bell might balk, so they brought with them
as a substitute an Arizona sheep herder who held a commission from Uncle Sam.
This fellow handed it out to them in true western style. Peirce was jumping around like a
chicken with its head cut off, trying to get some one to ride to Deadwood to secure bail, so that he and his
men could go home.
Presently an excited fellow rushed up to Peirce and screamed "The jail is filled with desperadoes,
one under death sentence. They are trying to break out, and the authorities want you to come quick and help to
man the jail!"
Peirce, true to his instincts for a fight, rushed to the jail, stepped inthe door swung
shut, and he had unwittingly fallen into a neat trap. The next night, Fred T. Evans of Sioux City, came along. He knew Peirce, so he went on his
bond and let him out.
As Peirce left the jail he said to those who had entrapped him. "I'll come back!" They hooted
In due time they were brought to trial. The late Frank Washabaugh, at that time clerk of the
courts, read the indictment: "Entering a United States postoffice with the intent of committing larceny and
other depredations." The cigar box had done its work well.
Under that indictment, only one man could get a hearing, and the late Granville C. Bennett,
the first Black Hills' judge, dismissed the case when it came before him for trial.
But Peirce was under bond for trial. So he walked back to Custer, fifty miles, gave away what
goods he had left in a little store there, resigned his position as sheriff of Custer county, walked back again
to Rapid City, went into partnership in a hotel at Rapid City with Dan J. Stafford of Yankton, was elected
sheriff of Pennington county, and on January 1, 1881, he walked down to the old jail wherein he had once been
confined, demanded the keys, as an officer of the law, and said soberly, "Old Peirce always keeps his word."
Ellis Taylor Peirce descended from Penn Quakers. He was born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania,
April 24, 1846.
'Tis said the greatest help to success in life is being born well. 'Twas true of Samuel of
Old Testament fame, 'twas true of Daniel Webster, 'tis true of Bryan and of many others. Doe Peirce was born
well. The "Taylor" in his name discloses his connection with Bayard Taylor, the noted journalist and traveler.
CIVIL WAR EXPERIENCE
After graduating from the state normal school at Millersville, Pennsylvania, in 1863, at the age of
seventeen, he joined the Union army, and was assigned to Nevin' Battery, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.
Near the close of the war he joined the 39th Missouri Mounted Infantry. This was the regiment
that the murderous Quantrell massacred at Centralia, Missouri, September 27, 1864, only four men escaping.
Young Peirce was one of these four.
A monument now stands where brave Custer fell. The bones of Wild Bill and of Calamity Jane
are separated only by a few feet of clay. The Black Hills has become a populous region. The dusky Sioux warrior has vacated his haunts for
government reserves. "Necktie parties," have been superceded by the strong arm of the law. The onward march of
civilization has thrown its mantle of charity and peace over the ramparts of the past. The early pioneers who
hewed out the west are nearly all gone. But "Doc" Peirce remains with us still.
At present he runs a barber shop on Minnekahata avenue, in Hot Springs, South Dakota. No one who
knows him (and nearly everybody does) ever thinks of passing his door without saying "Hello! Doc." He is still
strong and rugged and bids fair to reach the century mark.
Not long since a loud-mouthed fellow sitting in a hotel in Hot Springs, was relating
reminiscences of the Black Hills, and heralding the pact he had taken, when he was interrupted by Peirce who
"When did you come to the Black Hills?" "In '81," said the fellow.
"You poor tenderfoot," said Doc; and then everybody lit their accustomed cigars and enjoyed
the fellowship of a happy evening while Doc Peirce entertained them with pioneer "stories" of the Black Hills,
chief among which was his story of a
He told of how the old stage that plied between Hot Springs and Deadwood in the early days
left the former place one morning away back in the seventies and started for Deadwood via Custer. There were
in the coach some eight or nine persons, among whom was a hunchback Jew and a desperate-looking negro. Toward
night-fall, not far from Custer, the driver stopped to water his horses at a mountain spring. Everybody got
out and began to stroll around. Presently the big burly negro stepped up in front of the Jew and pulling out of
his pocket a long sixshooter which he placed in close proximity to the Jew's nose, said of him in pretty firm
tones, "Give me your money!"
"Vel," said the Jew, "how much secoority vil you give?"
"Never mind about the security!" exclaimed the negro, "give me your money at once or you are
a dead Jew!"
"Vel, can't you vait until ve git to Deadvud and have Shon Oppenheimer go on your bond?"
interrogated the Jew.