This is the story of the broken boot mine. The one thing that should be noted here, and this pertains to all gold rushes, is that a lot of prospectors back then were not real miners. A lot of these men were just ordinary guys who were looking at getting rich quick and really didn't know what all was involved in actually finding and mining gold. It's for this reason that the failure rate was so high. It all looks easy, but it's not.
Gold prospecting in the Black Hills area of South Dakota had some very early starts. History shows that in 1887, writings were found on a slab of rock with a carved message from a prospector named Esra Kind stating that there had been a raid on his small prospecting party in 1833. The message stated that he and his men were attacked by a band of Indians and that his men and horses were packing all the gold they could carry. But this story is not so much about gold. As you will see by the end of the story, it's about the fool's gold.
Mining and prospecting never really took off in this area until the time of Custer, and that was around the years of 1874. During that time, there was government deals with treaties, and after that, the area became open for more prospecting and settling. In fact, during this time, it was Custer and some of his men that actually found gold in the French Creek area, which is close to modern day Custer. Like all mining booms back then, word traveled fast, and it wasn't long before the Black Hills area was crawling with prospectors and miners. Small tent towns sprang up and soon the merchants, saloons, and brothels followed. By 1877, work had changed from prospecting to actual mining as some deposits were found and it was during these years that the broken boot mine was discovered.
It was in 1876 that two prospectors, James Nelson and his partner, Olaf Seim, came across a small deposit of gold. They worked this small deposit trying to get the most out of it they could. After 26 years of working the mine, the two men had acquired a total of about 15,000 ounces. It was hardly a living wage back then, but the two partners were also mining something else. Fool's Gold. That's right. Their mine was full of iron pyrite, and they were mining it along with the real gold.
Back in those days, iron pyrite was very useful as a component to be used in the refining and smelting of gold. Iron pyrite was used to make sulfuric acid, and this acid is what was used to refine gold to its purest. When it was all said and done, the two miners made more from fool's gold than they did from the real gold.
However, as time went on, there wasn't enough money in fool's gold either, and so in 1904, the mine shut down. The mine sat idle until 1917 when it reopened because of World War I and the need for iron and sulfur to make gunpowder. But in a year or so after, the mine closed altogether. Then in the mid 1950s, a group of local businessmen decided to buy the mine and turn it into a tourist attraction. The only living heirs of the mine decided to lease the mine out, and while there was renovations going on, some workers stumbled across an old, worn out boot in a tumnel. This prompted the owners and the heirs to rename the mine, broken boot.