The prairie is a harsh environment. Extreme variations of temperature, moisture, and wind are always present. To eke out a living on the prairie one must be ready to meet these conditions head on. Much of the area in and around Wind Cave National Park was actively homesteaded in the 1890s, with one of the most successful homesteads belonging to the Sanson family.

August, and later Carl, Sanson were the type of people who could eke out a living on the prairie. They and their family successfully homestead a large plot of land that is now part of Wind Cave National Park. August Sanson started his homestead in 1882. In 1916 Carl, at the age of 15, took over for his ailing father. Throughout the years they adjusted to the ever-changing prairie and fluctuating financial markets. When the rains stopped coming, they adjusted. They endured by being able to adapt, to change with the times and conditions. The homestead of Sanson's father and later Sanson himself is testament to the tenacity of these early homesteaders and how they protected and cared for the land. According to Sanson "it took courage to live in a place eight miles from town [Buffalo Gap], with neighbors three to ten miles apart. There were many problems along the way - dry years, grasshoppers, hail storms, and range fires, but they endured them all."

Several mining claims were established at Wind Cave in the 1880s and 90s, but the most noteworthy one was by the South Dakota Mining Company in 1890. J.D. McDonald was hired to manage the claim. The mining was unsuccessful, but McDonald and his family realized they could make money by giving cave tours and selling formations from the cave. They filed a homestead claim over the opening and worked on improving a manmade entrance and enlarging passageways for tours. In 1892, John Stabler, saw the financial value of the cave and bought an interest in the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company. During the next few years ownership of the cave and associated lands became a major question and by 1899 the land office had made a decision that was important to the creation of Wind Cave National Park. Explore the challenges of understanding who owned the cave by reading about the early history of the area.


Personal Narrative by Birdie McDonald

Last updated: September 4, 2023

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