Monday, October 2, 2017

Ghost Towns, Miners, and Black Hills Chili

Jan here, with a tour you're going to love.

What is it about ghost towns that capture our imaginations?

Is it knowing that something was here once that drew people in?

Maybe it's getting a glimpse into the every day lives of folks who are long gone.

One evening last week, after a long day of wrestling with my current work-in-progress, my dear husband came home from work an hour early.

Where do you think we went? Up into the Hills, of course!

We had heard of a ghost town, not too far off the road, that was an interesting spot to visit.

The name of the place is Spokane, and no one knows very much about it. It was established in 1890 as a mining town, and for forty years or so, the mine yielded enough ore to keep the town going and growing. The mine was originally a gold mine, but they also found silver, zinc, mica, hematite, beryl, copper, and graphite. The biggest year for the mine was 1927, when the profits were over $140,000.

A school was built, so we know families lived here. The school teacher's house has been preserved and is located on a nearby property. The remnants of the town cover a one-square-mile area, so we know it probably had a good-sized population.

And sometime in its early days, one of the miners was killed in a dispute involving a claim. We didn't find his grave, but I've heard it's there, with the story of his murder on the stone marker. (An excuse to make another trip back to Spokane!)

By 1940, though, the mine played out, and the town was abandoned. The forest has grown up around it, and is slowly taking back the land.

Why don't we know many details about Spokane? I think it's because this town is just one of many thousands of towns just like it. Towns are born, grow and prosper, and then either continue growing, or they die. In this case, when the mine played out, the town was doomed.

I often write about our cowboy neighbors here in the Black Hills, but I can't forget that mining was a huge part of history here. We see it all around in abandoned mine shafts and leftover structures.

And sometimes, in the middle of the forest, we'll come upon a wide pit dug in the ground, eight or ten feet deep. Some miner's exploratory dig from one hundred forty years ago?

That brings me to my recipe. I've made over my "Cowboy Chili" (see that recipe here) to bring back memories of a miner's life.

The miners lived on whatever they could bring with them, since the freighters and merchants charged gold rush prices for their supplies. And meat was scarce. The gold rush in 1876 brought thousands of miners to the area. Any game soon learned to hide deep in the Hills, and beef was hard to come by.

So they lived on beans. One of the books I use for research (Deadwood, the Golden Days by Parker Watson) has a list of the supplies an eager prospector should take with him: "The recommended foods included flour, bacon, beans (called 'false friends' because of their tendency to talk behind one's back), coffee in the bean, baking soda for flapjacks and biscuits, sugar, salt, pepper, and dried fruits."

Not a varied diet, but nutritious enough.

The biggest problem for a group of prospectors was assigning one of their party to be the cook - because if you were cooking, you weren't hunting for gold!

By the way, this chili is vegetarian friendly. :)

Black Hills Chili


2 cups dried beans (I like small red beans, but you can use any dried bean you like), soaked and cooked


3 cans (approx. 15 ounce size) beans (again, any style you like...except green beans!)

*a note about preparing beans: If you don't want them to "talk behind your back," be sure to soak dried beans in water with a couple Tablespoons of vinegar added. And then, with both soaked beans and canned beans, rinse them well before using them.

1 quart vegetable broth
8 ounces canned tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon garlic powder, or one garlic clove, crushed
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 cayenne pepper (or to taste)

Combine all the ingredients and heat together.

On the stove: In a large saucepan, heat over low for an hour or more, stirring often.

In a slow-cooker: Cook on low all day, or on high for two to four hours.

In a counter-top pressure cooker (aka: Insta-Pot): Cook on high pressure for ten minutes, then use the natural pressure release.

And I'll leave you with a taste of the Black Hills in autumn. Forget pumpkin latte's - give me golden aspens any day!

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books:


  1. We have some ghost towns in Ontario too. In fact, I think there is a ghost town tour in Southern Ontario. It would be kinda fun to re-settle a ghost town, don't you think? Repurpose it in some way?

    Now that the weather has finally turned fall-like chili sounds like the perfect recipe to keep me going for a week! Interesting that this recipe doesn't have a meat alternative in it. I have two chili recipes -- one that uses tvp (texturized vegetable protein) and another that uses bulgur. I'll have to try this one.

    1. There are ghost town tours around here, too, but we've never gone on one. So far, we're having fun exploring on our own. :)

      And chili without meat has a long, long tradition! Embrace the history! :)

  2. Jan, that reminds me some of the ghost (read abandoned mining) towns around Ouray. One of our favorites is Ironton. I love walking among the old buildings, or what remains of them, and wondering how it must have been and why did they leave. I mean, the setting alone would have held me captive. Who needs money, right?

    And chili... I made my first batch of the season last week. Yum! I'm ready for a good old norther to blow through.

    1. The West is filled with these abandoned towns, isn't it? And you have to wonder what happened to the people who lived here.

      We're having chilly (read "chili") weather here today, too! Snow up in the Hills!

  3. Laughing about "talking behind your back!" I don't remember hearing that before. :)

    I love to make chili with pinto beans. That was what my dad always did.

    Love the photos! I think a ghost town would be so interesting. Lots of room for imagination.

    1. I had never heard the "talking behind your back" thing either, until I read Watson Parker's book! It's a great book to read if you ever want to learn about mining towns and gold rushes!