Getting to Trojan today would be difficult — after all, it’s just a hole in the ground, swallowed up by the Wharf Mine.
The only evidence that the town existed at all is some foundations scattered in the nearby woods and the memories of former residents.
In the early 1850s while the California Gold Rush was in full swing, few non-Native Americans had set foot in the Black Hills.
There were whispers and rumors, but no one knew of the considerable quantities of gold the Hills contained. That all changed with Custer’s 1874 expedition to the Black Hills, when his party found gold. Word spread across the nation and prospectors flocked here, hungry for their share.
Near what is present-day Lead, prospectors struck it rich on Bald Mountain in early 1877 and mining claims were quickly made. The town of Trojan and nearby Terry were founded by miners from these claims. Trojan’s prosperity grew, and the population soon followed.
By 1900, the Trojan Mining Company was at work to consolidate the many small mining claims into their company, and by 1911 they had largely succeeded.
As the mines were consolidated, many miners left for Deadwood or Homestake and the population fell. Bald Mountain Mining Company bought out the Trojan Mining Company. The consolidated mines were worked for a couple of decades until they ran dry. By 1959, all mining operations had shut down after millions of dollars of gold and silver had been extracted throughout its history.
Matt Klein of Deadwood grew up in Trojan during its later history as a haven for artists. His parents moved there for the cheap housing and bought their house for only $7000. They were truly living in history, and his father, Greg Klein, even found old telegraphs and letters from the early 1900s detailing mining operations in their attic.
The telegraphs sometimes talked in code. Afterall, they were transporting precious metals so they couldn’t be too cautious.
One telegraph from Dec. 18, 1914 read “bar about nipper nuzzle nimbus nutty faithless,” meaning the bar is about $12,500.
Others expressed worry about how World War I would affect their supply. “Phillips has wired manufacturer regarding effect war will have on supply, delivery and price of cyanide. Will wire you reply. Five months supply assured,” read an undated telegraph to Chicago.
From hole in the sky to hole in the ground
Then in the 1970s, an unlikely group breathed life back into the town: hippies and free-thinkers looking for cheap housing and mountaintop living. Their creative community earned the nickname “hole in the sky.”
A lively community of artists formed with poets, singers, woodcarvers and painters among their ranks. A newspaper article from the late 1970s titled “Small City of Trojan Has Talented Group of Citizens” by Lois Miller described the community.
“Maybe it is the heady exhilarating mountain air or the intoxicating scenery that is partly responsible for so much unusual talent in the little mining community of Trojan. There are more talented persons among the Trojans than you would find in most places several times its population of 153 persons,” Miller wrote.
There was never a dull moment in town and parties were common. A group of Trojans created the tongue-in-cheek “Trojan Country Club” out of one of their homes, where they would host parties and get-togethers. During the winter, it would be common to get vast amounts of snow, so they’d take to the slopes. Usually, they’d be snowed in for at least one week in the year. The warm weather of the summer brought outdoor parties, hiking, volleyball, and playing in the large sand dune nearby.
“People would come from all over to four-wheel in the sand dunes. We’d jump in and be waist deep in sand,” remembers Klein.
The community had a contentedness that Klein remembers as one of his favorite aspects of childhood in Trojan.
“All of us had an endearing fondness for it. It’s hard to emulate a place like that. You felt like you’re connected to the community,” he said.
But the good times couldn’t last forever. Near the turn of the century, Wharf Resources was planning to buy out everyone and expand their mining operations into the ground under their homes.
“We knew the writing on the wall and that Wharf would buy everyone out,” explained Klein. Wharf purchased the property and auctioned off remaining structures. One of the last structures, the Trojan schoolhouse, was finally demolished in 2010. While the loss of his hometown is like an “itch (he) can never scratch,” he is glad that Wharf helped the community, which wouldn’t have happened had they not expanded.
“Not only is my intention to ensure the memory and history of Trojan is never forgotten, but also to convey that the Lead-Deadwood community has prospered in so many ways from the Trojan expansion,” he said, giving examples of Wharf helping local nonprofits.
“Without their Trojan expansion, none of it would have possible,” Klein explained.