© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Badlands Adventure


In the 1880s, western Dakota was an empty land with miles between ranches. Roads were few, and a trip across the prairie on foot was not always the safest, with spring weather being quite fickle. It was also home to many creatures now seldom seen in the hills and grasslands. The buffalo had disappeared but wolves and mountain lions lurked among the rocks, and an occasional bear sought shelter in the ravines.

The dime novels depicted the life of a cowboy as an exciting, glamorous adventure, but in reality for most ranch hands, it was a hard life. To many who had come for adventure, the eastern farm life often began to look more inviting, and they desired to return home.

Thomas Gibson and William Dixon were traveling east from Medora, so with the spring rise on the Little Missouri, they decided to build a raft and ride it downriver. Soon after their trip began they met with an accident resulting in a loss of one rifle and all of their camping equipment. Fortunately, they made it to the ranch of H. F. Pullen, and after a few day’s rest, they built another raft and resumed their journey.

On this date in 1885, they attempted to supplement their scarce provisions and hunt for meat along the river. While searching for deer in a dense clump of brush they came upon a bear’s den. Gibson, with rifle in hand, crept to the opening, leaned in and was suddenly seized by the bear. His companion, having lost his rifle in the river, was unarmed and helpless to save his friend. In fact, Dixon soon became the bear’s next target. With the bear on his heels, he managed to escape and make his way back to Pullen’s ranch.

The following day, Dixon and Pullen returned to the scene and found Gibson’s remains thirty feet from the den, his fully loaded rifle near the opening. The attack had happened so quickly that he hadn’t had time to pull the hammer back. From all appearances he had died instantly. Thomas Gibson had few personal effects, just some old clothes in a valise, and no papers to identify family and friends. Gibson’s body was buried nearby, about ten miles above Cherry Creek. He had come to the West in search of adventure only to meet his fate, lying in a lonely grave, high on a bluff, in the Badlands of Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Badlands Cowboy March 26, 1885