Crook County 4-6: Sundance  LbNA # 9022

Placed DateJun 29 2004
LocationSundance, WY
Found By The Dragon
Last Found Jun 27 2013
Hike Distance?

In 1876 Augustus Hilton left Maine for the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. Lured west by the Black Hills gold rush, he soon decided that his fortunes lay instead with ranching, and by 1880 had established a homestead just over the South Dakota border into Wyoming. This is where my grandfather was born in 1881, and where my father and his brothers grew up.
My grandparents lost the ranch in 1926--a long hard winter forced them to buy feed, contagious abortion took the new calves, they were deeply in debt. They moved to Sundance, the county seat, where my grandfather put together odd jobs and my grandmother raised chickens and, for a while, taught in the local high school.
The last Hilton left Crook County almost 50 years ago. But my generation was raised on stories of Shepherd Canyon and the ranch. We knew the names of the percherons who plowed the fields and took my father and his brothers to school through the snow drifts and the name of the dog that twice walked the 18 miles between Sundance and the ranch. We admired the sharp edges on the arrowheads my grandfather had brought with him when he moved in with us and hefted the black hammerhead, worn smooth where it would have been tied to a handle. We knew about the dam my uncle Butler built on the creek and about the waterwheel that, 60 years later, my father recreated in nothern Michigan for my youngest brother. We heard the poems my father memorized in the one room school in Beulah where his mother taught. We knew that no sunshine warmed your bones like Wyoming sunshine, no other gardens were as productive, no one ever again worked so hard for so little reward.
We drove back from time to time, six of us in the red Hudson, camping in the canvas tent with the big redwood pole in the middle. We'd spend a night in Sundance and take the hike around the Devil's Tower before continuing west to Yellowstone and my uncle's home in Pinedale. After I grew up and married, I too brought my husband and later my children back to hike around Devil's Tower before pushing on to Yellowstone and points west.
In 1999 my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. We crossed our fingers and planned one last trip to Wyoming. By the next June he had recovered enough from his radiation that he could make the long drive from Michigan. Although we met up in Billings, and spent most of our time in Yellowstone, those of us who had driven out returned through Sundance. For the first time I stood with my father in Shepherd Canyon and walked with him to see if there was any water in the creek.
My father died on December 27, 2002. In June 2004 we came to Wyoming to scatter his ashes in the places he loved and to dedicate three new tombstones in the Sundance cemetery in memory of Butler, Ernest, and Earl Hilton, the three boys of Shepherd Canyon. The Crook County letterbox series commemorates our visit and celebrates this beautiful corner of the Black Hills.
Technical notes: With the exception of the Bear Lodge box, all are within 10 minutes of I-90. None of the boxes have stamp pads or pens, so be sure you have your own. All are orphans. If maintenance is needed and you can do it, we'd be grateful.

Box 1: Sundance Nature Area
In the summer of 1950 we lived with my grandparents in Sundance. My father had lost his teaching job in Washington state, and did not know where he would next work. I was two and my sister Sue had just been born at the beginning of June. My grandparents had a goat for milk, and chickens, and a big garden, but little else. There was a small two room rental house in their backyard where we stayed. It had running water (cold), a stove, and an outhouse. My grandmother was crippled and spent much of her time in bed. My father found work in the lumberyard. My grandfather tended the garden. My mother took care of her two small daughters, washed lots of diapers, and did most of the cooking. I was already spoiled, refusing the standard supper of goat's milk with bread and insisting on expensive cow's milk from the grocery store instead.

Twice a day my mother put my sister in her stroller and we walked down Second Street to the post office to see if there was a letter offering my father a job for the fall. Twice a day we walked back without one. When my brother asked my mother on this last trip whether Sundance had two mail deliveries a day, my mother said no, only one, but they always hoped that maybe a letter had been overlooked and put in our box later on. The letter never came, but finally, in early September, a phone call came from the president of Northern Michigan State Teachers College, in Marquette, Michigan. My father took the job and put down roots in a land very different from Crook County. It was in Marquette, 52 years later, that he died.

The way back to my grandparents' house from the post office was uphill, but there was always a stop at the playground to keep me going. The playground is still there, on Second Street just a block south of the corner of Second and Cleveland--the main street through Sundance. Park at the playgound, which had a small herd of mule deer grazing in it one recent evening, and then look across the street to see the beginning of the the Sundance Nature Area trail. Take the trail along Sundance Creek to a spot where there are two picnic tables. From the picnic table closest to the stream, scramble carefully halfway down the bank. You'll find the letterbox in the roots of an oak, placed there by the youngest Hilton grandchild, Aaron Earl Hilton, age 6.

Like all of our Wyoming boxes, you'll need your own pen and your own stamp pad. This box is an orphan. If there is any maintainence required, and you can do it, we'd be grateful.

Box 2: Warren Peak
Warren Peak stands northwest of Sundance in the Black Hills National Forest. On a clear day, and most Wyoming days qualify, you can see into Montana to the north and South Dakota to the east. Forests alternate with rolling ranchlands and the Devil's Tower is below you, down along the Belle Fourche River.
On June 21st, 2000, my parents stood with us on Warren Peak. My father picked a pink penstemon and handed it to my mother with a bow in honor of their 53rd wedding anniversary. Our Warren Peak letterbox, drawn and carved at the base of the fire tower by my sister Sue (allegedly named after one of those percherons on the ranch), commemorates our parents'marriage.
To find the letterbox. From I-90, take exit 185. Drive north on highway 14 half a mile to Forest Highway 838. There will be sign marked "Cook Lake Recreation Area." Take Hwy 838 seven miles, pulling off for the parking lot to the Warren Peak fire tower. You can climb the five stories to the top of the fire tower now--something forbidden on previous trips-- and on this trip we were welcomed inside by the young ranger who staffs the tower with the help of her two dogs. If you have that same opportunity, be sure to take advantage of it.
Standing with your back to the parking lot, locate a faint path heading southeast to another peak with a radio antenna on it. Walk 50 steps(each foot-fall equals one step) on that path to a small pine tree to the right of the path. From the pine tree, look downhill to your left (ENE on your compass) and locate a white rock far below. If you draw an imaginary line to that white rock from the pine, it will pass between two clumps of low-lying juniper bushes before it comes to the white rock. Make your way down to the right-hand clump and circle below it. You will find the letterbox in among the branches of the juniper. Stamp carved by my sister, Sue.
Bring your own pen and stamp pad. Like all of our Wyoming boxes, this is an orphan. If there is any maintenance required, and you can do it, we'd be grateful.

Box 3: Bear Lodge--several reports that it is missing 2008-09
"Devil's Tower" is a mis-translation of one of the many Indian names for this incredible geologic formation which became the first National Monument. One of the Indian names translates as "Bear Lodge" and locally the Wyoming portions of the Black Hills, which include the Devil's Tower, are referred to as "The Bear Lodge."
This letterbox is the only one in our Crook County series which is more than 10 minutes off I-90. But you want visit the Devil's Tower, and hike the beautiful trail around its base.
From exit 185, follow the signs north along highway 14 to Devil's Tower junction and Devil's Tower. At Devil's Tower Junction, the signs will direct you to Hwy 24 toward the Tower.
Keep an eye out for the first "scenic area, 1500 feet" sign. Pull off the highway at the scenic area. The letterbox is inside the guardrail, right at the parking spot. Stamp by Paula, log by Kati.
Bring your own pen and stamp pad. Like all of our Wyoming boxes, this is an orphan. If there is any maintenance required, and you can do it, we'd be grateful.