Aaron Dunn

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Aaron Dunn, one of the pioneers of the northwest was a prominent citizen of Deadwood. He was a native of the province of Ontario, Canada; having been born on the banks of the St. Clair River, a few miles from the city of Detroit, Michigan, on the February 16, 1851.

Family History[edit]

His father, Aaron Dunn, was a native of England, and as a young man in his thirties, moved to the America and took up residence in New York, then later moved to Canada, where he was engaged in the lumber business until 1856, when he moved to Minnesota.

There he became a pioneer of Mower County, where he was engaged in lumbering and farming until 1870, when he repeated his pioneer experiences to a certain extent by coming to what is now the state of South Dakota. He moved to the city of Sioux Falls, where he passed the remainder of his life. He died in 1885.

His wife, whose maiden name was Isabella Carnathan, was born in the north of Ireland, and her death occurred in 1870. They were the parents of twelve children, Aaron having been the fourth child.


Aaron Dunn passed his boyhood days under the conditions of the pioneer epoch in Minnesota, and his early educational advantages were somewhat limited. He started forth by himself when only ten years of age.

At that time, he started for the Red river district of Minnesota, but the Indians were a source of constant menace at the time and the adventurous lad decided it would be best not to attempt to personally annihilate them, and accordingly turned around and went to the southern states in 1862. This was the same year that the Minnesota massacre occurred.


Aaron's brother, James C., was at the time a member of Company B, Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, and at the first outbreak of the Indians at Redwood Ferry, forty-eight of his company engaged in the conflict, and of the number only twenty returned, seven of them being wounded while twenty-seven were killed, the other to complete the number engaged being the captain of the company, who was drowned while crossing the Minnesota river.

During the American Civil War Aaron was in various southern states, from Missouri to Tennessee. He was too young to enlist in the Union service, but as a troy performed his part in forwarding the cause. He drove an ambulance for some time, carried dispatches and was employed in the sutler's department, and thus witnessed a number of engagements.

In 1863 he was at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, at the time of the battle there, and he continued in the south until the end of the war.

Travels and Prospecting[edit]

Then he returned to the north and remained for a few months. He then went to Colorado, where he was employed for a time, then going to New Mexico. In 1866 he made his way to Montana, making the trip via the Bozeman Cutoff and Forts Kearney and Smith.

At Brown's Springs, on the dry fork of the Cheyenne River. The party of which he was a member had a conflict with the Indians, losing seven men, while afterward the party had several other conflicts with the band, another member being killed.

They arrived in Bozeman in the latter part of September, and thence Mr. Dunn proceeded to Virginia City, where he passed the winter. In the spring of 1867 he started forth on a prospecting tour, making his way into the now famous Coeur d'Alene district of Idaho and there meeting with fair success.

He then went to Philipsburg, Montana, where he took charge of the mill of the Imperial Silver Mining Company, which he placed under successful operation, while it had previously proved a failure. While under his charge eight and one-half tons of silver represented the product of the mill. He remained with this position for a period of eighteen months and then moved to Rochester, in Madison County, Montana, where he leased mines and operated the same for the ensuing two years, with good success.

He then went to Trapper City, where he operated the Trapper mine for one winter, after which he went to the city Butte, where he was offered a quarter interest and a salary of ten dollars a day to sink a shaft to a depth of one hundred feet in the Hattie Harvey mine. He accepted the proposition, sunk the shaft to the stipulated depth and then ran a level from the bottom a distance of one hundred feet, when he struck an immense body of ore running twenty-eight per cent.

It was copper, but as thirty per cent was the lowest that would at that time justify working, owing to the enormous charges for freight, the development did not proceed till some time later. It should be stated that this mine is now one of the most valuable portions of the great property of the Boston & Montana Mining Company, Limited. Leaving Butte, Mr. Dunn started for the Black Hills, in the summer of 1876.

Upon reaching Fort Benton, then the head of navigation on the Missouri river, he found that he had arrived a few hours too late to secure the last boat for the season, and in company with one companion he purchased a skiff, in which they floated four hundred and fifty miles down the river, traveling most at night and seeing Indians almost daily, this being shortly after the great Custer massacre.

At Carroll, Montana, they found a steamboat, on which they took passage to Bismarck, from which point Aaron and his party came through with ox teams to the Black Hills, arriving in Deadwood in October, 1876, and having managed to avoid attack from the Indians while en route. He passed a month in mining in Deadwood Gulch and then joined the stampede to Wolf Mountain, but the prospects there turned out a failure and he returned in a few weeks to Deadwood.

Black Hills Stamp Mill[edit]

In January 1877, Mr. Dunn secured employment in the first stamp mill erected and placed in operation in the Black Hills, the same being owned by M. E. Pinney and Robert Lawton, and being located on two cement claims, called the Alpha and Omega.

This mill was started in operation the last day of December 1876, and though there has been no little dispute as to the matter of the first mill to be put in operation, Mr. Dunn gives the assurance that this one is unmistakably entitled to the distinction. The Bald pulverizer had been started previously and run a short time, but was not a stamp mill.

Mr. Dunn did the amalgamating in the stamp mill mentioned for the ensuing seven months, and he then engaged in prospecting and in speculating in mining properties, while for a time he ran the Standby mill, at Rochford, and was also identified with the operation of several other mills, at varying intervals.

Other Mining Properties[edit]

Since 1877 he was interested in mining properties in Spruce Gulch, about two and one-half miles distant, by road, from Deadwood, and there was the principal owner in nineteen full claims.

Up to the time of the writing of Doane Robinson in 1904, about forty thousand dollars had been expended in the improvement and developing of these properties, while about three thousand tons of ore had been shipped to the smelter, the returns being from eight to twenty-three dollars a ton, while the ground is acknowledged to be rich.

He also has interests in properties near Custer, where he has passed some time in prospecting, and there he had found a belt five miles long and three wide, carrying all classes of silvanite and telluride ore, while he predicted that the same district will equal the famous Cripple Creek district, in Colorado, in which latter he also has some interests.


Mr. Dunn had made a careful study of mining, milling, etc., and is known[by whom?] as one of the best amalgamators in the Black Hills. In 1885 he looked over mining properties in Nova Scotia, Vermont and South Carolina for Boston capitalists and in 1890-1991 performed for them a similar service in Colorado and Idaho.

In his latter years he devoted practically his entire attention to the developing of his several properties, and was one of the prominent and popular mining men of the state. In 1902 Mr. Dunn made a trip to his old home in Minnesota, that being his first visit there in forty one years.

In politics he gave his allegiance to the Republican party.


  • Robinson, Doane (1904). History of South Dakota. pp. 986–988.