Guide to Watson Parker Ghost Town Notebooks At the Leland D. Case Library for Western Historical Studies

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Watson Parker
Title: Watson Parker Ghost Town Notebooks
Dates: 1880-2012; Bulk dates 1961-1999
Quantity: 133 notebooks (28 linear feet)
Collection ID: Watson Parker Notebooks
Repository: Leland D. Case Library of Western Historical Studies
E.Y. Berry Library-Learning Center
Black Hills State University
Spearfish, SD 57799

Biographical Note

Known at the "Dean of Black Hills History", Watson Parker was a well-respected Historian and prolific writer on the History of the Black Hills. The son of Troy and Janet Parker, Watson was born in Evanston, IL June 15, 1924. The Parker family later moved to Hill City, SD where they ran the Palmer Gulch Lodge Resort and Dude Ranch from 1927-1962.

During World War II Parker served in Europe and the Philippines with the U.S. Army, 1248th Engineer Combat Battalion as Staff Sergeant in the Medical Detachment. After returning home, he pursued higher education, earning his A.B. in Liberal Arts from the University of Chicago 1948 and a B.S. from Cornell University in 1951. In 1950 he married Olga Glassman Parker. Together they had three children, James, David, and Rebecca. Watson and Olga returned to Hill City and managed the Palmer Gulch Lodge from 1950-1960.

Watson then attended the University of Oklahoma where he received a Masters and PhD Western American History and Plains Indian Cultural Anthropology. In 1965 Watson moved his family to Oshkosh, Wisconsin where he taught at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh until his retirement in 1986. After retiring he and Olga returned to the Black Hills, splitting time between Palmer Gulch and Rapid City.

His first book, Gold in the Black Hills, was based on his dissertation published in 1966. His second book, written with his boyhood friend Hugh Lambert, was Black Hills Ghost Towns published in 1974. It has remained the authoritative work on that topic. Combined with his final book, Deadwood: The Golden Years, these three books are the cornerstone in any Black Hills scholars' and enthusiasts' library. In addition to these three titles, Watson wrote more than 40 articles on Black Hills and Western history and 40 scholarly book reviews. He had a gift for making scholarly topics accessible to all.

Watson was bestowed with many awards and honors. They include: the Dakota History Conference award for Distinguished Contribution to the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of South Dakota and the Northern Plains, 1986; the Rodman Paul award for Mining History, 1993; West River History Conference Herb Blakely Award, 2007; the Westerners' Living Legend Award, 2009; and in 2011 he was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

After a long battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis, Watson Parker passed away at home on January 9th, 2013. He will be long remembered for his vast knowledge of the Black Hills and as a man of strong opinions and dry wit.

Scope and Contents

Collection contains Watson Parker's research from 1961-1990s used to write his numerous publications about the history of the Black Hills. Materials included are: original handwritten notes, journal and newspaper articles, maps, and excerpts from books. In addition the collection contains many original photographs taken by Watson Parker primarily dated 1970-1993. Ephemeral materials include a very large number of brochures on tourist sites and other recreational and historical amenities in the Black Hills. It is worth noting that many of the maps are photocopied. Also, most of these copies are of sections of maps, and not full duplications.

Acquisition Information

Received May 2013

Related Material

This collection is part of the Troy L. and Watson Parker Collection.

Preferred Citation

Watson Parker Notebooks, Leland D. Case Western Historical Studies, Black Hills State University

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections Staff including: Thawney Stottler, Elizabeth Leonhardt, Jessica Skorheim, and Bobbi Sago.


Due to the extensive size of the collection, a database was created in Microsoft Access. Database subject entries include information about the types of materials on a given subject and the date span for each type of material. The database can be searched at: