Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Season ends with great visit to Frawley Ranch

Entrance to Upper Frawley Ranch

With threatening clouds to the north, Mother Nature smiled on Centennial Valley last night (5/3/11) as the Spearfish Area Historical Society wrapped up its 2010-11 season with a splendid outing to the historic Frawley Ranch.

Located about six miles south of Spearfish astride U.S. Highway 85, the Frawley Ranch is perhaps the best-known ranch in the region, and its historical importance was acknowledged in September 1977 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Hank Frawley, Jr. hosted the event and provided an overview of Frawley Ranch history and a glimpse of recent development on and around the ranch.

Hank Frawley, Jr. is the grandson of Henry Frawley, the Deadwood attorney who represented the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad.  According to a story in Some History of Lawrence County, published in 1981 by the Lawrence County Historical Society, “…he was considered a good lawyer in criminal cases throughout western South Dakota, Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska.

In that book, Molly Frawley wrote, “gradually, as business allowed, Mr. Frawley invested in land throughout Lawrence County.  His greatest concentration of real estate was the Centennial Home Farm, a livestock ranch located on the road between Deadwood and Spearfish, where he raised horses and cattle."

Frawley and his wife, Christina, lived in Deadwood and raised three children: Henry James, William C., and Honora.  The elder Frawley had many successes, but he also – according to Molly Frawley’s account – “made some speculative investments.  One of these in the 1920’s was with a group of men in a ‘sure thing’ gold mine and required a large investment.  The investment was lost in the failure of the mine to produce gold, and Henry Frawley was fored to borrow from a former associate, JohnLaffey.  The shock of this failure and loss seemed to have unsettled Mr. Frawley, who was in his seventies.   He suffered a breakdown and left the area for treatment in Nebraska.  He died in 1927 and was buried at the Frawley family cemetery plot in Black Earth, Wisconsin.  The sad irony of fate is that the mine did eventually produce much gold years later.”

After the death of Frawley’s wife, Christina, in 1942, the Frawley Ranch was jointly owned by Henry James Frawley, Sr. and the families of William Frawley and Honora Frawley.  By 1960, a settlement was reached and Henry, Sr. purchased the interests held by his in-laws.  Two years later, “after college and graduate work,” Henry James Frawley, Jr. joined his parents in running the ranch.

Hank Frawley, Jr. (right) chats with visitor.
Back in 1968, when the State of South Dakota used the right of eminent domain to obtain northern pastures of the Frawley Ranch for the Interstate 90 Highway, cattle on the ranch had to use tunnels under the road and “a lot of encouragement” to get from one pasture to another.

Even with excellent narratives from Hank Frawley, Jr., writings in Some History of Lawrence County, and other tales about this remarkable ranch, it’s a formidable job comprehending the long and rich history that encompasses Frawley Ranch.

A tip of the hat to Hank Frawley, Jr. for opening up the ranch for this special, final meeting of the Spearfish Area Historical Society for 2010-11.  We've added a few photographs of the buildings, equipment, and other memorabilia that has been preserved at Frawley Ranch.  You'll find them in our History Gallery.

Thanks, too, to the folks who provided treats for this gathering – and to Lorrie Williams and others for assembling a top-flight program schedule for the society.  We’re looking forward to next year!