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How Palmer's Gulch Raised a Professor

Dec 12, 2011

Ruth Ziolkowski once told our writer Paul Higbee that she doesn't feel a need to travel outside the Black Hills because "anybody you could ever want to meet will eventually come here."

The attraction of outsiders to our mountain valleys also explains how Watson Parker, a child of Hill City, became professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin. Watson is also the author of several books, including the hiker/cult classic "Black Hills Ghost Towns." He is one of your very favorite South Dakotans, unless you don't know him. And last but not least, he was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.

A few years ago, Watson explained to me why he aspired to a career in academia. "In the 1940s my family was running Palmer Gulch Lodge near Hill City," he said. "We generally had a lot of vacationing professors from the University of Minnesota, so after-dinner converations on the terrace were learned and lively.

"Chief among the professors was Richard M. Elliot of the psychology department. My dad had known him at Dartmouth, where they were classmates. One evening when I was about 10 years of age, Dr. Elliot and a fellow academic were discussing Roman history. One of them quoted Cato the Elder as saying, 'delando est Carthago,' to which another raised an objection, insisting that he'd really said, "Carthaginem esse Delendam.'

"They began a spirited discussion in Latin and I listened with my ears wide open, and my mouth, too," Watson said, "for there, in the heart of the Black Hills, a whole new vista of knowledge, learning and wisdom was opened for me."


02:41 pm - Mon, December 12 2011
Palmer Gulch was a great place back in the day.

My Dad, his parents and brother and sisters visited Palmer Gulch in the 40's and Dad took our family in the 60's and 70's.

I don't remember any discussions in Latin. But, I do remember meeting lots of interesting folks and a lot of nice times on that terrace and all around Palmer Gulch.
08:01 am - Wed, September 19 2012
Jim Parker said:
Nice piece, Bernie. Palmer Gulch was a great place to grow up. My brother and sister and I spent a lot of happy years there, before it was sold in the early sixties. The Lodge and the terrace is still there, as part of the Mt. Rushmore KOA, but the flavor and feel of the old days is long gone.

I put together some stories as recorded by Watson and my grandfather, Troy, who ran the Lodge for close to 50 years. Feel free to drop by my site and read more about PGL.
12:05 pm - Fri, September 21 2012
jackie lambert key said:
My first visit to the Lodge was in 1957 with my husband, Hugh Lambert who had been there when he was 11 and rode horses with Wat. We became intrigued with the ghost towns and began looking for them with Wat, Olga and Al Grimm using Geological Survey maps to locate them. Thus began the book Wat and with some help from Hugh wrote Ghost Towns. Hugh continued to go back for a number of years, unfortunately, I only went back until 1964. I will carry the fragrance of the jack pines and every detail of the Lodge forever in my heart.
07:48 pm - Fri, February 1 2013
Larry Rose said:
My father in law was Mel Gibbs from Custer.Did you know him?

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