Tensions between producers and processors permeated the American economy at the end of the 19th century, including the mining industry in the Black Hills. Smaller mining companies depended on smelting companies to extract silver and gold from the ore they had excavated. But in August 1894, Black Hills miners complained that smelting companies were raising their rates even as the value of silver was falling, “cutting the miner both ways,” according to the Black Hills Times. The newspaper suggested that the smelters were able to keep their rates high because they had banded together. “It is unfortunate that the miners cannot form a combination as the smelting men have done,” wrote the editor. Smelting, however, soon fell out of favor in the industry as other methods for extracting precious minerals proved less expensive and more effective.
Photographer John Grabill captured this image of the Deadwood and Delaware Smelter works around 1890. It can be found with other Deadwood mining images in the collection of the Library of Congress. Articles on the history of Black Hills mining are available from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.