Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Henry Weston Smith was the only preacher in the Black Hills during his four months here.
Henry Weston Smith was the only preacher in the Black Hills during his four months here.
Image via United Methodist Church
May 2, 2016

IN HISTORY: Preacher Smith Leads First Service in Black Hills, May 7, 1876

After walking for three days alongside a wagon train coming from Cheyenne, Wyo., the Rev. Henry Weston Smith led his first Black Hills church service in Custer city on May 7, 1876. Thirty men and five women attended.

Preacher Smith, as he came to be known, felt called to the Black Hills gold rush and was not assigned by the Methodist Church. He was the first member of the clergy in the Black Hills.

After a second service in Custer, Smith walked another three days to Deadwood, where he became a street preacher. The street in front of Bent and Deetken's Drug Store was a frequent venue. Accounts of him preaching inside saloons are disputed.

On Aug. 20, 1876, Smith left the cabin he had built to walk to Crook City, where he planned to deliver a sermon. He left this note on his front door: 

"Gone to Crook City to preach, and if God is willing, will be back at three o'clock."

He was killed along the roadside, shot in the heart. His death was blamed on American Indians returning home from a victory at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Evidence for this accusation is lacking. Others have speculated that his death was the work of common thieves or even orchestrated by proprietors of Deadwood's brothels, saloons and gambling halls.

Seth Bullock wrote to inform one of Smith's friends of his death. Bullock had not known Smith personally but wrote: 

"(I) knew him by reputation, as an earnest worker in his Master's Vineyard. He has preached here on several occasions, and was the only minister in the Hills."

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