The Fire at Ingersoll Means It’s Time to Start Gatekeeping

The recent burning of the Ingersoll Mill suggests that it might be better not to #tag or share intriguing cultural sites.

By James Parr

History, relics and a longing to preserve the past came under attack recently when the Bob Ingersoll Mine in Keystone, South Dakota, caught fire. The beloved hiking destination and one of the largest standing public-accessible mining relics in the Black Hills is destroyed.

For many explorers of the Black Hills, our hearts are broken. Scheels social media specialist Kaden Franke said he got a news alert on his phone only to look down and see some of the worst news of his day. He looked at the picture with hope that just the small upper structure had burned, but instead saw the entire historic mill had burned to the ground. 

As KNBN NewsCenter1 Anna Hamelin reported, “The call came in at 3:01 p.m. on February 26, and multiple agencies responded. Limited access due to steep, snow packed, rocky, and icy roads made the response extremely difficult.”

At this time there is no known cause of the fire, but it is thought to be the result of human activity, particularly since no power lines are nearby. In addition to the extensively damaged mill, Pennington County Fire Service administrator Jerome Harvey said approximately two acres of grassland also burned. As of March 1st there has been a $6,000 dollar reward put out for information that could lead to the arrest of the person(s) who set fire to the Bob Ingersoll Mill. 

The loss of the historic mill is something that cannot and will never be replaced. Discovered in 1880, the onsite mill was built in 1942, closing only a few years later, although mining continued. Named after attorney and politician Bob Ingersoll, the mill and nearby mines contain numerous varieties of minerals, each contributing to the rich history of mining in the Black Hills. Ingersoll was a place you could go and still see the very rooms and chutes where one of the most productive mines of lepidolite, used in the glass industry, was sorted.

The Ingersoll fire comes just after 2020 and 2021, when the current owner posted no trespassing signs. If hikers did try to enter the mine, someone was onsite, charging 20 to 50 dollars per person to view inside. It is to be expected that the National Forest Service or owner may possibly take action to protect the remaining parts of the mine by blocking off or collapsing adits, forever burying the historic workings underneath Ingersoll Peak. 

As a Black Hills historian and explorer, I consider the loss of Ingersoll detrimental and urge fellow Black Hills explorers to protect these precious locations even more. Gatekeeping is what many call it, and with this recent fire it is what many of us agree is now the only way. Stevens High School student Sean Siemonsma said he sees gatekeeping as the last resort: “If we cannot share the beauty of our Hills without it being destroyed, it is better if the locations are kept under a lock and key.” 

In the case of Ingersoll Mine, constant sharing of a location in the Hills has led to a significant impact. We have already lost the Ingersoll, what is next? The Danny Patch, the November, the Bad Air, the Gold Mountain? How much history will we have to watch get disrespected and covered in spray paint, then possibly burned too? I understand that it is important to share these locations but at what cost when their locations eventually get into the hands of those who have no good intentions or appreciation for the past? 

The platform from which the major lepidolite industry born in the Black Hills has been lost. The lives of the men who let their blood soak into the lepidolite and beryl-salted earth, the men who first gazed upon the site and decided that this was where they would dig, are gone. The story, the experience and the in between is always more important than the ending. The stories are still there and always will be, but the stage from which they were told is gone. 

Photos courtesy of Hill City Volunteer Fire Department, Kaden Franke, Matthew Lynn, and James Parr. Please do no republish without permission.