A South Dakota Legend: Potato Creek Johnny
The cry was heard around the country and around the world.
‘There’s gold in them thar Hills!’
And so the gold rush began. Oh, perhaps not as famous as the 1849 California Gold Rush, but the rush was on for the Black Hills of South Dakota, or more properly, the Black Hills of Dakota Territory.
The story of those ‘Old Days’ in the Black Hills is legendary, filled with characters like Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Jack McCall…the bars and brothels and gambling and more.
But there is one South Dakota legend you may not be familiar with. And I suppose it’s because he came to the ‘party’ a little late.
His name was John Perrett, but if you know him at all, it’s not John Perrett you know…it’s Potato Creek Johnny.
Johnny came from across the pond, Wales to be exact, back in 1883 when he was just 17 years old. By then, of course, Deadwood and the Black Hills were already established as having found gold. The Black Hills Gold Rush was already in the past.
But that didn’t deter Johnny.
He made his way to the Hills, and by the time he arrived most of the gold was already being hauled off by the big mining companies. But that didn’t stop Johnny. Working a claim along Potato Creek with his gold pan and sluice boxes, he went to work. He didn’t come back into town much and his hair and his beard grew long, then longer. As you can tell in the pictures, Johnny looked like you’d expect a gold prospector to look!
He got married in 1907 and divorced about 20 years later. And it was about a year after that divorce that the legend of ‘Potato Creek Johnny’ happened.
He found one of the world’s biggest gold nuggets.
It was in the shape of a leg and it made Johnny…I mean Potato Creek Johnny…famous, at least around the Dakota’s. Now, through the years a lot of folks said that the big nugget was just small one’s melted together. Still, the legend of the leg-shaped huge gold nugget persists.
Potato Creek Johnny would entertain visitors to his cabin through the 1930’s and into the 1940’s by going out and panning for gold. Oh, and Johnny was a diminutive sort, standing just over 4 feet tall.
But he stood tall in the annals of the Black Hills and South Dakota.
Potato Creek Johnny died at the age of 77 in 1943 and is buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood alongside the maybe more famous legends like Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock.
LegendsOfAmerica.com Contributed To This Article
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