Some of the earliest European travelers through Dakota Territory were in search of gold. Stories of gold mines in Montana and Idaho drew prospectors from all over with the promise of wealth and prosperity. Dr. William Denton Dibb, credited by the Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota (Vol. 13, 1922) as the first pioneer physician in the Dakotas, wanted his share of the gold.
In 1864, Dibb left Minnesota as part of a wagon train bound for the gold fields of Idaho with Captain James Fisk (a man who would become infamous for his encounter with Sitting Bull.) Near Deep Creek in Bowman County, they reportedly discovered gold.
According to Dibb’s account, they stopped their wagon train and camped on a hill that had drawn their attention because it showed evidence of previous mining efforts. It is a curious detail in the story since there is no record of anyone ever mining in the area prior to their arrival. (It should be noted however that a settler named William Gay reported finding placer gold in the nearby Grand River a few years later, in the area known today as Haley, ND.) Dibb investigated an abandoned mine shaft and discovered a gold vein so rich that he and several others were reportedly able to extract several hundred pounds of gold. Locals reported Dibb suddenly appeared to be affluent.
The story diverges at this point. According to one source, Dibbs worked the mine for several months, then left for Montana, never to return. Another account claims the men concealed the opening to the mine when they left for Montana, but when they returned later, they were unable to find the mine entrance. The story of Doctor Dibb’s mine was pieced together in the early 1900s when copies of his journals were discovered. His story has been told and retold many times, and like a game of telephone, the facts have been muddied by the generational handoff. One version of the story even says the treasure was silver instead of gold. In the interest of full-disclosure, the Minnesota Historical Society, upon examining copies of Dibb’s journal in 1923, determined that the tale was likely a hoax — a fantastic fiction woven into the story at a later date by someone other than Dr. Dibb.
Discrepancies aside, if Doctor Dibb really did discover treasure in North Dakota, then Doctor Dibb’s lost gold mine is a ghost of North Dakota — still there, hidden away for more than 150 years, waiting for someone to come along and rediscover it.
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy