Sarah Campbell, who was later to become known as “Aunt Sally”, was born a slave on July 10, 1823, in Kentucky. She was sold to Henry Choteau, a cousin of Pierre Choteau, who was the founder of Fort Pierre in Dakota Territory. She worked as a cook on a steamboat. She traveled on the Missouri River between Yankton and Bismarck via steamboat. She became a free woman at the age of 14 in 1837. She married in 1839 and gave birth to a son, St. Clair Campbell, in 1840. Her son worked as a ferry boat operator at Fort Randall in Dakota Territory. There is no historical record of Sarah’s husband.
While working in Bismarck she picked up the moniker ‘Aunt Sally” and became the first black woman to own property in that town. She provided services to Fort Abraham Lincoln, located across the Missouri River from Bismarck. In 1874, she signed on the the 7th Cavalry’s Black Hills Expedition as a cook and laundress. She was the first non-Indian woman to enter the Black Hills.
While in the Black Hills, Sarah was inflicted with “gold fever” and returned to the area in 1876. She was the first woman to stake a claim on French Creek near what would become the present-day town of Custer, South Dakota. She later moved to the Black Hills town of Galena and purchased and operated a cattle ranch. In addition to her gold mining properties, she also had interest in a silver mine called the Alice Lode. She still provided laundry services, was a midwife, and sold firewood to miners and settlers.
Sarah Campbell died on April 10, 1888 at the age of 64. She is buried at Galena’s Vinegar Hill cemetery, in the Black Hills she loved and helped to open to settlement.
Tip - If you choose to visit her grave at the Vinegar Hill cemetery in Galena, I would recommend a 4x4 vehicle. It is a steep and rough road to the top. I parked my car at the bottom and walked up.