DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) - Historic preservation officials are using the latest in forensic science to unravel the mystery of a young pioneer prospector buried in a forgotten grave 140 years ago and discovered by construction crews in the Deadwood’s Presidential neighborhood in 2012.
So far, they believe he was a man in his late teens or early 20s of average height and decent income who apparently chewed tobacco on the right side of his mouth.
The man was buried in Ingleside Cemetery sometime between Deadwood’s earliest origins in 1876 and the latter part of 1878, according to city historic preservation officials. He was discovered by a crew working on a retaining wall at 66 Taylor Ave., in the shadows of the town’s own “Boot Hill” - Mount Moriah Cemetery.
State archaeologists and city personnel, assisted by a local archaeologist, sifted through the site, collecting bone fragments and the remnants of a cranium. They found 99 percent of his skeleton, save for one tooth and a few small finger and toe bones.
The gruesome discovery set off a search for the mystery man’s origins and identity using modern-day forensic techniques and help from researchers from Atlanta to Austin, Texas.
“Right here in Deadwood we’ve inadvertently found this early pioneer,” Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1jH7xve ). “There is a possibility through this process that we will positively identify this unknown man, found in an unmarked grave in Deadwood’s original cemetery, Ingleside. It’s remarkable. It’s beyond words.”
Since the discovery, the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, backed by the Deadwood City Commission, has invested thousands of dollars in scientific analysis of the skeletal remains.
Late last year, Diane France, a forensic anthropologist affiliated with the Human Identification Laboratory of Colorado in Fort Collins, began her study of the remains. In March, she concluded the man was 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-8, white and 18 to 24 years of age at the time of his death, according to Deadwood Archivist Michael Runge.
This spring, Deadwood Dental’s Dr. Lennard Hopper took digital X-rays of the teeth and jawbone of the remains he has labeled “Jackson” in his files. Those X-rays were sent to forensic dentist Thomas David of Atlanta, whose recent report revealed the man was a habitual tobacco user and that he chewed on his right side, based on the wear on his teeth, Runge explained.
“That little piece right there, based on this one report, allows us to put a plug of tobacco in his right cheek,” Runge said. “That little piece of evidence adds to the all-encompassing look of who this individual really was.”
In addition, David’s $2,500 analysis of the deceased man’s nine fillings, three of which were gold, revealed that Jackson had undergone multiple dental procedures by at least two different dentists, Runge said. He also noted that in the late 19th century, most individuals would have simply had a bothersome tooth extracted, indicating the pioneering prospector was likely a man of some means.
“The gold leaf we saw on the fillings would have been done by someone with high expertise,” he said. “Later procedures were done by someone else with less experience.”
Significantly, David also observed that Jackson did not hail from the East Coast, as researchers originally surmised. His analysis showed fluorosis in the man’s teeth, a condition commonly known as “Colorado brown stain,” caused by natural fluoride levels in the water consumed by an individual at an early age, Runge explained.
“When you’re an infant to when you develop your adult teeth, the water you consume contains oxygen isotopes,” Runge said. “Those oxygen isotopes adhere to your teeth and are distinctive to the region where you were born and raised. Colorado brown stain is found in the region from Texas to Nebraska, but not in Dakota Territory.”
Planned isotopic analysis by forensic anthropologist Dr. Eric Bartelink of California State University-Chico will further refine where the man was born and raised, as well as what diet he had, Runge said.
In coming months, Runge said the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology will conduct a spectral analysis of the gold found in the man’s mouth to determine its origins.
“The spectral analysis will tell us what the amalgam was made from, what the percentages of tin, silver and mercury were used, and where the gold originated,” Runge said. “It will tell us if it’s Black Hills gold or if the gold came from Africa, South America or Europe.”
With a DNA analysis currently being completed by Fort Worth, Texas-based DNA analyst Angie Ambers, researchers will begin to put a face on the man who died of unknown causes in Deadwood’s earliest days. Ambers’ work will help predict the man’s hair, eye and skin color, revealing details that local historic preservation officials could not possibly ascertain, Runge said.
When results of all the scientific inquiries are pooled with casts made of the man’s mandible and cranium, the results will be handed off to Austin, Texas-based forensic artist Karen Taylor, the woman charged with preparing a facial reconstruction for the project. Taylor’s work ultimately will take the skeletal remains from a bundle of bones to skin, Runge said.
“The result of this project will be to have the forensic artist put a face on this individual,” he said. “All of the reports and tests we are performing on this individual - the DNA, isotopic and spectral analyses - will help her do her magic on the artwork and create a rendering of what this man would have looked like.
“What we’re doing is taking the skeletal remains and piecing together the life of a man who lived 140 years ago,” Runge said. “We’re using modern forensic technologies to help piece together the life of this individual.”
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