Meet the Deadwood pioneer

The premiere screening of South Dakota Public Broadcasting's "Deadwood Pioneer: A Face from the Past," featured actors in period garb, who couldn't resist taking a long look at the pioneer's portrait, soon after its unveiling, following the 50-minute screening Tuesday evening in Deadwood. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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DEADWOOD — The premiere screening of South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s (SDPB) local documentary, “Deadwood Pioneer: A Face from the Past” Tuesday culminated in the unveiling of a scientifically-based, drawing of Deadwood’s 150-plus-year-old mystery man.

The drawing, conducted by Karen Taylor of Ft. Worth, Texas, is based on five years of interdisciplinary research that stretched from coast to coast and began in 2012.

“This has been a five year journey, exploring the life and story of this unknown pioneer,” said Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker. “It’s been fascinating, exciting, and a learning curve beyond your typical historic preservation activities.”

Information detailing the life of the Deadwood pioneer, who has been nicknamed “Taylor McJackson,” as his remains were found at the corner of Taylor and Jackson avenues, has been gathered in bits and pieces, through the tenacity and cooperation of a field of highly trained and experienced professionals.

His ethnic roots pointing to Ireland. He possessed the following traits: light red hair, brown eyes, male, Caucasian, late teens to early 20s, received top-notch dental care at some point in his life, indicative of a well-to-do background, likely resided in the fluoride belt of the United States, possibly in the Southwest around Arizona and New Mexico, and chewed tobacco.

Some time ago, Deadwood’s Historic Preservation Office pitched the story of their journey to find out more about the Deadwood pioneer to SDBP and Ryan Howlett, Development Director for SDPB thanked the office for making the pitch and Deadwood archivist Mike Runge for relentlessly leading the project.

“We owe a debt of gratitude,” Howlett said. “This is a dream scenario, where we share a like vision resulting in a beautiful piece of art and documentary.”

In the five years since skeletal remains were uncovered in Deadwood’s Presidential Neighborhood, historians and scientists have worked avidly to compile a social and genetic background on the individual unearthed during a home construction project at 66 Taylor Ave.

Mayor Chuck Turbiville explained that, buried in an unmarked grave, the remains were left behind when the original cemetery was relocated to the hills above Deadwood in 1878. The remains were reinterred at Deadwood’s Mount Moriah Cemetery in a 2016 ceremony.

Helping fill in different parts of the puzzle over the years were: Dr. Angie Ambers, a DNA analyst for the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, specializing in characterization and identification of contemporary, historical, and archaeological human skeletal remains; Dr. Eric Bartelink, a professor of physical anthropology and director of the Human Identification Laboratory and the Stable Isotope Preparation Laboratory at California State University; Tom David, D.D.S., active in forensic odontology and a consultant in Forensic Odontology to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state Of Georgia Medical Examiner’s Office; Lennard Hopper, D.D.S., a practicing general dentist in Deadwood, who provided dental radiographs of the maxilla and mandible recovered from the site and provided radiographic analysis regarding the age of the individual, condition of the dentition, restorative materials present in a number of teeth, and clues that these findings may provide about the life of the individual; and Katie Lamie, a senior archaeologist and repository manager at the South Dakota State Historical Society Archaeological Research Center in Rapid City who directed the state’s burial program efforts during the discovery and archaeological excavation of the historic Deadwood human skeletal remains in March 2012.

Following the 50-minute screening, a question from the audience regarding how much the project cost, considering the “horsepower” in scientific prowess behind it, prompted Runge to scratch his head, arriving at the $3,000 to $5,000 estimate.

“It is amazing how generous the specialists were and how exceptionally generous they were in terms of their time,” Runge said, adding that if the actual hours spent were billed, it would far exceed the actual costs.

Also sitting on the premiere’s panel was the producer of “Deadwood Pioneer: A Face from the Past,” Chad Andersen, a television producer with SDPB for 17 years.

“We really had a unique opportunity to do something quite amazing,” Runge said. “It was really quite an honor and a blessing to be a part of this.”

“Hopefully, we can take CSI and HP and marry them together to identify this individual,” Kuchenbecker said.

Larry Rohrer, director of content for SDPB said the documentary premieres on SDPB at 8 p.m. Monday and will show again at 7 p.m. June 15 and noon June 18. It can also be seen on the SDPB website.

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