17 October 2014

Arch Riordan

A few lawmen in the Old West became famous, like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Pat Garett, but what about the ones who didn't get written up in dime novels and didn't have some version of their lives and dramatic events turned into movies for the silver screen or into weekly episodes for television? What of those who went about their jobs in once growing towns which later faded into almost obscurity, those individuals who did not receive much recognition in the records of history?
Arch Wilder Riordan was one of those old time lawmen overlooked in most history books.

In late 1874, after gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, prospectors started heading into the area. Many traveled north from Sydney, Nebraska, and then turned west where they followed the route used by buffalo herds making their way from the prairie into the hills and out again with the seasons. The great influx of people soon called for a town to be established at the beginning of this natural opening in the landscape. This town became known as Buffalo Gap.

Eleven years after the gold rush started, the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad reached Buffalo Gap and made it a shipping point for both cattle and travelers. At one point, the town claimed to have 17 hotels and eating establishments, 4 general stores, one hardware store, Bonesteel's Ready To Wear store, 2 drug stores, Van der Vort's furniture store, 4 Chinese laundries, 3 livery barns, 4 blacksmith shops and 2 large sporting houses plus several small ones. It also had a station stop established by George Boland for the Sydney Stage Line. As there were no churches, religious services were held in tents.

The quickly growing town soon attracted a collection of low-lifes and law-breakers. Since the local sheriff was not held in high esteem, the town's businessmen met in secret to discuss the problem of law and order. That's when they asked Arch to become their Town Marshal. The salary by 1886 became $75.00 a month.

Arch stood about six feet tall and weighed in at 240 pounds, had an easy manner and a southern accent. He'd come into the Dakota Territory as a cattle drover and found the community and surrounding area to his liking. Deciding to settle down, he opened up a combination drugstore and saloon, which became quite profitable. Believing that a good citizen should do his part in the community, Arch agreed to take on the job of Town Marshal.

Unhappy at the prospect of a cowboy turned Town Marshal riding herd on their rowdy activities, the local hoodlums had their own secret meeting. As a result, they hired Charlie Fugit, a gunman, to come over from Wyoming and take care of their problem. The plan was to start a fight in one of the dance halls, and then when Arch showed up, Charlie would kill him. All went as intended until Charlie confronted Arch in the dance hall. Turned out Arch was a deadly shot and faster than Charlie. Charlie did not survive the shooting.

In another incident, Arch took a gun away from a bad guy named Sam. (Sorry, Sam's last name didn't make it into the history book.) Sam got lodged into the Buffalo Gap jail, a ten foot by ten foot building with stout doors and bars on the windows. Arch turned his back and started to walk away, not knowing that Sam had a small revolver concealed in his boot top. The outlaw called out to Arch. As the marshal turned back to him, the outlaw shot and missed. Arch drew his own weapon, informing Sam that he would bear evidence of this attempted murder for the rest of his life, and then shot off Sam's left ear lobe.

Arch went on to survive several dangerous situations, never using his firearm without due provocation. In later years, he was appointed a U.S. Marshal.

Over time, the railroad pushed north up to Rapid City, the new hub for the Black Hills. Several businesses from Buffalo Gap then moved up the line. Buffalo Gap had peaked and soon faded into near obscurity.

Historical information for this article was taken from Our Yesterdays, the collected writings of oral histories from early pioneers by the Eastern Custer County Historical Society during the late 1960's.


  1. I've just become an Arch fan.

    When it comes to Charlie Fugit's surname, there's got to be 3 of 4 potential jokes there depending whether it's pronounced with a hard or soft G.

  2. Sounds as if you should sit right down to the computer with Arch!

  3. R.T., thanks for bringing to life one of the many real ghost towns (not the fake ones they peddle along the tourist trail) which were once full of stories, characters, mysteries - Arch sounds like my kind of cowboy!

  4. As well written, R.T., and fascinating as the story you wrote several years ago about 'Lame Johnny'. These are the characters which truly stir the mind as their exploits were real!

    A couple of other characters my mother told me about from SD are what keep me interested in exploring old accounts of many places. As Eve wrote, the "real ghost towns...full of stories, characters, mysteries".

  5. Great piece, R.T.! You could do a whole series on the subject. Bill Tilghman is one that springs to mind--a legendary (though largely unknown today) Oklahoma lawman of that era. Thanks for the article.

  6. All, thanks for the comments.

    Bradley, had no idea that Deadwood Magazine got wide-spread readership. Both my Arch Riordan and Lame Johnny articles showed up in that magazine years ago. I was surprised recently when I Googled those two names and then found the same articles on the internet for Deadwood Magazine. The Lame Johnny subject is my next SleuthSayer blog in two weeks, however I rewrote both articles so as not to plagiarize myself.

    1. I am a Riordan doing history on my family. Was Arch a real person?

  7. Got introduced to Deadwood Magazine some time ago as my Mom and her family came out of Lyman and Brule Counties. I still keep up with a couple cousins back there. A GGFather of mine served as a veterinarian in early days and his and other's stories passed down served to fill my mind with many adventures.

    Looking forward to your next ones!

  8. R.T., I read this yesterday, but was interrupted before I could comment. Loved the write-up!

    Arch drew his own weapon, informing Sam that he would bear evidence of this attempted murder for the rest of his life, and then shot off Sam's left ear lobe. I could easily see Clint Eastwood doing this in one of those Spaghetti westerns. lol

    And, Leigh, I'm still laughing at your comment.


  9. Bradley, send me an e-mail at r.t.lawton43 at comcast.net. I wouldn't mind exploring the subjects of South Dakota and Paris (since you spent ten days there).

  10. Anonymous, Arch Riordan was a real lawman in Buffalo Gap, South Dakota. If you can find a copy of the book OUR YESTERDAYS, he'll be in there. In the late 1960’s, the Eastern Custer County Historical Society collected written copies of oral stories from many of the early pioneers in that area and compiled them into a book, Our Yesterdays. There's a copy in the Rapid City, South Dakota library. Happy researching.

  11. Anonymous, Arch Riordan was a real lawman in Buffalo Gap, SD. In the late 1960’s, the Eastern Custer County Historical Society collected written copies of oral stories from many of the early pioneers in that area and compiled them into a book, Our Yesterdays. You'll find Arch in that book. There's a copy in the Rapid City SD library. Happy researching.

  12. Anon, RT is having difficulty posting an answer and the reply above is his.

    RT says there was one other person interested in the history of the Black Hills, in that case about Lame Johnny.

    Thanks you for following up.


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