While he did much to help in the establishment of commerce in many of the communities of the Black Hills, it is in Hot Springs where Fred Evans is best known and remembered.
Frederick Taft Evans was born in Parkman, Ohio, in 1835. Evans left home in 1853 to head “out west” at the age of eighteen. It is reported that Fred liked the challenges of the developing frontier and marveled at its changes.
He worked in Wisconsin as a logger and woodchopper; as a freighter and bullwhacker in Colorado; broke wild horses in Washington; clerked in several stores and banks, and bought a ranch in northeastern Nebraska Territory in 1859. After the Civil War, Evans opened a stockyard and created a streetcar line in Sioux City, Iowa.
When Evans learned that gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, he began a freighting business. He sent his first wagon train pulled by mules westward toward the Hills in the spring of 1875. The wagons were laden with supplies he planned to sell to miners, but it was not meant to be. The U.S. Cavalry caught up with the illegal shipment into Lakota territory (the Black Hills were not officially made a part of Dakota Territory until 1877), confiscated the goods, and turned the mules loose.
Undaunted, Evans organized a second wagon train which did make it to the Hills later in 1875. He eventually based his freighting business upriver at Fort Pierre, and operated overland haulage lines into the Hills until the advent of the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Railroad (Chicago and North Western) in the mid 1880s, averaging over a million pounds of freight per year. At one time Evans employed more than one thousand men, two hundred forty mules, fifteen hundred oxen, and operated four hundred wagons. It was reported that Evans could “swear an ox’s horn off in two minutes.”
With the advent of the railroad in the Black Hills in 1885, Evans decided to sell his freighting business. He concentrated his efforts in other ventures, many of them in the southern Black Hills town of Hot Springs. He oversaw the construction of the three story wooden Minnekahta Hotel in the city in 1886 to cater to the booming warm water resort trade and tourism. When the structure burned in 1891, he commissioned a new stone building in is place – built of pink sandstone from Evan’s own quarries. Today, the grand Evans Hotel still stands in Hot Springs, and the town is still full of such beautiful buildings quarried from Evan’s properties.
Evans also served as mayor, established the city’s first electric plant, first bank, a water system, a municipal band, a baseball team, donated land for the State Veterans Home and all of the city’s churches, and tirelessly promoted the natural springs as a resort destination through the Dakota Hot Springs Company.
Today, Evans is probably best known for developing Evans Plunge. The first facility opened in May of 1891 and featured warm waters bubbling up through the natural stone floor. Expanding several of the warm springs to a 70’ by 200’ pool and enclosing it for year-round use formed the largest enclosed swimming pool in the world.
Now, the world’s largest indoor warm water swimming pool still draws tens of thousands of visitors to Hot Springs yearly – just as Fred Evans hoped it would over 110 years ago.
Evans passed away in Hot Springs in 1902.
Hot Springs Star, various articles.
Early Hot Springs, Fall River County Historical Society.
Roadside History of South Dakota, Linda M. Hasselstrom