most colorful characters, John Perrett, more often referred to as "Potato
Creek Johnny,” is credited with finding one of the world’s largest
gold nuggets. Though many say the nugget was actually several
nuggets melted together, the tale persists, along with stories of Perrett’s other eccentricities.
Hailing from across
the pond in Wales, Perrett immigrated to the United States in 1883
when he was just 17 and before long had made his way to
to seek his fortune.
The impish, just over four foot man, first
worked a variety of odd jobs when he came to the area. However by the
time he reached 25, he decided to set out on his own in order to find
gold. Though by this time, most of the gold was being hauled out of
the hills by large mining companies, Perrett was not deterred and soon
headed out with his gold pan. Also using sluice boxes, he was
determined to find yet another mother lode in the streams around the
Potato Creek Johnny displays his famous
"leg-shaped" gold nugget. A replica is now on display at the Adams Museum in
while the original is locked safely away in a safe deposit box at the
bank. This photo and full-length photo below courtesy
Adams Museum, Deadwood,
Working a claim on
Potato Creek, an offshoot of Spearfish Creek, Perrett let his hair and
beard grow so long that he had the appearance of the "typical”
prospector and soon earned the moniker "Potato Creek Johnny.”
But hitting "paydirt”
would take him years. In the meantime, he married a woman named Molly
Hamilton of Belle Fourche on March 13, 1907 but the marriage was rocky
from the start. However, the two remained married for almost
twenty years before divorcing in 1928.
very next year Johnny made history when he allegedly found the large
gold nugget. Though almost immediately, locals said that the nugget
was actually a melted mass of gold that Perrett had stolen from a
neighboring miner, the nugget, if not brining Perrett riches, at least
brought him fame. The claim of it being a stolen melted mass has
never been substantiated.
Perrett sold the leg-shaped nugget, weighing in at 7 ¾ troy ounces, to W.E.
Adams for $250, who then turned around and put it on display at the
Adams Museum. Immediately, not only did the gold nugget become a
tourist attraction, but so did Potato Creek Johnny himself, as
visitors wanted to hear his stories.
As visitors came to
his cabin in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, Johnny would entertain them
with prospecting tales and stories of
while they watched him pan for gold. When asked about the nugget, he
would often reply, "I have been looking for the rest of the leg ever
since". Perrett also was involved in several community activities and
often took part in the local parades.
Potato Creek Johnny continued to "promote”
until the day he died at the age of 77 in February, 1943.
John Perrett was buried at the Mt. Moriah Cemetery alongside such
characters as Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and Seth Bullock. As the funeral procession passed by the Adams Museum, its carillon
chimes tolled 77 times.
Today, Potato Creek Johnny's story and photos, as well as a replica of the original
nugget, can be seen at the Adams Museum in
. The original nugget is stored in a safe deposit box at the bank.
of America, updated November, 2011.