Barker, the Black Hills Hermit

The California Historical Association at the University of Southern California holds a ca. 1900 photograph of “Barker, the Black Hills Hermit,” purportedly a miner. A close inspection of the photo, however, suggests a false beard and hair, plus an artifical pose. This is made even more likely by the photographer’s florid description of the hermit, which follows, evoking all of the stereotype of the hermit of modern legend. (The photograph reproduced here is just a small version of the larger, for which USC requires permission and payment. See URLs below.)

This extraordinary individual, a man of “great vigor,” despite his many years, is a character one seldom sees in this busy world. He has lived in this cave, completely isolated from all human companionship, for many years. The only evidence of civilization in that rude habitation was an old faded picture of a young girl with a singularly beautiful face. Feeling instinctly that she was in some way connected with his former life, to my repeated questions, he finally disclosed to me the following narrative: “You are right. I loved that girl; I love her yet. A few days before we were to be united she died. The world lost its charm for me; the old pleasant scenes I once thought so charming became intolerable. So vividly did everything remind me of her that I resolved to go away and live entirely alone. But who can tell,” he added with a mournful smile, “when the inscrutable mists that veil the future are lifted, that I may once more see her again.” He would speak no more, and so I left him, pondering over by-gone memories that all these long years had not served to obliterate.

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