Known for her hospitality and great food, Lucretia Marchbanks just may have been the first black woman in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Marchbanks was born a slave in Putman County, Tennessee, on March 25, 1832. She belonged to slave owner Martin Marchbanks, whose father had settled east of Algood, Tennessee. Lucretia’s father was biracial African-American and white, and the half-brother of Martin Marchbanks; before the Civil War began, her father was able to purchase his freedom for $700.
Lucretia grew up on the Marchbanks plantation where she learned cooking and housekeeping. She was given to the oldest daughter of the Marchbanks, with whom she traveled west before the Civil War. After Lucretia was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, she continued to travel and spent time in California before returning back home to Tennessee.
It wasn’t long before Lucretia headed back west. She worked in gold camps of Colorado for a while, but then was lured, like many others, by the reports of gold being in the Black Hills. She arrived in Deadwood on June 1, 1876, and worked as a kitchen manager at the Grand Central Hotel. There was nothing actually “grand” about the hotel, but once Lucretia began working there, the quality of food and service changed. She soon was known by all as “Aunt Lou.”
Marchbanks had many talents and was more than just a friendly face. She was also known to be a tough manager who did not give in to any type of intimidation. She kept a large knife close at hand, and didn’t have a problem with brandishing it when the need arose. Marchbanks was not only was a phenomenal cook, she was a nurse to many as well. Nevertheless, it was her culinary prowess that made her into a legendary, beloved figure.
“Aunt Lou” died in 1911 and was buried in Beulah, Wyoming.