Lucretia Marchbanks, known for her hospitality and delicious food, may have been the first black woman in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Marchbanks was born a slave on March 25, 1832, in Putman County, Tennessee. Martin Marchbanks, a slave owner whose father had settled east of Algood, Tennessee, owned her. Lucretia’s father was biracial African-American and white, as well as Martin Marchbanks’ half-brother; before the Civil War, her father was able to buy his freedom for $700.
Lucretia grew up on the Marchbanks plantation, where she learned to cook and keep house. She was given to the Marchbanks’ oldest daughter, with whom she traveled west before the Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation freed Lucretia, she continued to travel and spent time in California before returning home to Tennessee.
It wasn’t long before Lucretia returned west. She worked in Colorado gold camps for a while before being drawn, like many others, by reports of gold in the Black Hills. She arrived in Deadwood on June 1, 1876, and worked as the Grand Central Hotel’s kitchen manager. The hotel wasn’t particularly “grand,” but once Lucretia started working there, the quality of food and service improved. Everyone soon referred to her as “Aunt Lou.”
Marchbanks was a multi-talented individual who was more than just a friendly face. She was also known for being a tough manager who refused to be intimidated. She always had a large knife on hand and didn’t mind brandishing it when the situation called for it. Marchbanks was not only a fantastic cook, but she was also a nurse to many people. Nonetheless, it was her culinary prowess that elevated her to legendary status.
“Aunt Lou” died in 1911 and was buried in Beulah, Wyoming.