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Man and horse take 276-mile journey from Mandan to Deadwood to honor “the end of an age”

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 6:34 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - From 1877 to 1880, stagecoaches trundled down the supply line between Deadwood and Bismarck. Brought by the temptation of finding gold, travelers faced both the elements and beautiful views. Now, nearly 150 years later one man decided to traverse the same conditions.

David Sterna and his buckskin quarter horse Vegas are back in Mandan after a long journey. They took to the Bismarck-Deadwood trail and traveled 276 miles.

“The trail end, the historical end, was something I always wanted to do is to see what the prairie was like in the late 1800s,” said Sterna.

Sterna rode Vegas for days through the stunning Dakota scenery.

“Traveling uphill through the rocks and timbers and the deep gouges was a real challenge for this guy,” said Sterna gesturing to Vegas.

He also faced record temperatures that caused delays.

“It was 102 degrees, and I was at a dam, and I should have stayed there. I had three hours of riding and thought I could make another ten miles . . . I got heatstroke which turned into a little bit more of a stroke,” added Sterna.

He recovered at Sanford and continued on.

Sterna’s daughter Karley managed food and water pick-ups on the journey. She says she’s proud of her father’s tenacity to complete the trip.

“I thought he was nuts. Just knowing on some of our longer days riding those 15 to 20 miles, I was like, ‘man we get exhausted on that how are you going to go nearly 300 miles to Deadwood?’ But I supported it, it’s the one thing he wanted to do so being a good daughter, I bucked up,” Karley Sterna said.

He had good reason for the journey: to honor his father John Sterna and friend Jim Zoller who passed in 2020.

“One of my favorite parts was when I crossed over the Cannonball River a bald eagle flew over, and I guess I took it as my grandpa was there with us because he always liked bald eagles,” said Karley Sterna.

He also wanted to pay homage to his family’s connection to this land.

“Our family is towards the end of an age. My grandfather farmed with horses, trained horses with Fred Kist of Mandan for World War II. We use horses for cattle drives, hunting everything. Now, I am one of the last ones to own a horse,” said Sterna.

The time on the prairie brought new appreciation for those who traveled the road in the past.

“When you have coyotes howling on the hills right around here, or you can hear them moving in the grass, it kind of makes you a little on edge,” said Karley Sterna.

As Sterna and his horse reached the end on day 13 of riding. He says he learned what “a real mile is” and understands the need for water but says it was worth it.

“The birds singing every morning, the hawks in the sky, the eagles, it was just peaceful,” said Sterna.

But both man and horse are happy to be back.

David Sterna says his ride along the Bismarck-Deadwood stagecoach trail was a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

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