The Black Hills
are an uplifted island of pine-clad mountains rising from the Great
Plains. With their impressive pinnacles, mysterious geologic
formations, and dense forests, the area provides a number of picturesque
views, hiking opportunities,
Parks and state parks, and a wealth of history in this region of stark
This small isolated
mountain range in southwestern
formed in the time between the dinosaurs’ extinction and the beginning of
the most recent ice age, is marked by Mother Nature’s restless winds,
erosion and volcanic activity. It is the oldest set of Mountains in what
is now the United States.
region has been inhabited by
Americans for almost 10,000 years. The
arrived in the Black Hills
by about 1500 A.D., followed by the
However, when the
Lakota arrived in the eighteenth century, they drove out the other
tribes and claimed the land for themselves. The lands soon became sacred
to the Lakota (Sioux,)
who called them Paha Sapa, which mean "hills that are black.”
explorers began mapping the Missouri
River and trading with the
Indians for pelts
and hides to be shipped back East. Adventurers Francois and
Joseph La Verendrye claimed the region for King Louis XV in 1743 by
placing an engraved lead plate on the bank of the Missouri
near present-day Pierre.
President Thomas Jefferson made the
Louisiana Purchase with
Napoleon of France, the 828,000 square-mile purchase included all of
what would later become South Dakota. In 1803, Jefferson sent his personal secretary Meriwether Lewis and
William Clark to explore the new territory.
Clark heard tales about
Hills from other
traders and trappers, but it wasn't until 1823 that
Jedediah Smith and
a group of about 15 traders actually traveled through them. While
other adventuresome trappers also explored the Hills, most avoided the
area because it was considered sacred by the Lakota.
never welcomed the white
man to their hunting grounds and as immigration increased there was a
marked decline in
relations. The Army established outposts nearby, but they seldom entered
the Black Hills. Trouble escalated when bands of Lakota began to raid nearby
settlements, then retreating to the Hills.
Despite being pushed by pioneers to explore them, the military recognized
the importance the Lakota Nations attached to the Black Hills. In 1868 the federal
government entered into a series of treaties with the Lakota
resulting in the Fort Laramie Treaty which established the Great
Sioux Reservation including all lands from the Missouri
River west to the Bighorn
Mountains of western
Wyoming. The treaty forever ceded the
Lakota Sioux in an effort to bring about
a lasting peace with the tribes of the plains and established agencies
which would distribute food, clothes, and money to the
Americans. The treaty
prohibited settlers or miners from entering the Hills without
authorization. In return, the Lakota
agreed to cease hostilities against pioneers and people
building the railroads. However, settlers continued to enter the
reservation and renewed
raids on nearby settlements caused
General Philip Sheridan to propose an expedition to investigate the
possibility of establishing a fort in the Black Hills
Signal Rock in Elk Canyon, Black Hills,
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
George Armstrong Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills, gold was "officially” discovered
on June 30, 1874, which soon led to thousands of
miners encroaching upon the Sioux lands in
violation of the treaty and Federal law. Control over the land sparked the
Indian War on the Great Plains – the Black Hills War (1876-1877),
which included several famous battles including the
Battle of Rosebud,
Battle of the Little Bighorn, the
Dull Knife Fight, and the
Battle of Slim Buttes.
In the fall of 1876,
the U.S. Army defeated the Lakota, forced them onto reservations and formed yet another
treaty in 1877, which gave the U.S. title to the Black Hills and legalized gold
mining in the territory. Over a century later this Act would be
determined illegal by the Supreme Court.*
Before long, several
boomtowns were established including Custer City,
Today, the Black
Hills, which extends into
offer a number of sites for travelers including the Mount Rushmore
National Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National
Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Black Hills National Forest,
Custer State Park, and Bear Butte State Park.
abound throughout the parks for hiking, biking and cross-country
skiing, through forests and grasslands where the nature lover will
find an abundance of wildlife including
buffalo, deer, antelope, big-horn sheep, prairie dogs, and more.
Though most of
the mining has been replaced by ranching, signs of the past can still
be seen in a number of
towns including Central City, Addie Camp, Addie Creek and more.
The one time gold camp of
is now a well-preserved gambling mecca and its twin city of Lead
features tours of the now-closed Homestake Mine.
In Sturgis, the
annual motorcycle rally draws more than a half a million visitors to
the Black Hills each August.
All in all, the Black
Hills offers something
for everyone, from the historian to the naturalist, as it combines a
flavor of the
with quaint attractions, rodeos, and outdoor recreation.
Black Hills Badlands Information Center
Interstate 90 at Exit 61
*Native American Land Dispute:
The February Act of 1877 which stripped
the Sioux of the Black Hills and permanently established Indian
Reservations is still in dispute to this day. Controversy results
from the fact that the Federal Government purchased the land from
the Sioux, but there is no valid record of the transaction.
The legal battle began in the 1920's, but the initial case wasn't
decided by the Supreme Court until 1980, when the court ruled to
support an earlier lower court ruling awarding the Sioux nation $106
million. Further complications arose however as the Sioux
Tribe argued that same year that they never signed a contract with
Arthur Lazarus, who argued the case and had been involved with it
since the mid 1950's. The Tribe refused to accept the award
from the Supreme Court, saying the courts decision should be vacated
on the grounds the tribe was not represented.
Legal battles continue with the Tribe
wanting the Federal lands of the Black Hills, and money. Despite the
fact that the award given to them in 1980 still sits in a trust
gaining interest, they refuse to accept the outcome of the Supreme
Court decision saying it would remove any legal standing they have
to the Black Hills.
The issue was revived in 2009, when
President Barack Obama stated his support for the tribes decision
not to take the settlement money for the Black Hills. In September
of 2012, the United Nations, after meeting with several tribes in
the U.S., recommended that the United States return lands to some
Native Americans, including the Black Hills to the Sioux. The
dispute is still unresolved as of this update.
of America, updated September, 2016
Primary Sources: National Park Service, Black Hills Badlands,
Wikipedia (Black Hills Land Claim).
Hills Historic Characters & Tales
Of The Bad Lands
Nakota - The Great Sioux Nation
Rough & Tumble
Photo Print Galleries
Homestake Mine in 1889.
This image available for photographic prints and downloads
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