RAPID CITY S.D. – If you have come to South Dakota to visit the old west, you will be sorely disappointed to find out that the state has reached modern times just like everywhere else. Despite the contemporary status of the state at large, there are still a few chuckwagons where you can experience what it was like in the early days.
A chuckwagon is a type of covered wagon field kitchen. It was historically used to transport and store food and cooking items for travel on the prairie. These wagons would be part of wagon trains to feed traveling settlers or workers, such as cowboys. These chuckwagon dinners would often include some form of entertainment. According to Clint Jones, co-owner and general manager of Fort Hays, “Whenever they’d come across the prairie, at nightfall they would circle the wagons, start a bonfire, and sleep in the middle for protection. There would usually be someone who had a musical instrument, they would sing by the fire for the night and entertain everybody in the wagon train.” If you are craving some old-fashioned cowboy cuisine and entertainment, then you are in luck. The Black Hills has some chuckwagon spots that are sure to satiate your appetite.
Fort Hays, Rapid City
The cowboy cuisine starts early at Fort Hays with a 99-cent, cowboy pancake breakfast starting at 7 a.m. and lasting until 11 a.m. Grab one of the homemade tin plates and load up on all-you-can-eat pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and sausage.
If you are looking for a good, old-fashioned, cowboy supper and variety show, then the folks at Fort Hays have exactly what you are looking for. The supper bell rings promptly at 6:30 p.m. and you better bring your appetite. According to Jones, “we’ve cooked up the typical kind of meal they would have had as they were crossing over the prairie.” Served on their homemade tin plates and cups, enjoy their chuckwagon potatoes, barbeque simmered sliced beef, and baked chicken. Sides include baked beans, biscuits and honey, and chunky apple sauce. Finish off your meal with some old-fashioned spice cake for dessert. The chuckwagon music variety show begins at 7:15 p.m. when the Fort Hays Wranglers take the stage. “We’ve gone away from the standard entertainment of chuckwagons which was traditionally just western music, and we’ve started doing a whole Branson Missouri style variety show,” says Jones. The show wraps up just in time to travel to Mount Rushmore for the lighting ceremony. According to Jones, “We’re normally open in the middle of May but due to the COVID Virus this year, we’re opening on June 1st.”
Palmer Gulch Stables, Hill City
Your dinner at Palmer Gulch Stables begins at 5 p.m. with a peaceful, 30-minute ride in a horse-drawn covered wagon. The wagon travels through the picturesque Black Hills to the chuckwagon camp where guests have a great view of Black Elk Peak. The dinner show begins right away, with music, cowboy humor, and poetry. Dinner includes sirloin beef steak and hot dogs for the kids. The sides are baked beans and potatoes with all the fixings. Finally, finish off the night with Dutch-oven peach or pear cobbler for dessert.
Circle B Ranch, Hill City
Rain or shine, dinner will be served at Circle B’s Chuckwagon barn. The night begins at 6 p.m. with a reenactment gun-shootout, followed directly by the Cowboy supper and music show, complete with old-time western music and ranch humor. The meal includes your choice of roast beef, barbeque chicken, or both, plus a hotdog meal for the kids. The sides are baked potatoes, baked beans, chunky apple sauce, and biscuits. Finish off the meal with spice cake for dessert.
This article is a sponsored content piece brought to you by Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper & Show, a proud supporter of local tourism. For the past 40 years Fort Hays has been a destination for visitors to the Black Hills to experience the “old west” firsthand through authentic cuisine and hands-on demonstrations.
“My father created Fort Hays because he recognized people were coming to the Black Hills to see the ‘old west’ but the ‘old west’ is gone. We are keeping the old ways alive, providing a piece of the west that is otherwise gone,” said Clint Jones, co-owner and general manager of Fort Hays.
The Jones family has what can only be described as deep roots in the Black Hills as Jones explained his family has been here “forever”. He went on to say that his great-great-grandfather was the first superintendent of schools in Rapid City and the towns first Presbyterian minister. His connection to the history of the Black Hills area and passion for supporting others in the industry inspired the support of content pieces such as this.