Seven historic attractions to see in the Black Hills
RAPID CITY, S.D. — If there is one thing the Black Hills is known for, it’s an abundance of history. Images of Native American tribes hunting on the plains, miners striking gold in the hills, and outlaws having shoot-outs in the streets, come to mind when most visitors think of South Dakota. The truth of our wild-west past is more interesting than one could ever imagine.
According to Clint Jones, co-owner and general manager of Fort Hays, “There’s a lot of really fun history all within the Black Hills of the settlers who came in the late 1800s.”
Here are just seven of the many historic spots you can visit in the Black Hills.
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
The two behemoths of monuments make up the heart of South Dakota tourism. Mount Rushmore sculpted by Gutzon Borglum to honor the founding fathers, was constructed in 1941 and stands as a testament to National pride. Crazy Horse was sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski and was created to resemble Tasunke Witco (Crazy Horse) of the Oglala Lakota and stands as a dedication to the American indigenous people. Even though Ziolkowski has now passed away, his family is continuing to work on the monument, which is the largest, in-progress, mountain carving in the world. Both monuments have their designated museums that are worth the visit if you wish to know about how these giants were created, the histories behind who created them, and who they represent.
For a truly old western experience, look no further than Fort Hays. Home to the movie set for the academy award-winning film, Dances with Wolves. The film recreated an authentic set that depicted what life was like in the days of early South Dakota settlement. Fort Hays supports that history through a variety of old-fashioned workshops where craftsmen are hard at work every day. For a bit of fun and food, be sure to check out their cowboy pancake breakfast and chuckwagon dinner show.
Adams Museum and Historic Adams House
Built in 1892 in the Queen Anne style, this historic home is in Deadwood S.D. and known for its oak interior, hand-painted wall coverings, and stained-glass windows. The home once belonged to W.E. Adams who owned one of the largest wholesale houses in the state, served as mayor of Deadwood for six terms, and gifted the town the Adams Museum in 1930. All located in the same town where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and Calamity Jane was made infamous.
Black Hills Mining Museum
Beginning with the Custer Expedition of 1874, the Black Hills was central in the Goldrush and subsequent mining industry. Two miners connected with the group discovered some small quantities of gold near the current town of Custer, South Dakota. It wasn’t long after this discovery that the rush began, with more and more people headed out to the Hills to try looking for their own share of gold. This led to the development of various towns in the Black Hills, such as Lead, Deadwood, Custer, and Keystone. To this day, South Dakota gold and mining history is still honored both in the state at large and at the Black Hills Mining Museum through activities such as underground mine tours and gold panning. Sure to amaze, the Black Hills Mining Museum is home to the Western Hemisphere’s deepest Gold Mine and offers a look at early-day and modern underground mining.
The first steam engine was brought to the Black Hills in 1879 by the Homestake Mining Company. The engine was used to haul people and cargo from Lead, South Dakota to several mining camps in the Black Hills. As the oldest continuously operating tourist train in the nation, the 1880s Train is still taking tourists back and forth from Hill City to Keystone. Started in 1957 by William Heckman, the mission of the train was to share Heckman’s fondness of the rapidly disappearing steam locomotive with the next generation. Take a trip back in time in these fully restored and operational steam locomotives, as they travel the steep grade between the two depots in this vintage train experience. The two hour, twenty-mile round trip includes narration about the train, the Black Hills, and points of interest you may see along the way.
Chapel in the Hills
Far from what one might associate with the “Wild West”, visitors to the state may be surprised to find a replica of the Borgund Stavkirke church in Norway. The Borgund Stavkirke was built in Norway in 1150 and considered one of the most preserved stave churches in the country. In 1890, the railroad connected the Black Hills to the outside world, causing many different cultures to flock toward the state for a chance to find gold. This South Dakota replica was constructed in the 1960s and is a testament to the many kinds of people that were brought out to the state during the gold rush.
One of Rapid City’s original tourist attractions, Dinosaur Park has been open to the public since 1936. This depression-era park is sure to take you back in time, created along the sandstone ridge that surrounds the Black Hills, where traces of actual dinosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous period have been found. The park has a lovely view of the city of Rapid and if you look to the east, you can even see the Badlands. The area is also the site of some old-western justice. Once known as Hangman’s Hill by locals, this location is the hanging site of three suspected horse thieves in 1877.
Although the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to impact the Black Hills area 2020 tourist season, Jones believes adapting to the changing environment is key. “Those who settled the Black Hills area had to adapt and overcome great obstacles; weather, resource scarcity and much more,” said Jones. “This is our opportunity to learn from history. To adapt and overcome.”
Jones is passionate about taking the opportunity when it is socially responsible to do so, to get out and see the historic attractions in the area. “History is an important part of our society that we don’t always appreciate,” said Jones, “take the time to learn from our past.”
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.