A History Of Custer County
-As written in 1939
The early history of Custer County forms the story of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills and the subsequent development of that area. In July 1874, Gen. George A. Custer led his famous expedition of 1,000 men, including a military band, 2,000 animals, and 110 wagons in to the Black Hills investigate the rumors of gold ore there. While camping on French Creek near the present of Custer City, the prospector of the expedition, Horatio N. Ross, found gold in the creek. General Custer spread the magic word – Gold! – and the rush was on. The Gordon party , 26 men, a woman and a boy from Sioux City in December, despite the efforts of the Federal Government to keep white people out of the Indian owned country. In 1875 Custer City was staked out and several thousand people arrived within a few weeks to pan gold. The town was enjoying a boom when, in the spring of 1876, a rich strike was made in Deadwood Gulch, and within a week’s time Custer City was almost depopulated.
The county, created in 1875, was organized at the first meeting of the county commissioners in Custer City, April 1877. One commissioner was from Custer City, one from Yankton, and another from Hayward, nearby mining towns and chief rival to Custer City. The latter two sought to locate the county seat at Hayward and by electing the unsuspecting Custer City representative chairman, the two successfully moved that the government be established at Hayward and won their point on a two to one vote. An election failed to settle the county seat fight, so Custer City residents used a guile of their own. One night a group of Custer City men enacted the first dramatic performance in the Hills, a region which has since become famous for dramatic enterprises. During the night, half of the group pitched a bloodless, but blood-curling, sham battle at the outskirts of Hayward, and while the inhabitants rushed to the edge of town to see the massacre, the rest of the Custer City men quietly appropriated the records and scurried home with the county government under their arms.
Of the notorious “bad men” that have brought legend to the Black Hills, Custer County had only two – Fly Speck Billy, who was lynched by a mob in 1881, and Lame Johnny, a stagecoach bandit.
The coming of the Burlington Railroad in 1890 opened the county to further development, as did the establishment of the Harney National Forest Headquarters in Custer in 1898, and the beginning to Custer State Park in 1913.
Buffalo Gap, founded in 1885, is the center of a ranching and irrigation area, the town having a population of 150. Hermosa, which gained local fame in 1927 when former President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge attended church there during the summer, was founded in 1886 and has a population of 108. Pringle, first known as Point of Rocks, has a population of 250, and is busily engaged in mining, farming, and ranching activities.
The county with an area of 1,573 square miles, comprises much of the southern Black Hills. Over a third of the county is in the Harney National Forest, and Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park and Jewel Cave National Monument are all within its borders. Harney Peak, highest point in the state with an altitude of 7,242 feet, beautiful Sylvan Lake Hotel, and many other points of interest attract thousands of tourist vacationists each year. Since 1933, several Civilian Conservation Corps camps have been located in the county, clearing the forests, building roads, forming lakes, and making campgrounds.
The city of Custer, with a population of 1,239, is over a mile high. It has shown remarkable progress the past six years. Among its industries are a large feldspar mill, lilns, art crafts, stone quarries, and numerous tourist accommodations. A new hotel, school building, and post office have been built recently. The present population of the county is 5,658.