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 to investigate the rumors of gold ore there. While camping on French Creek near the present city 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. 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.
The Custer County Sheriff’s Office was first established in April 1877. Ellis T. Pierce was appointed a deputy sheriff of Custer County and in the fall election he was elected Sheriff in 1877 and served until April 1, 1878 when he resigned.
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 visitors 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.
Today, Custer County is comprised of several smaller communities within the county. They are Hermosa, Fairburn, Folsom, Buffalo Gap, Dewey, Pringle, and finally Custer City. The Custer County Sheriff’s Office is comprised of the Sheriff, an Administrative Secretary and nine (9) deputies. There are also two (2) Reserve deputies who volunteer their services at a minimum of eight (8) hours each month. The community of Hermosa, South Dakota employs a Town Marshall to provide services in addition to the services provided by the Custer County Sheriff’s Office.
The Custer area has undergone many changes since the frontier days of the late 1870′s. Today with a population of about 7275 people in the county of Custer, the population grows to over a million visitors during the summer tourist season. Visitors to our county have opportunity to visit Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest mountain carving, Custer State Park, home to the world’s largest buffalo herd and other federal parks such as Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Park. The fall season attracts elk hunters, deer hunters and the first mountain lion season in 2005.
During the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August each year, the population of Custer grows from 1860 to approximately 350,000 motorcycles for approximately two weeks. Our communities in the county experience large numbers of bikers who are eager to explore what we have to offer in the Black Hills.
What used to be an area mainly comprised of loggers, miners and ranchers has become largely a visitor attraction year around. There are a number of loggers, miners and ranchers who still work very hard to make a living for themselves and their families.
The Custer County Sheriff’s Office today is dedicated to providing quality service to all persons we come into contact with during the performance of our duties. Our basic functions are to patrol, to supervise traffic, serve civil process, transport prisoners to and from court appearances, to educate the public in order to prevent or reduce crime, to investigate crime, and to engage in a number of criminal intelligence activities. The above duties require a strong working relationship with other emergency services in the county such as area volunteer fire departments, area ambulance services, Life Flight, Conservation officers, area Park Rangers, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers, the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Connected with these basic line functions are a number of staff functions to include activities such as maintaining records, recruitment and training of personnel, operations planning and research, public relations, information, budgetary and administrative control.
The Custer County Sheriff’s Office takes pride in continuing to provide safety and pro-active law enforcement service to citizens and visitors alike into the 21st Century.