A Brief History

American Indian Children

The Black Hills area has a rich, diverse cultural heritage. Archaeological evidence suggests the earliest known use of the area occurred about 10,000 years ago. Later Native Americans, such as the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lakota, came to the Black Hills to seek visions and to purify themselves. The Black Hills was also a sanctuary where tribes at war could meet in peace.  

Black and white image of early residents

Exploration of the Black Hills by fur traders and trappers occurred in the 1840s.In 1874, General George A. Custer led an Army exploration into the area and discovered gold.Settlement of the Black Hills rapidly followed the discovery of gold.The need for wood to build mines, railroads, towns and for use as a fuel increased demand for timber. As settlement continued, agriculture and livestock grazing added to the area's economic diversity. 


Early CCC workers

A series of large forest fires in 1893 focused attention on the need to protect the timber resource.On February 22, 1897, President Grover Cleveland established the Black Hills Forest Reserve.This land was protected against fires, wasteful lumbering practices, and timber fraud.In 1898, the first commercial timber sale on Federal forested land in the United States was authorized in the area of Jim and Estes Creeks (near the town of Nemo).Cutting began around Christmas 1899.In 1905, the Black Hills Forest Reserve was transferred to the Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Two years later it was renamed the Black Hills National Forest.