Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Angustora Reservoir in Fall River County is a major recreational site for all of the Black Hills.
Angustora Reservoir in Fall River County is a major recreational site for all of the Black Hills.
Black Hills Knowledge Network Photo

Fall River County - Civic Life & History

Fall River County, located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, was originally part of Custer County. In 1883, it became an independent county, named for the Fall River. The county seat of Fall River is Hot Springs. Every July, Fall River County holds its Fall River County Fair and Achievement Days. The fair includes a rodeo, 4-H achievement days, chuckwagon feed, demolition derby, parade and mud hog wrestling.

People of Fall River County

Petroglyphs in Fall River County, estimated to be 3,000-5,000 years old, provide evidence of the plains people who lived in the area in prehistoric times. Many generations later, the region was part of the territory of the Cheyenne and Sioux.

Euro-Americans first settled in the region at the time of the Black Hills gold rush in the 1870s. Local residents organized a county government in November 1883 as part of the Dakota Territory. At the time, it was called Forsythe County, just as Hot Springs, the county seat, was originally called Minnekahta.

By the time South Dakota joined the union in 1889, the shaping forces of the area were apparent. Ranchers were attracted by the land, merchants by the needs of ranching families, and entrepreneurs by the unique characteristics of the area, specifically warm mineral springs in Hot Springs and the quarry near Edgemont.

The railroad brought visitors to Hot Springs after entrepreneur Fred Evans built a bath house over some of the mineral springs and persuaded other businessmen to develop the area as a health spa. The baths attracted individuals seeking relief from ailments as well as patients from the nearby Battle Mountain Sanitarium, a treatment center for veterans of the Civil War and later wars. 

Edgemont was created by the railroad when a depot and railroad yards were built in 1890. The community has gone through several boom and bust periods, beginning with the first rapid growth seen within ten years after it was established. When the dam on the Cheyenne River washed out and much of the business district was wiped out by a fire around the same time as a typhoid and small pox outbreak, the town saw its first bust.

Arts & Culture

Hot Springs

Hot Springs, like other Black Hills communities, has among its residents a number of artists and writers. Writers are supported by the Wild Burro Bookstore where a writers group meets regularly and other events, such as poetry readings and book signings, are held. The Wild Burro has also co-sponsored several writers conferences. The owner, Laural Bidwell, is herself a published writer, as is another community member, Mary Ellen Goulet.

Galleries include the Shaman Gallery and Works in Clay Gallery, which features pottery by owner Tom Eastburn. Other visual artists in the community include Lorri Phillips and Darlene Lines, both of whom have participated in the Custer Stampede Buffalo Art Auction.

Both local and professional musicians enrich the community throughout the year. The Hot Springs Concert Association offers five concerts annually, bringing in classical musicians from around the world. The Red River Resort holds open mike nights, which allow local musicians to showcase their talent.

The events calendar on the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce website shows a community that offers a variety of cultural activities throughout the year, including the Spring Fling Home and Garden Show in April, the Miss South Dakota Pageant held concurrently with the Main Street Arts and Crafts Festival in June, concerts throughout July and August, the Lean Horse Ultra-Marathon in August, the Badger Clark Cowboy Music and Poetry Gathering in September, a concert series which begins in October, a hometown shopping extravaganza in November, and a variety of holiday activities in December.

Edgemont

The Edgemont Chamber of Commerce lists an events calendar that also provides individuals and families with a variety of cultural opportunities, many of which reflect the Western heritage of the area. These include the Buena Vista Wagon Trail Ride in May, the Cheyenne River Roundup Working Ranch Rodeo in June, the Edgemont Theater melodramas in June and July, the Fall River County Fair and Little Britches Rodeo in August, and the Mickelson Trail Trek in September.

However, the great outdoors is also part of the culture of the region.  Visitors to the area as well as area residents can enjoy water sport and summer activities, such as camping, at the Angostura Recreation Area. The Angostura Reservoir is also a strong fishery known for its walleye, smallmouth bass and crappies. Another glimpse into the Western culture of the region can be seen at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, where unadoptable wild horses run free.

Historical Photos & Documents Online

The Library of Congress has over 100 digital images of the Hot Springs area including architectural plans and photographs of some of the unique bridges in the area and photographs and documents from the Battle Mountain Sanitarium and Monument.

The digital collection at the Denver Public Library has over 100 images of early Hot Springs including images of local landscape and businesses like Evans Hotel (now known as Evans Plunge).

The Black Hills Knowledge Network and the Rapid City Public Library have curated large collections of historic photos, documents, and news articles related to the Black Hills and the surrounding area. Explore our Digital Archives page to learn more.

Postcards: A Rapid City Collection

Postcards: A Rapid City Collection contains postcards depicting various South Dakota landscapes, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Needles, Spearfish Canyon, and other natural wonders. The collection also includes postcards and photographs of the 1934 Stratobowl balloon, gondola, and crew.

Museums, Libraries & Archives

Museums

The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, located on the U.S.  Highway 18 bypass, is an active paleontological dig site as well as the world’s largest mammoth research facility. Mammoth bones were first unearthed in 1974 during excavation for a housing development. Since then, a climate controlled building with walkways has been constructed to allow visitors to view the fossils. The site offers educational programs in addition to conducting research. The museum has a gift shop and offers tours year round.

The Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs is housed in a Romanesque-style sandstone building constructed in 1893 and used as an elementary school through 1961. Open Monday through Saturday from May to October, the museum includes 25 displays showcasing original art, historical photographs, quilts and tapestries, as well as handcrafted tools and other implements used in the daily lives of pioneer farmers and ranchers. It is operated by the Fall River County Historical Society and hosts an annual Pioneer Day in September.

Trails, Trains and Pioneer Museum is located on Main Street in Edgemont at Mile 0 of the Mickelson Trail. Operated by the Edgemont Area Historical Society, the museum’s mission is to keep voices of the past alive for present and future generations. Exhibits include fossils and artifacts and items that reflect the community's boom and bust years, as well as memorabilia from Teddy Roosevelt’s visit. The museum is open regular hours and by appointment. Admission is free.

Libraries

The Hot Springs Public Library, located at 2005 Library Drive, is a modern facility that opened in 2007. The library offers a variety of resources such as newspapers, magazines, DVDs and audio books in addition to books. Wireless internet is available as well as public access to computers and a variety of programs, including Friday movies with popcorn, preschool story time and book discussions. With a meeting room and patio, the library also functions as a community center.

The Edgemont Public Library is located at 412 Second Ave. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the library’s mission is to instill and nurture a love of reading. To augment a book collection which provides reading material for children, teens and adults, it offers movies and an program of activities throughout the summer months. In addition, audio books and eBooks are available to library patrons through the state library’s South Dakota Titles to Go program.

Archives

The Fall River County Historical Society operates the Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs. Housed in a historic sandstone building, the museum displays collections of original art, historical photographs, handcrafted tools, and more. The Society also hosts Hot Springs’ annual Pioneer Day.

The Edgemont Historical Society operates the Trails, Trains, and Pioneer Museum in Edgemont at Mile 0 of the Mickelson trail.

Religion

The Association of Religion Data Archives provides county-by-county statistics on membership in churches, synagogues and other religious organizations across the country. A 2010 survey of churches in Fall River County provides only a partial reflection of religious adherence in the area. A majority of people (3,892) were not identified with a specific religion or denomination. Of those who did respond, 1,103 people were members of Mainline Protestant churches. Catholic churches accounted for 812 congregants, while another 1,005 people in the area were listed as Evangelical Protestant. For a graph showing religious affiliation in Fall River County in 2000, click here.

More Information

Fall River County gets its print news from the local Hot Springs Star, which operates through the Rapid City Journal.

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