Hill City is known for being “The Heart of the Hills,” and as one would expect from a town with such a moniker, it has had its ups and downs. Founded in 1876, Hillyo, as its first residents called it, was the second settlement to spring up in the Black Hills during the gold rush of the 1870s and the first settlement to be founded in what would become Pennington County. Prospectors traveled to the area to try their luck in the nearby Spring Creek. However, once word spread about richer finds found in the Northern Hills near the new town of Deadwood, the town was nearly abandoned. By one report, the only residents that stuck around were “one man and his dog.”
This was not the end of the resilient mountain town, however. In the mid-1880s another profitable metal was found in the hills surrounding the small town: tin. The discovery of this soft metal brought wealthy investors to the area and sparked a major boom for the town. The Harney Peak Tin Mining, Milling, and Manufacturing Company was the prominent group hoping to strike it rich on this soft metal and made Hill City its headquarters.