Custer City's Jail
Written by JD
November 19, 2018

Howdy hombres, Historical thins sometimes gets smoothed off so as ta not ruffle feathers or so as somebody ain’t gonna get a bee in their bonnet.

The wooden sign says: "Old Custer Jail - Moved from its original location across the street. Wilber Todd - the builder - was its first occupant, having gotten drunk & disorderly on the money paid to him by the City for his work on the jail."

Now, I’ve always takin a likin to the memory of good ol’ boy, Wilber, so here’s some thought on his Custer ‘jail’.

The small buildin, made from local stone with the steel slats in the open windows, now sits at the front of the large ol log building of the Custer YMCA. Local tradition – and maybe tall-tale – has that it was the city’s first “jail’.

A November, 1966 Custer County Chronicle article states it was disassembled from the area now occupied by the lumber yard cross the street, and reassembled “where it became part of the ‘How the West Was Won Museum’.”

Quality prints of a popular 1897 photo of Custer City don’t seem to show the building. Plus the buildin of the Courthouse built way back earlier in 1881 (now the 1881 Courthouse Museum) included a fine, sturdy jail, complete with heat and real glass windows, as well as strong bars – unlike the small stone building. So thar’s doubt bout that ‘first jail’ claim.

Then thar’s that report "While strolling around the city Tuesday,” from an August, 1909, Chronicle, “our reporter noticed Wilbur Todd working on a stone building near the lumber yard. As it was only 12' X 16', we inquired for what purpose such a small building was to be used. He informed us it was a boozeitarium - not for dispensing booze, but as a rest room for those who indulged in liquid refreshment to excess. It will have a cement floor and be fire proof and burglar proof. Whether it will be bug proof, time will reveal."

So it might seem that concerned city fathers had a sturdy ‘necessary’ built way from the respectability of mainstreet as a public service. Good ol Wilber was collectin stone, forgin steel and slavin in the heat of August all for the good of mankind. Whether he was the first to use its purpose, or whether he even got drunk after gettin paid is cause for endless discussion with menfolk sittin in the shade on a hot day, drinkin a cold one, and wonderin where the closest ‘necessary’ might be found.

After the building was moved, guess the ‘How the West Was Won Museum’ (or some other person or persons) didn’t take a likin ta calling it the “Custer City Booseitarium”, classy as that title may sound. Besides, the ‘jail’ tale might be a lot more fun for the locals to tell their guests.

Thar ya have it, hombres. Stop by the place an take a gander ta puzzle yer mind on where yer thinkin travels on the matter.
Always make sure ta stop in the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce an Visitors Bureau fer all yer questions an free suggestions; 615 Washington Street (an fer Pete’s sake, don’t go relyin on Google an other such ‘media thingy’ maps in the Black Hills, those folks ain’t been out here an can tell ya ta turn right inta a rock wall or ravine.)

Take care of yer ride an he’ll take care of ya. Ifn ya wants ta go lookin fer me, might find me sittin on my favorite library bench enjoyin a cold one, or might not. Adios.


The preceding does not necessarily express the thoughts of the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau management or staff.

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