Custer City Tidbits
Written by Fred Baumann
March 24, 2019

Here are a few interesting tidbits about the City of Custer that you may not know!  These might make for a fun game to play while on a road trip!

Custer City is the oldest established ‘white-man’s’ community in the Black Hills; the "Mother City" of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.

The 1874 Custer Expedition, led by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer with a thousand Army regulars of the 7th Cavalry entered Indian Territory, now known as the Black Hills. (Because of his Civil War rank and reputation, even President Grant continued to call Custer, General)

While camping at his southernmost point into the 1874 Custer Expedition (where Custer City is today), Custer wrote his report - "this valley presents a most wonderful and beautiful aspect, the like of which has never been seen."

When it came to naming the town, most of the prospectors were Civil War veterans and a vote was taken to choose between Stonewall City (General Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson) and Custer City (General George Armstrong Custer). Maybe there were more Union vets than Confederate vets, so the name Custer City won - although the actual tally was reputed to be close to half and half.

The 1875 mining town grew to a thriving city with an estimated 10,000 population until early in the spring of 1876 when the rich gold discoveries in the Deadwood gulch were reported and as many as a thousand people left Custer in a single day. The estimated 1,400 log buildings were gradually torn down by the few who stayed and used for fuel.

In 1878 in an actual census taken on September 5, only fifty-nine persons inhabited the pioneer city of the Hills; thirty-seven men, eleven women, and eleven children.

Custer City became an important town for travelling on the main trail. Freight wagons, each pulled by teams of 20-oxen, came to Custer City on their way to and from Deadwood and the gold mines, and Cheyenne.  The wagons came up Pleasant Valley and turned east. The freighters stayed in Custer City and next morning had a 100-foot-wide street built specifically to U-turn their teams when they left town to continue their trips.

Custer City is the county seat of Custer County. The courthouse built in 1881 has housed many famous trials and incidents over its 92 years of official service; including the hanging of John B. Lehman who killed a constable near Hill City in July 1889.

Gas street lights were being added on main street in 1903.

The 1908 August paper stated, “Those cement sidewalks with which Custer is to be adorned cannot come too quickly. Our old board sidewalks are getting disgracefully dangerous.”

By 1915, the telephone line had been completed to Custer City. Up to that time communication was by telegraph, pony express, or horse and buggy.

Dirt streets were replaced by gravel by about 1915.

A June 1918 Custer Chronicle report, “The town board installed two signs on Custer Avenue that read “Keep to the Right” and have become necessary due to the increasing congestion of automobile traffic.”

Electricity for the city was generated by the Dakota Power Company in the 1920s.

Paving of main city streets began in the 1940.

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