History of the Discovery of Gold and Gold Discovery Days in Custer, SD
July 6, 2020

Excerpts from Exploring with Custer, the 1874 Black Hills Expedition by Ernest Grafe and Paul Horsted

Chapter 7: Thursday – Friday, July 30 – 31
“Vanderlehr Creek to the City of Custer, with a layover”

Starting late, the command kept to an Indian trail that is still followed today in places by Medicine Mountain Road.  Some of the men got excited over a mountain of “silver,” while others remarked on their first good view of granite.  Custer was forced to abandon the Indian trail and find his own way into the area that would soon bear his name.  It was there that gold was first panned in the Black Hills, or at least first reported.

On the 30th of July we halted about noon in a pleasant valley, within 10 miles of Harney’s Peak.  One of our miners took his pan, went to the stream and washed out a pan or two of earth taken right from the grass roots.  There was gold there, but it was merely a color; requiring careful manipulation and an experienced eye to find it. (New York Tribune)

Chapter 8: Saturday – Wednesday, August 1 – 5
“Reconnaissance parties explore from Permanent Camp”

General Custer slept late after his arduous climb of Harney Peak, but then the camp moved down French Creek to a better location.  It was here that gold was found in larger quantities, and that the first mining claims were staked out.

Sunday, August 2
“They say they have found gold…”

The discovery was made on the 2nd of August…and the yield was about thirty-five cents in dust to three pans – a pretty good yield if one could keep it up for a year or so, and enough to assure our miners they have struck a lead. (Inter-Ocean newspaper)

Wednesday, August 5
“The Gold Rush Begins”

The result of this meeting around a camp-fire among a cluster of wagons was the formation of the Custer Park Mining Company, to be a working organization from that day forward, dividends to be paid annually until further notice.  The company was duly formed according to the laws of the United States and the Territory of Dacotah, with authorized officers and Board of Directors. (Inter-Ocean newspaper)

Excerpt from Gold Discovery Day’s program from around 1930:
“Come to Custer – Where History Still Lives”

The history of the Black Hills began at Custer.  Adventure-some pioneers were attracted to this place by reports of gold, and Custer became the hub of the Hills, miners working from here in every direction in search of the precious metal.  Historically the Black Hills are young, but since 1874 when gold was first discovered there has been a lure about the name that has called thousands.  Those who came – prospectors, merchants, adventurers, and gentlemen of leisure – felt this lure and many remained.  Even today the visitor leaves with regret, desiring to stay.

Excerpt from Gold Discovery Day’s program from 1960:
“The Story of the Pageant”

The second part of the pageant has for its theme the lure of gold and is as nearly accurate historically as is possible to make it.  The real history of the Black Hills begins with the coming of Custer’s expedition in 1874.  Accompanying Custer’s troops were two prospectors, Horatio N. Ross and William McKay, who were the original discoverers of gold in Custer on July 27, 1874.

The Gold Rush is generally credited to an article first printed in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper on August 27, 1874.  It read: “Gold.  The land of promise!  Stirring news from the Black Hills.  The glittering treasure found at last.  A belt of gold territory 3 miles wide.  The precious dust found in the grass under the horses’ feet! Excitement among the troops!

Excerpt from Gold Discovery Day’s brochure from 2006:
“Our History”

Custer’s Gold Discovery Days was born in 1922, a year after the monument was dedicated to Horatio N. Ross, (a member of the Custer Expedition) who first discovered gold here in 1874.  Members of the Custer Women’s Civic Club outline an event that covered the creation of the universe, the Lakota Indian culture, the discovery of gold, and the growth of Custer City.

In the years to come, a parade became part of the annual Gold Discovery Days celebration, showcasing a variety of entrants, animals and local entertainment.

The three-day rodeo was discontinued in the 1950’s but has since been replaced by today’s popular “sporting” events, such as bed races and volleyball. 

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