Are there bears here?
Written by Marcus Heerdt
January 17, 2020

"Are there bears here?"

This is a question we get a lot from visitors to the area…and the answer may be yes and no at the same time.

Both black and grizzly bears once inhabited the Black Hills. Additionally, perhaps one of the most fascinating stories ever involving a bear may have occurred in the Black Hills region. *

In October 1823, Jedediah Smith commanded a party of 12 mountain men into the Black Hills by way of Buffalo Gap. James Clyman, another mountain man in the group, wrote in his journal, “At length we arrived at the foot of the Black Hills which rises in very slight elevation above the common plain…we entered a pleasant undulating pine region cool and refreshing so different from the hot dusty plains we have been so long passing over and here we found hazelnuts and ripe plumbs a luxury not expected…”

Somewhere along the Cheyenne River, a grizzly bear charged at the group and attacked Jedediah Smith. According to James Clyman’s account, “The grizzly did not hesitate a moment but sprang on the captain, taking him by the head…breaking several of his ribs and cutting his head badly…the bear had taken nearly all his head in his capacious mouth close to his left eye on one side and close to his right ear on the other and laid the skull bare to near the crown of the head…one of his ears was torn from his head out to the outer rim…” After the party killed the bear, Clyman sewed Smith’s scalp back on to his head to the best of his ability. Remarkably, Smith resumed his travels west two weeks later.

In the present day, black bear sightings in the Black Hills have gradually increased, especially in the northern Hills. However, the likelihood of a human coming across a bear in the Black Hills remains extremely low. Most of the black bears which have been listed by the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks as confirmed sightings are most often transient bears on their way to somewhere else like the Bighorn Mountains or northern Minnesota. However, it is always a good idea to be on the safe side. Read more about bear safety here:

Historic and Current Black Bear Range: 

Historic and Current Grizzly Bear Range:

Further Reading:

-A special thank you to the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks for contributing to this article.

-Maps by the North American Bear Center and USGS

*Scholars disagree on the exact location of Jed Smith’s bear encounter – could be South Dakota or Wyoming

Burning Beetle 2020
January 13, 2020

The Burning Beetle is an annual community celebration that focuses on our connection to the environment where we live in the Black Hills. This project works to raise awareness about the forest, support the arts in our community, and develop an art sculpture to commemorate the changes going on in our forest. 2020 is our 7th Burning Beetle celebration and 8th year of events.

The event features a town talent show, the burning of the beetle, fireworks and a pub crawl with live music and delicious food from Custer's popular eateries.

This year’s events include:

Friday, January 17
5:00pm: Vigilance art sculpture dedication at the Custer County Library
7:00-10:00pm: Sophia Beatty and The Color of Sound at The Beacon

Saturday, January 18
3:00pm-4:40pm Variety Show at Custer High School
4:40pm: Organize for torch march
5:00pm: Torch March begins from the Custer High School parking lot
5:15pm: The Beetle Burns & Fireworks at Custer’s Pageant Hill
6:00pm-8:30pm: Bug Crawl Pub Crawl with live music at participating Custer locations:

  • Buglin’ Bull: Steve Thorpe and Pegie Douglas/Paul Swenson

  • Custer Wolf: Josh Williamson and Andy Koosman

  • Pizza Works: Roy Hendrickson Band

  • Gold Pan Saloon: Steve Gardner

  • VFW: Hidden Timber

  • VFW Basement: Non-alcoholic youth event sponsored by Custer Student Council; Lily Fridell and Fire to the Masses

  • Custer Beacon: The Hermosa Prairie Dogs

After 8:30pm: Live music through the evening

  • VFW: Hidden Timber

  • Custer Beacon: Tie Dye Volcano

Bark Beetle Blues' mission is to create awareness of Custer community's response to the Pine Beetle infestation; by celebration and renewal.

The Bark Beetle Blues is an ad hoc group of people who want to talk about the massive landscape change currently occurring in the Black Hills by encouraging dialogue through the arts. The first Burning Beetle Celebration was held on January 18, 2014.

It's a fantastic winter event that’s fun for the whole family, so bundle up, come on out and join us!  See you at the BURN!

For more information check out the Burning Beetle Facebook page:

Are there bears here?
Written by Marcus Heerdt
January 17, 2020

Burning Beetle 2020
January 13, 2020

Winter Outdoor Recreation Safety Tips
Written by Marcus Heerdt
January 6, 2020

Favorite Photos from Autumn 2019
Written by Marcus Heerdt
December 16, 2019

Elk Mountains of South Dakota
Written by Marcus Heerdt
December 9, 2019

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