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Paha Sapa
Black Hills

Black Hills

The Black Hills are a small, isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming.

Set off from the main body of the Rocky Mountains, the region is somewhat of a geological anomaly. Considered sacred by many Plains Indians, the region is accurately described as an "island of trees in a sea of grass."

The Black Hills are home to the tallest peaks between the Rocky Mountains and the Alps in Europe.

After the discovery of gold in the 1870s, the conflict over control of the region sparked the last major Indian War on the Great Plains, the Black Hills War.

The Black Hills are considered by the Teton (Sioux) to be the axis mundi or center of the world; the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie confirmed Sioux ownership of the mountain range.

Although rumors of gold in the Black Hills had circulated in North America for decades, Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer of the 7th US Cavalry led an expedition into the Black Hills in 1874; an official announcement of the presence of gold was made through newspaper reporters who accompanied the expedition.

During the 1875-1878 gold rush, thousands of miners went to the Black Hills; in 1880, the area was the most densely populated part of Dakota Territory. There were three large towns in the Northern Hills: Deadwood, Central City and Lead. Smaller gold camps, towns, and villages like Hill City and Custer City soon appeared, and railroads were reaching the previously remote area.

From 1880 on, the gold mines yielded about $4,000,000 annually, and the silver mines yielded about $3,000,000 annually.

Following the defeat of the Lakota and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies in 1876, the United States "purchased" the region from the Lakota. However, no actual purchase was ever completed, and the area remains under dispute to this day.

In 1980, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Black Hills were illegally taken and payment of the initial offering price plus interest — over $100 million — had to be paid by the government.

The Lakota refused the settlement, as they wanted the return of their land instead. The Lakota Nation still demands the return of the Black Hills, and with the help of former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, a bill was introduced in Congress for the return of a portion of the Black Hills. Unfortunately, the bill eventually failed due to lack of support from the South Dakota congressional delegation.

Unlike the rest of the Dakotas, the Black Hills were settled primarily from population centers to the west and south of the region.

Today, the South Dakota side of the Black Hills is economically and socially more like Wyoming or Colorado than the Dakotas. However, the nearby reservations and Ellsworth Air Force Base make for a unique diversity in population unlike the rest of Wyoming or South Dakota.

Source: U.S.D.A. Forest Service;


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