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Rapid City

Rapid City municipal offices are located at 300 Sixth Street, Rapid City, SD 57701; phone: 605-394-9300.

Rapid City as described in 1938 [1]

Rapid City derives its name from Rapid Creek on which it is built. Situated in the foothills at the mouth of Rapid Canyon, where the river enters the broad expanse of prairie that extends east almost 200 miles to the Missouri River, Rapid City forms the link between the northern and southern hills of South Dakota's Black Hills.

The city is spread over a flat, lying in a natural gateway to the purple-hued mountains which rise to the west. Winding through the middle of town is the tortuous channel of Rapid Creek, and during the summer barefoot boys and hip-booted men line its banks just off Main Street. The streets, laid out with a pocket compass, are broad, and only one tall building breaks the even skyline. As the town expands, it is growing along the river up Rapid Canyon where the city has built an artificial lake and a large municipal park.

During the summer months Rapid City residents retreat into the mountains during the evenings and holidays to fish and rest. The tourist traffic swells the population in summer, and craft shops displaying native pottery, Indian curios and stone or mineral decorations have sprung up. During the heyday of ranching, saddle making was one of the most important industries in Rapid City, but a cement plant, lumber mill, packing plant, flour mill and creameries have become the leading industries.

That its centralized location and comparative accessibility would some day make this the distributing center of a great portion of the State west of the Missouri River was the vision of a group of disheartened prospectors had over a camp fire on the outskirts of the present site of the town on February 23, 1876. Out of that conversation the town was born; for two days later four leaders of the little party, Sam Scott, John R. Brennen, John W. Allen, and James Carney, all of whom had been in nearby mining camps, realizing they were better suited for this work, began to lay out the new city.

Settlers immediately began to erect log houses and to consider how they could persuade business enterprises to locate there. Word reached the embryo city that a man from Bismarck was entering the Black Hills with a sawmill. A committee at once set out to meet him and induce him to set up his mill near Rapid City. Other men coming into the Hills with stocks of merchandise were persuaded to stop at Rapid City.

White settlement in this Indian territory would violate treaties signed by the Indians and the United States Government. So the latter declared all white persons in the Hills to be trespassers, ordered them to leave, and stationed guards on all trails to stop further immigration. The Indians, realizing that the white men were trying to usurp their last domain, began to use extreme measures as a right of self-preservation.

Still immigrants sifted through. Guards were placed on the trails from Sidney, Nebraska, Pierre, South Dakota, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Bismarck, North Dakota. The Indians lurked along the trails and the outskirts of the settlement to kill helpless travelers. By summer food and ammunition were getting scarce. Hundreds of discouraged settlers began to leave.

On August 23 Rapid City had 200 residents. The Indians were becoming bolder. The next day four white men were killed west of town. A freighter between Deadwood and Pierre stopped at Rapid City on the morning of the 25th. Citizens borrowed his team and wagon to get the bodies of the men killed the day before. They returned at noon with the bodies and found wagons loaded and lined up ready to start for Pierre with most of the population.

That afternoon a roll call was taken and only 19 men and one woman remained. The following morning the residents were notified by a traveler from Hill City of another death. The situation by this time was serious enough to cause another vote, to discuss whether or not the rest should follow the migration to Pierre. They voted to "stick it out" and work was immediately started on a blockhouse for protection. The new structure, 30 feet square and two stories high, was built at the present junction of Rapid and Fifth Streets. A well was dug and preparations were made for stubborn resistance.

The month that followed put the pioneers to an extreme test. Indians appeared every day, and none of the settlers dared leave even to hunt or fish. Guards were stationed day and night. Food and ammunition became extremely scarce. When hope was almost abandoned a small party arrived from Ft. Pierre with the news that the Government had withdrawn its blockade. Residents took new courage and attention was at once turned toward developing Rapid City.

The largest factor in that development was probably transportation. Stages from Ft. Pierre and Sidney, Nebraska, served the new town and gradually its favorable location brought results. At first dubbed the "Hay Camp" by the mining interests in the Hills, Rapid City carried this title for several years.

The first railroad to enter Rapid City was the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri River, from Gordon, Nebraska. July 4, 1886, was the day set for the first passenger train to arrive. As the train pulled into the station, a faked stagecoach hold-up was enacted in sight of the passengers and the throng that had congregated to see the first train come in. The holdup was a joke for the "bandits," but a serious episode for passengers on the stage. Dr. Pierce, driver of the stage, had previously arranged with nine other men to rob the passengers as he drove a four-horse team up to the depot just as the train pulled in. He had persuaded 10 or 12 unsuspecting young men who were generally well supplied with cash to ride with him on the stage to the depot. As the stage pulled up to the depot one "outlaw" grabbed the lead team and "buckled" it, so that further progress was impossible. The other "desperadoes" with six-shooters in their hands ordered the passengers out, lined them up, and took their cash, turning them all free after the job was completed. That afternoon and evening the former "desperadoes" were busy treating everybody, especially the innocent passengers.

The Government established a post office in Rapid City, April 18, 1877, and all mail for the Black Hills came through this office. Soon after this followed the establishment of the first newspaper, the first edition of which was published by Joseph and Alice Gossage Jan. 5, 1878, and called The Black Hills Journal. On Feb. 2, 1886, it was made a daily.

In 1907 Rapid City was the goal of two great railroad systems the Chicago & North Western and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific. In an effort to reach the Black Hills first, both companies started construction at the Missouri River and at Rapid City. The North Western's golden spike was driven near Philip, and the first train arrived from Ft. Pierre July 10, 1907. The Milwaukee drove its golden spike July 18, and the first train from Chicago reached Rapid City on July 20.

One of the enterprises that has kept the business men of Rapid City interested from an early day is the railroad up Rapid Canyon. Some travelers have declared that it has more bridges, more curves, and more beautiful scenery for its 31.6 miles than a like distance n any other railroad in North America.

In 1904, after financial difficulties and reorganization, the road was completed to Mystic and the first train made the trip in 1906. In June 1907 a seven-inch cloudburst washed the track from the grade in most places and left only two out of 113 bridges strong enough to support an engine. The loss was too great for the company and it was turned over to receivership a second time. When the company reorganized again in 1909 the line was given its present name, the Rapid City, Black Hills & Western RR. When in 1920 the price of old iron reached an almost fabulous figure, many of the investors wished to sell the road as junk; but the suggestion aroused Rapid City residents who organized a company with local capital, took over the majority of the stock and bonds, and enabled the road to continue operation.

In 1922 Rapid City adopted the city manager form of government with nine commissioners. The city manager is the administrative and executive head of the city.

During President Coolidge s visit to the Black Hills in 1927, the high school building on Columbus St. was used by him and his staff as the Summer White House Office, the President driving back and forth each day from the Summer White House at the State Game Lodge.

  1. Federal Writers' Project, Works Progress Administration, State of South Dakota, A South Dakota Guide, American Guide Series, State Publishing Company, 1938.
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