to Our History on Display
The Custer County Courthouse building,
of Italianate-design, was built in
1880, constructed with bricks from a local kiln. It opened January 1881 in Custer
City, Custer County, Dakota Territory, eight years before South Dakota became a
state. This building was the hub of Custer County development from 1881 to
1974, serving not only as a center for government, but also in early years as a
meeting place for church services, socials and community activities. Justice
was dispensed from this building for 92 years until it was given to the Custer
County Historical Society in 1973. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States
Department of the Interior on November 27, 1972. The Custer County Historical Society opened
the 1881 Custer County Courthouse Museum
on Memorial Day weekend in 1976 and is dedicated to the preservation of the
history of the city, county and surrounding area, with the help of many, many
DESCRIPTION OF MAJOR EXHIBIT ROOMS
Native American & Local Wildlife items are featured in the Southeast room. Lakota clothing, tools and displays
explaining their contributions to Custer County are presented, along with antique
(1900-1929) and modern taxidermy specimens of Black Hills wildlife.
Custer Expedition Room features photographs taken by William H. Illingworth
on the 1874 Expedition into the Black
Hills led by famed Civil War General George Armstrong Custer. Some of the
many artifacts on display include a rifle used by Custer to hunt antelope at
Fort Hays, Kansas, his shoulder epaulets, a first edition of his book, My Life on the Plains, and various items
found at the campsite west of town.
Mining & Minerals of the surrounding Black Hills are displayed in the
center case including gold ore which brought miners here in 1875 and rose
quartz, the official state gemstone. Horatio N. Ross, discoverer of gold on
French Creek, was a member of the 1874 Custer Expedition. A mine replica of the late 1870’s and the
1880’s are shown along with a display of the tools used, including gold sluice
and rocker box.
Victorian Life features
an 1870’s parlor and bedroom suite, with
items used for daily living and amusement.
The story of Annie Tallent, the only female member of the first gold-seeking
group in late 1874, the “Gordon Party” is also exhibited.
Women at Work houses many of the “labor saving”
devices of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. A dollhouse display invites children to
arrange furniture in a replica house of the era.
Mining, lumbering and ranching were major sources of income in the early
years of Custer County. Tourism has become the county’s second most important
industry since the designation of the Black Hills National Forest in 1889,
Jewel Cave National Monument in 1908, and Custer State Park and Wind Cave
National Park in 1913.
Ranch Room has a comprehensive display of barbed wire, a collection of saddles
and tack, early-day brands and branding irons and late 1800’s state-of-the-art
Courtroom features the original courtroom with cherry wood
furniture. On the north wall is a chronology of Custer County
history, along with a hand-made quilt, courtesy of the local Daughters of the
American Revolution chapter displayed on the east wall.
Judge’s Chamber is filled with law books (marked Dakota
Territory), plus period office furniture and equipment.
In the One-room Schoolhouse replica, educational items give a sense of how the “three Rs” were taught in the 1880’s.
It also features a tableau of Annie Tallent, teacher, author and the first
white woman in the Black Hills.
Military Room displays a variety
of uniforms from the Revolutionary War to present day from all the services. Artifacts from WWI, WWII, and the Korean Wars
are also on display along with a list of Custer County residents who served in
the two World Wars.
Custer County Community Room features pictures and artifacts from Custer
City and other towns in Custer County. Custer
City’s Gold Discovery Days celebration memorabilia are displayed, along with
information of the Civilian Conservation Corps, instrumental to the development
of Custer State Park. The first Poet
Laureate of South Dakota and local resident, Badger Clark is also on
Room features a replica of a sawmill,
logging tools, and unique examples of tree growth.
Venture out the north door of the
Courthouse Museum and view the exhibits within a series of three outbuildings. The Carriage
House contains vehicles used in the 1870’s to the 1920’s, along with larger
pieces of farm equipment. The “Old Outhouse” contains an early
blacksmith forge and tools, while a hand-hewn
log cabin houses printing equipment from Custer City’s first newspaper continuously
operated since 1879. Note the sign
denoting the site of Custer County’s only legal hanging.
General Store, where anything from teakettles to neckties were sold, contains
portion of the old Fairburn (Custer County) Post Office furnishings.
One of the two Original Jail cells, complete
with prisoner, can be found at the north end of this floor. A more contemporary Custer City law
enforcement officer display is nearby. The
large oak case features a knife display collected locally, while the wall
cases display antique guns that won the west. In the foyer is a painted mural and contains
the newspaper account of the killing of Abe Barnes by “Fly Speck Billy.” The
hanging of John Lehman and the lynching of Lame Johnny are also described.
Across Mt Rushmore Road
The Flick Cabin, built
in 1875, is the oldest Building
in the Black Hills. It was used as a military headquarters and as a
residence. Currently, it is furnished as a pioneer home. Pioneer
historian Henry Way gave the cabin and land on which it sits so that it could
be preserved. This land is now known as
Way Park, and within this park, is a monument to Horatio Ross, one of the
original members of the 1874 Custer Expedition to the Black Hills.