Welcome 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 volunteers.
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.
The 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.
The 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 veterinary equipment.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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 display.
The Forestry 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.
A 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.