Custer County 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 here 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.
Native American & area wildlife, Lakota clothing and tools, early and modern taxidermy specimens
The Custer Expedition Room featuring 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 Custer, SD.
Gold Discovery Days is an annual, July event in Custer - commemorating the discovery of gold in 1874. This new exhibit showcases photographs, pageant costumes, advertising and more. Be sure to take time to watch the videos - a step into the past and a treasure trove of historic images and music.
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.
Mining, Logging, 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. Also for public use, a coin-operated woodcarving of an 1800's town that provides some history and has moving parts and people that animate their existence. One quarter buys a lot of history and fun for all ages.
The Delmer Brown Research Library is located off the courtroom and will be ready for public use soon. It was made possible through a gift of cash and numerous historical books and personal notebooks of late historian and much-loved volunteer Delmer Brown.
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 features law books (marked Dakota Territory), plus period office furniture and equipment.
One-room Schoolhouse includes 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 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 America's two World Wars.
The Forestry Room features a replica of a sawmill, logging tools, and unique examples of tree growth.
Outbuildings: 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.
Our newest addition is the Stage Stop Cabin. This cabin, from the Twelve Mile Ranch, west of Custer was donated in 2020 was provided sleeping quarters for passengers on the Cheyenne to Deadwood State. It's rumored that Jesse James was once a guest at the ranch.
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 the street in Way Park: The Flick Cabin, built in 1875, is the oldest building in the Black Hills. It was used as a military headquarters and a residence. Currently, it is furnished as a pioneer home. Local historian Henry Way donated the cabin and land on which it sits so it could be preserved. Also in the park is a monument dedicated to Horatio Ross, one of the original members of the 1874 Custer Expedition to the Black Hills. Ross discovered gold in French Creek.