Belle Fourche (French for “beautiful fork”) was named by French explorers when this area was owned by France, for the confluence of what is now know as the Belle Fourche and Redwater rivers and Hay Creek. On June 27, 1897, Kid Curry, of the Butch Cassidy-Sundance Kid Hole-in-the-Wall gang botched the robbery of the Butte County Bank (at the site of the present Norwest bank) in one of the funniest episodes documented in the Old West. However, behind this colorful history lies the quiet feats of thousands of of Belle Fourche and area residents, which produce a town rich in a tradition of hardiness and ingenuity in the face of adversities. Today Belle Fourche serves a large trade area of ranches and farms. The wool, cattle, and bentonite industries have been important to the growth of Belle Fourche. Gateway to the Northern Black Hills, Belle Fourche has a population of 4500.
Beaver trappers worked the rivers in the mid 1800’s, and Belle Fourche became a well-known fur trading rendezvous point. During and after the great gold rush of 1876, farmers and ranchers alike, settled in the fertile valleys, growing food for the miners and their work animals. At the same time the open plains for hundreds of miles in all directions were being filled by huge herds of Texas and Kansas cattle. Towns sprang up to service the ever changing needs of the farmers and ranchers. In 1890, the first trainload of cattle headed east. By 1895, Belle Fourche was shipping 2500 carloads of cattle per month in the peak season, making it the world’s largest livestock shipping point. This was the start of the agriculture center of the Tri-State area that Belle Fourche would become known by.
The Belle Fourche Area Community Center was completed and opened to the Tri-State community in February 1992. The 67,000 square foot facility serves as the community wellness, convention and cultural center. The wellness center contains racquetball courts, walking track, cardiovascular and exercise room, 25 meter competition sized pool plus a water slide and Jacuzzi, and a 12,500 square foot gymnasium/banquet hal. The auditorium has a seating capability of 600 with a modern professionally equipped stage. The Belle Fourche Community Center is well equipped to handle meetings or conventions ranging from one to several hundred. Highland Park, next to the Belle Fourche Area Community Center, contains tennis and basketball courts in addition to a large grass expanse for general recreation. The Roundup Ground Complex, which covers 110 acres along the Belle Fourche River, is the home of the baseball, softball and soccer fields, plus the Rodeo facility, barns, equestrian arena and grandstands.
Herrmann Park, located near the central business district, is the most popular and a social center in the summer. The band shell, barbecue facilities and recreational equipment grace its green carpet and make it an ideal place for any number of family or community activities.
Amateur archaeologists and paleontologists, as well as just simple fanciers of the prairie, find the open plain to the north, east and west, their center of interest. Rock climbers and other rough-country aficionados head for the higher reaches of the Hills half hour’s drive south. The tracts of the Black Hills National Forest and foothills also serve hikers, sightseers, ghost-town enthusiasts, spelunkers, and rock hounds varied entrees of their favorite courses. The Tri-State Museum and Johnny Spaulding Cabin document the history of the area. The Tri-State Museum through its collection of photos, papers and artifacts presents a vivid view of the development of the Tri- State area. Established in 1952, its exhibits continue to expand as descendants of the region’s settlers provide mementos of the early days when cattle drives converged on the railhead at Belle Fourche. Nearby stands the relocated and preserved two-story cabin of “Buckskin” Johnny Spaulding — scout, miner, farmer, and one of the earliest European settlers of the area.
The annual Car Rally is held the second weekend in June. The Rally started in 1987 with about a dozen cars, and now it has grown to attract nearly two hundred antique cars, trucks and hot rods from a twelve-state area. This family event is held in Herrmann Park and offers activities for members of the entire family with live music, food booths, games, swap meet and cars and trucks of every shape, size and color.
The Black Hills Roundup Rodeo which surrounds the July 4th holiday in Belle Fourche is one of America’s oldest rodeo’s. First held in 1918, this event becomes a magnet, pulling in former residents, students and members of local families from all over the nation. This gala event has grown to include firework displays, a mile long parade, five fun days of carnival rides and games, street dances, class and family reunions and three days of up close and breath taking professional rodeo. More than 4000 covered grandstand seats render a close-up view of rodeo events interspersed with sensational specialty acts. Top ranked PRCA cowboys converge from all over North America, Canada and Australia to compete for top prize money.
Winter’s first snow normally arrives in late October or early November, bringing smiles to the faces of a variety of enthusiasts. For the cross country skiers, the choices are numerous, with thousands of square miles of available forest and plains to choose from. The less adventurous have any of a dozen groomed ski trails around the Hills’ from which to choose. Immediately south of Belle Fourche the terrain swells towards the spectral Black Hills National Forest playground. Downhill skiers begin checking their equipment in anticipation of the opening of Deer Mountain and Terry Peak, featuring the best skiing and snow boarding between the Appalachians and the Rockies.
From early spring until freeze-up, boaters, skiers, sailors, swimmers, campers and fisherman make use of the bounteous space and waters of Orman Lake, nine miles east of Belle Fourche. Still the world’s largest earthen dam, it was constructed with horses near the turn of the century to provide irrigation for sugar beets for a huge tract of farms downstream. Sugar beets have given way to corn, small grains and alfalfa, but Orman is still the source of dry-season water. The reservoirs 185,000 acre/feet of water with 52 miles of shoreline provides over 13 square miles of water surface, a recreation magnet for 100,000 area residents and visitors annually.
- Belle Fourche City Hall, 508 6th Ave., Belle Fourche, SD 57717