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Rapid City History, South Dakota

Rapid City was established as a permanent settlement in 1876 and this year has been ear-marked as the beginning of Rapid City history. Human habitation in the region, however, pre-dates Rapid City history – beginning around the Paleolithic Age when the hunter-gatherers wandered about looking for food and shelter. Thereafter, the region was occupied and abandoned several times before the arrival of European-origin settlers.

Rapid City History – How It All Began

Rapid City area was a part of Louisiana Territory purchased by the US-government in 1803. Though Rapid City was not one of the initially settled regions in Louisiana Territory, it started attracting settlers following the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874 (during the Custer Expedition). The city was officially established by a group of miners (who came here in search of gold) in February 1876.

Rapid City History – 1876 To 1900

Named after Rapid Creek (by which it stands), Rapid City’s location close to the Black Hills has definitely been an advantage from the very beginning – the initial settlers promoted the new settlement as the ‘Gateway to the Black Hills’ and began a very successful trade of selling mining supplies. This location, besides the meticulous city planning of the initial settlers, led to its incorporation in 1882; subsequently, the arrival (rather extension) of important rail-links in the late 1880s made Rapid City one of South Dakota’s chief cities – a popular tourist destination and a trading hub.

Rapid City History – 1901 Onwards

The first half of the 20th century saw a marked rise in Rapid City’s appeal as a tourism destination. This growing significance was largely due to the construction/extension of some important highways like the longest Interstate Highway, I-90 that connects one of the west-coast cities, Seattle (Washington) to the east-coast city of Boston (Massachusetts), en route touching Rapid City. (I-90 arrives at Rapid City via Sheridan and Gillette and proceeds to Mitchell before crossing the city of Sioux Falls).

The work on Mount Rushmore (which is also known as ‘The City of the Presidents’) began in the late 1920s and continued through the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s before coming to a halt in 1941 with US joining WWII. The government’s decision to join the war did not affect Rapid City too much. Although tourism was hit badly, the establishment of the Army Air Corps training base, Rapid City Army Air Base (later named Ellsworth Air Force Base) proved a boon. With fresh arrivals (of both defense personnel and civilians) the city’s population shot up. There was also a general air of improvement as new schools, residential blocks/complexes and good roads were available.

Rapid City’s defense/military-importance continued even in the 1950s and 60s as missile launch sites came up in and around the city, causing it to expand. The 1970s, however, brought bad-tidings as the city was struck by a devastating flood that caused damage to both life and property.

Once this dark period of Rapid City history was gone, the city again entered into a period of growth and expansion; of course, this time around, it was more systematic, more planned and by the 1980s Rapid City re-established itself as the tourist-hub of South Dakota. Rapid City’s popularity as a tourism destination continues even today and that in spite of the fact that the city is a part of the disputed land being claimed by the Sioux Indians.

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