Meade County - Civic Life & History
American Indians of the Great Plains camped and prayed at Bear Butte and hunted on the prairie in present day Meade County long before Euro-American trappers or gold seekers arrived in the region. They came back to Bear Butte to pray and to discuss their response to the intrusion of Americans on their lands in the 1850s and 1860s.
Black Hills gold seekers and freighters travelled through the region in the 1870s. In 1878, as part of the U.S. effort to suppress Indian resistance to the white invasion, the army established Fort Meade. The fort was named for Civil War General George Meade, who commanded union troops at Gettysburg. Ft. Meade served as an historic frontline cavalry fort and garrisoned members of the 7th Cavalry after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, as well as Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry.
As the 20th century progressed, Meade County prospered by ranching, lumber production in the Black Hills, trans-state trucking routes, education services, retail, and light manufacturing. Black Hills tourism has been a significant economic contributor for more than a century, and especially so since the beginnings of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 1938. Today the internationally-known rally draws hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists to the county each August.
Arts & Culture
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendance makes possible one of the nation’s major annual music festivals. Promoters book music acts, primarily rock and country, that draw thousands to open-air venues each August during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Also in August, 84 miles to the northeast, the Faith Livestock Show and Rodeo, is a major regional draw. Some of the biggest names in country music have performed there over the years.
In Sturgis the nonprofit Sturgis Area Arts Council promotes presentations by arts professionals as well as participation by Meade County residents in arts activities. Sturgis is home to a well-equipped, 444-seat theater in its municipal recreation complex.
Another nonprofit organization, the Sturgis Center for the Arts, focuses on lessons in many art forms and is open to participants of all ages. The Center also showcases area artists at events that include an outdoor summer festival.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
Located in a historic building across from Fort Meade’s parade grounds, the Old Fort Meade Museum recounts the region’s military history. It is open seven days a week in summer. The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, downtown, is open year round. Its displays include vintage bikes, as well as photos and artifacts documenting the Sturgis rally through the decades. The Hall of Fame honors personalities from Peter Fonda to Evel Knieval.
Faith’s community center, since opening in 2004, has hosted touring museum exhibits of national caliber.
The county’s largest library is the Sturgis Public Library, established in 1922 and now housed in the city hall complex. It has a collection of 45,000 books as well as downloadable and other non-print resources. Sturgis Public Library offers programming that aims to foster life-long learning. Additionally, this library supplies a branch facility at Union Center.
With over 18,000 books, DVDs and other materials, the Faith Public/School Library is committed to meeting the needs of both Faith School District students and members of the larger community.
Historical Photos and Documents Online
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has more than 460 images related to Meade County available online. They include large collections of photographs of Fort Meade National Cemetery taken by David W. Haas as part of the Historic American Landscapes Survey as well as an extensive set of construction drawings and images of Ellsworth Air Force Base from the 1950s.
The Denver Public Library has a portrait of Lieutenant James G. Sturgis available online. Lt. Sturgis died during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The town of Sturgis is named after him.
The National Archives and Records Administration makes a number of images and digital documents related to Sturgis available online. Subjects include 1940 Census records, water pollution from the Homestake Mine in 1972 and FEMA efforts to prevent wildfires in more recent years.
The Association of Religion Data Archives lists information about Meade County residents’ religious affiliations, as of 2010. Full church members, their children, and others who attend services regularly are considered adherents, and 18,947 residents reported no adherence while 1,988 were Catholic, 2,314 were mainline Protestants, 1,925 were Evangelical Protestants, and 260 reported “other.” To see the data for the year 2000 in a graph, click here.
Bear Butte is a key site for prayer and other religious activity for several Great Plains American Indian peoples. Bear Butte is a South Dakota state park, and was recently listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the “11 Most Endangered Places”.