A vast, rugged landscape shaped Meade County's history and contemporary life. With 3,482 square miles of land and water on the northeast slope of the Black Hills, the county is South Dakota’s largest. Residents point out that Meade County is bigger than some east coast states but with a 2010 population of just 25,434—7.3 people per square mile.The 2010 U.S. Census population is the most in county history, a 4.9 increase over 2000.
Located in western South Dakota, the county extends from the timber-rich slope of the eastern Black Hills to wide prairie grasslands broken by deep ravines and further defined by lonely buttes. The best known of these is Bear Butte, which rises 1,253 feet above the prairie (4,426 above sea level) ten miles east of Sturgis. The Belle Fourche River flows around the north edge of the Black Hills, and then west to east through Meade County, yet the county is mostly dry and better suited to livestock grazing than crop production.
Homesteaders were encouraged to plow the land early in the 20th century, but many were driven away by drought, grasshoppers and dust storms, and sold their lands to ranch operations. Meade County ranches are large, averaging 2,513 acres, and livestock sales total nearly $60 million annually compared to about $20 million for crop sales, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture,
Sturgis, with a population of 6,627, is county seat. Much of the county’s population is clustered in the west along Interstate 90 through the Black Hills foothills. Sturgis, Black Hawk, Summerset, and part of Box Elder are principal communities in the west. Located nearly 100 miles from those communities, in the county’s northeast corner, the town of Faith, population 421, is a supplier of goods and services for South Dakota’s very rural northwestern region.
The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally brings hundreds of thousands of tourists to western South Dakota every August. The Rally is the largest single tourism event in South Dakota, and generates an economic impact of $800 million annually.