Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874 by the Custer Expedition, and miners and settlers poured into the area. Rapid City was founded (and originally known as “Hay Camp”) in 1876 by a group of disappointed miners, who promoted their new city as the “Gateway to the Black Hills.” John Richard Brennan and Samuel Scott, with a small group of men, laid out the site of the present Rapid City at the Eastern edge of the Black Hills in February 1876. It was named for the spring-fed Rapid Creek that flows through it. The city soon began selling supplies to miners and pioneers. Its location on the edge of the Plains and Hills and its large river valley made it the natural hub of railroads arriving in the late 1880s from both the south and east. By 1900, Rapid City had survived a boom and bust and was establishing itself as an important regional trade center for the upper Midwest.
The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology was originally established in 1885 by the Dakota Territorial Legislature as the Dakota School of Mines to provide instruction in mining engineering. The School of Mines opened for instruction on February 17, 1887. Degrees were initially offered in mining engineering and metallurgical engineering. When North and South Dakota were granted statehood in 1889, the school was re-designated as the South Dakota School of Mines. New degree programs were added as demand for engineering and science grew. In 1943, the state legislature changed the name of the institution to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, in recognition of the school’s expanded role in new areas of science and technology. Today the university offers degree programs at the baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral level.
Although the Black Hills became a popular tourist destination in the late 1890s, it was a combination of local efforts, the popularity of the automobile, and construction of improved highways that brought tourists to the Black Hills large numbers after World War I. Gutzon Borglum, already a famous sculptor, began work on Mount Rushmore in 1927 and his son, Lincoln Borglum, continued the carving of the presidents’ faces in rock following his father’s death in 1941. In 1947, Korczak Ziolkowski, came to the Black Hills and at the invitation of Chief Henry Standing Bear began work on the Crazy Horse Memorial to show the world that the Lakota had great leaders, too. Today, Rapid City is South Dakota’s primary city for tourism and recreation.
In June 1972 heavy rains fell, causing record flooding on many creeks in the Black Hills. Canyon Lake Dam, on the west side of Rapid City, broke the night of the flood, unleashing a wall of water down Rapid Creek. According to the Red Cross, the resulting peak floods (which occurred after dark) left 238 people dead and 3,057 people injured. Although such flooding was estimated to occur only once every 500 years, to prevent a similar disaster no building is now permitted on the flood plain along Rapid Creek. Instead the area was cleared and parks and a 10 mile walking and biking path were created along the creek.