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Custer, South Dakota

Rocket Motel (Night Two)

Custer, South Dakota

November 19, 2022

Custer is a city in Custer County, South Dakota. The population was 1,919 at the 2020 census. It is the county seat of Custer County.

Custer is the oldest town established by European Americans in the Black Hills. Gold was discovered east of Custer during the Black Hills Expedition, conducted by the 7th Cavalry led by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, a discovery which initiated the Black Hills Gold Rush.

The red dot is Custer

For thousands of years, the Black Hills had been part of the territory of varying tribes of indigenous peoples. They were within historical territory of the Oglala Sioux at the time of United States encounter, and within the Great Sioux Reservation established by the US Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868). Having established dominance in the area by the eighteenth century, the Oglala Sioux had long considered the Black Hills as sacred land.

After increasing encroachment by Americans and violent confrontations, the U.S. government forced the Sioux to cede much of the Black Hills in 1877, and opened the land for individual purchase and settlement. In 1875 trespassing gold-boomers named their settlement Stonewall (after the Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson), but it was renamed for Custer. Almost abandoned in 1876 after word of the much larger gold strikes in Deadwood Gulch spread, Custer later became an established city.

Custer has had a smaller population and been less wealthy than the Northern Hills cities of Deadwood and Lead. In addition to gold, Custer and other cities based their economies on the extraction of industrial minerals, which are still important to the regional economy.

Custer annually observes a "Gold Discovery Days" celebration and festivities over the last full weekend of July. This heritage tourism event celebrates the embezzlement of gold by the Custer expedition in nearby French Creek and the subsequent founding of the town.


Custer has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb/Dwb) with summers featuring very warm afternoons and cool mornings, and cold, extremely variable winters.

Winter weather is dominated by the conflict between cold Arctic air moving south from Canada, and very warm chinook winds (see below) which can produce exceptionally high winter temperatures for the latitude and altitude. For instance, January 19 of 1963 saw the coldest temperature ever of −43 °F, yet in just over two weeks on February 5, Custer reached 65 °F.

The coldest month has been January 1957, which averaged 10 °F and included twenty-two mornings reaching 0 °F – in contrast only one morning fell below zero Fahrenheit in the winter of 2015–16. On average the first temperature of 0 °F will occur around November 25, and the last around March 8, whilst the corresponding window for freezing temperatures is from September 6 to June 2, allowing a frost-free season of only ninety-five days. Snowfall averages 57 inches, and has ranged from 93 inches between July 1998 and June 1999, down to 17 inches during the very mild and dry winter of 1933–34. The frequent chinooks limit snow cover: even in January the mean is 2.0 inches. The most snow on the ground in Custer has been 27 inches on April 15, 1927.

Custer's altitude makes summers much milder than in the Great Plains proper: only seven afternoons rise above 90 °F or 32.2 °C and 100 °F has been reached only once, in 1954. The transitional spring season is similarly variable to the winter: as much as 50 inches of snow fell in April 1920 – the snowiest month on record – but 70 °F has been reached as early as March 15 of 2003 and 80 °F as early as April 21, 1989. Most precipitation falls from spring and early summer thunderstorms: of the 21 inches of precipitation expected each year, 11 inches can be expected from April to July. May 1978 with 9 inches has been the wettest month, while the wettest calendar year has been 1998 with 27 inches and the driest 1916 with 9 inches.


2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 1987 people, 956 households, and 535 families living in the city. The population density was 817.0 inhabitants per square mile (315.4/km2).

There were 1,129 housing units. The racial makeup of the city was 94.8% White, 0.5% African American, 2.6% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.5% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.6% of the population.

There were 956 households, of which 24.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.5% were married couples living together, 8.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 44.0% were non-families. 40.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.74.

The median age in the city was 47.5 years. 21.2% of residents were under the age of 18; 5.1% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 21.2% were from 25 to 44; 29.7% were from 45 to 64; and 22.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.8% male and 52.2% female.

Although the incorporated city has a small population, many residents associated with it and the workforce live outside the city limits in unincorporated Custer County. A steady stream of tourists year round and those attracted to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally add much to the economy and seasonal population of the city.


In addition to continued mining of precious metals, industrial minerals form the basis of today's local mining industry. Timber harvesting and production, tourism, and government services form the basis for the economy. Custer is the headquarters for the Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota and Wyoming. It is convenient to major tourist attractions, such as Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial is located just north of the city.

An 87-bed hospital, Custer Regional, provides general medical, surgical, and emergency room services.


  • KFCR AM 1490, owned by Mt. Rushmore Broadcasting, Inc.

Notable people

  • Curtis Allgier (b. 1979), convicted murderer

Chinook winds, or simply Chinooks, are two types of prevailing warm, generally westerly winds in western North America: Coastal Chinooks and interior Chinooks. The coastal Chinooks are persistent seasonal, wet, southwesterly winds blowing in from the ocean. The interior Chinooks are occasional warm, dry föhn winds blowing down the eastern sides of interior mountain ranges. The coastal Chinooks were the original term, used along the northwest coast, and the term in the interior of North America is later and derives from the coastal term.

  • Along the Pacific Northwest coast, where the name is pronounced /tʃɪˈnʊk/ ('chin'+'uk'), the name refers to wet, warm winds off the ocean from the southwest; this is the original use of the term. The coastal Chinook winds deliver tremendous amounts of moisture both as rain along the coast and snow in the coastal mountains, that sustain the characteristic temperate rainforests and climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Adiabatic warming of downward moving air; this produces the warm föhn wind called a "Chinook" (pronounced shin‑uk) in interior North America.

  • In North American western interior, the same name is used for föhn winds, generally, where the Canadian Prairies and Great Plains lie immediately east of various interior mountain ranges. There the name is pronounced /ʃɪˈnʊk/ ('shin'+'uk'). The same warm, wet coastal winds can also become the warm föhn winds on the eastern sides of mountain ranges, after having lost their moisture on the western sides; however, due to expanded use of the term in the interior for any föhn wind, interior Chinooks are not necessarily originally coastal Chinooks.

In the interior of North America, the Blackfoot people call these winds the "snow eater"; however, the more commonly used term "Chinook" originates from the name of the eponymous Chinook people, who lived near the ocean, along the lower Columbia River, where the term was first derived. The reference to "a Chinook" wind or weather system originally meant, to euro-American settlers along the Pacific Northwest coast, a warming wind from the ocean blowing into the interior regions of the Pacific Northwest of the North America.

A strong föhn wind can make snow one foot deep almost vanish in one day. The snow partly sublimates and partly melts and evaporates in the dry wind. Chinook winds have been observed to raise winter temperature, often from below −4°F to as high as 50–68°F for a few hours or days, then temperatures plummet to their base levels.

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