Custer, the oldest town in the Black Hills, is named for the infamous Col. George Armstrong Custer, who discovered gold on French Creek here in 1874. The subsequent gold rush was one of the last in the continental U.S., and helped intensify the Sioux Wars. The town of Custer was practically deserted in early 1876 when gold was discovered further north in Deadwood Gulch. Today the town is home to about 2,000 permanent residents.
The downtown district has several small shops and restaurants, housed in buildings that date back to the turn of the 20th century. There also are a few hotels, but the town's secluded mountain lodges and intimate bed & breakfasts are its real strengths. Western history buffs appreciate the gold-rush-era sites and buildings, many of which are easily identifiable.
Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park are all just a few miles away, but Custer is probably best-known for Custer State Park, just outside town. The 71,000-acre park teems with animals, including 1,500 bison, one of the largest public herds in the country, which are rounded up each fall in a massive stampede. Other animals in the park include pronghorn deer, wild turkeys, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes and feral donkeys, which are descendants of burros that were turned loose when gold mines shut down in the first half of the 20th century.
Rapid City is perhaps best-known for Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is just a few minutes outside the city. The four granite faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lin…