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Dakota Life Preview: Greetings from Hill City

Dakota Life begins its 2023-2024 season in Hill City, South Dakota. Here is a preview of some of the stories you will find in the episode that premieres September 14th, at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. central) on SDPB TV-1, Facebook and YouTube. Plus, a look back at some of the past stories we have brought you on Dakota Life.

Human history in the Black Hills goes back further than you might imagine. In fact, Scientists have determined that there have been people here as least as far back as 11,500 BC. The Arikara arrived by 1500, followed by the Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, and Arapaho. The Lakota arrived from Minnesota in the 18th century, and the traditional Lakota origin story tells of the first Bison and humans emerging from nearby Wind Cave. The Lakota claimed the area, living off the land and utilizing the mountains for spiritual and cultural practices. They called it Paha Sapa, which means Hills that are Black

In the late 1800s, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, leading to a mass influx of settlers and prospectors. This ultimately led to the displacement of the Lakota Sioux, who fiercely resisted the intrusion on their land. The resistance culminated in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, in which the Sioux, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, defeated General Custer and his troops.

Following the conflict, the US government seized the Black Hills from the Sioux and established settlements. Nestled in the Black Hills, Hill City is the oldest town in Pennington County and the second oldest in all of the Black Hills, founded in 1876. The discovery of gold in nearby French Creek prompted homesteaders to form this settlement in a scenic valley beside Spring Creek. Its centralized location earned it the nickname “The Heart of the Hills”

Following the discovery of richer strikes of gold in Deadwood later in 1876, most residents fled for the northern Hills, turning Hill City into a virtual ghost town. Then, in 1883, tin was discovered in the nearby hills, and Hill City enjoyed a new boom period; 15 saloons sprang up to serve the thousands of new miners, whose rowdy shenanigans led one observer to describe the community as “a town with a church on each end and a mile of Hell in between.” The Harney Peak Hotel balanced things out, providing a luxurious getaway for businessmen visiting from out of town. Today, the building still stands in its original location and is the current home of the Alpine Inn and is surrounded by a variety of shopping, museums, galleries, and attractions, and a thriving arts scene all in the Heart of the Hills.

In 1893, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad reached Hill City, and a spur called the Black Hills Central Line was extended to Keystone. In 1957, the Black Hills Central Railroad began operating a tourist passenger train known as the 1880 Train, which has since become one of the town’s biggest attractions. Another track called the Black Hills High Line offered narrow-gauge passenger service from Edgemont in the southern Hills through Hill City to Deadwood; this was discontinued in 1949, and the rail line was abandoned in 1983. Today is the site of the popular George S. Mickelson Trail.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a program established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s as part of the New Deal. The program aimed to provide jobs for unemployed young men while also promoting conservation in national parks and forests across the United States. Hill City, was one of the places where the CCC had a major impact.

From 1933 to 1942. The CCC established a camp with around 200 members. One of the most significant projects completed by the CCC in Hill City was the construction of the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks building, which is still in use today. The members of the CCC also worked on improving the surrounding forests, including planting trees and constructing recreational areas for visitors.

The program had a lasting effect on the community. The young men who joined were taught valuable skills and had the opportunity to work alongside people from different backgrounds, providing them with new experiences and perspectives. Today that history is still celebrated at the CCC Museum of South Dakota, home to an ever-amazing collection of photos, artifacts and of course the roster of the great men whose work is still so relevant today.

As a small mountain town with arts focus, Hill City reaches out to film world each year. Our final segment looks at the annual Black Hills Film Festival. The event serves as a platform for new and emerging independent film artists, featuring South Dakota-produced films and films shot on location in South Dakota, among other national and international entries. It also proffers film classes and forums that allow artists to come together, learn more about their craft, and showcase their skills.

Don't miss Greetings from Hill City, Thursday, September 14th at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on SDPB TV-1, Facebook and YouTube. You can catch up on past seasons of Dakota Life HERE.