Rails, Trails, and Roads of the Black Hills

Last Updated by Brian Gevik on

Archeologists say that humans have been living in and around the Black Hills for about 11-thousand years. The earliest people followed and made use of wildlife trails. Those paths connected sites that, over time, took on spiritual and religious significance.

Milestones in transportation and travel in the Black Hills include the arrival of explorers and fur trappers, the U.S. military, prospectors, business people, farmers, and other settlers. 

The early settlers relied on freight hauled to the Black Hills over rough trails. The bull trains that ran to and from Cheyenne, Fort Pierre and other waypoints operated from the 1870s through the 1890s - well after railroad lines penetrated the Hills.

Railroads advanced industrial development in the Black Hills, especially in the mining and timber industries, but the railroads also revolutionized life for people living in this previously remote part of the American West. The railroad age began a long, slow decline with the arrival of cars and trucks.

The 1920s and 1930s saw an expansion of tourist roads in the Black Hills built specifically to provide access to the area's most scenic locations, including Mount Rushmore.

This 30-minute SDPB TV documentary looks at the evolution of transportation and infrastructure in the Black Hills and surrounding area.

The show premiered on Thurday, June 16 at 8:00pm CT, 7:00 MT on SDPB TV. The first rebroadcast was on Sunday, June 19, at 1:00pm CT, Noon MT.

Related links:



The South Dakota Railroad Museum at www.sdsrm.org





"Personalities" with Chuck Anderson. Vintage radio interviews with well known and not so well known South Dakotans.

Personalities: How to Survive A Death March

When you're drafted into the military, you have a chance of being on the front lines. When you're on the front lines,...

Personalities: "Hell No, We Don't Glow!"

In the southern shadow of the Black Hills sits a small town with a small population...and a big past. Chuck Anderson...

Personalities: Being Volga German in an Anti-German World

The "Germans from Russia" story continues with Drs. Tim Kloberdanz and Harry Delker, experts in German anthropology...

Personalities: How the Volga Germans Came to America

The Dakotas are a product of Native American and northern European cultures. With a deeper look, one can see the...

Personalities: Baxter Black

The nation knows his tongue-in-cheek performances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson . People from the heartland...

Personalities: Roy and Lucille Fitz Pt. II

In this continuation of the story of Roy and Lucille Fitz, the De Smet couple discusses the reality of the...

Personalities: Roy and Lucille Fitz, Part 1

Sadly, we're losing senior South Dakotans able to share first-hand remembrances of what life was like here in the...