Custer County 1881 Courthouse, Custer

#22 of 41 in Things to do in Custer
Specialty Museum · Hidden Gem · Museum

This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interiors on November 27, 1972. It is now dedicated to preserving the history of the area.

What is now the 1881 Custer County Courthouse Museum and Bookstore was the hub of Custer County development from 1881 to 1974. Since then it has been preserving and displaying Custer County history through the efforts of the Custer County Historical Society with the help of many volunteers.

The 1881 Courthouse, constructed of bricks kilned locally, is of Italianate design. Built in 1881 in Dakota Territory eight years before South Dakota became a state, it served Custer County for 92 years and has been a museum since 1976.

NATURE & AMERICAN INDIAN exhibits are featured in the first room. The antique taxidermy, most done by a local man between 1900 and 1929, is in sharp contrast to the modern mount of a mountain lion. Items from the Sioux/Lakota culture are displayed here.

THE CUSTER EXPEDITION ROOM features photographs taken by Ilingworth on the 1874 Expedition into the Black Hills led by famed Civil War General George A. Custer. Artifacts on display include a rifle used by Custer to hunt antelope at Fort Hays, Kansas; his shoulder epaulets, a first edition of his book, 'My Life on the Plains", items found at the campsite east of town, a fan given to a friend by the Custer's, and remains of a tree bearing carving by one of the members of the expedition by the name of Horatio N. Ross, discoverer of gold on French Creek who was with the expedition.


of the late 1870s and the 1880s is shown in a mine replica and display of tools used for mining, including gold sluice and rocker box. Minerals of Custer County and the surrounding Black Hills are displayed in the center case, including gold ore which brought miners here in 1875 and rose quartz, the official state gemstone. Mining, lumbering and ranching were major sources of income in the early years. Tourism has become the county's second most important industry since the designation of the Black Hills National Forest in 1889, Jewel Cave National Monument in 1908, and Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park in 1913.


Hanging signature quilt, made as fundraiser for the Museum, are based on the wagon wheel design of a quilt made locally in 1897 as a church fundraiser. There are cases featuring new displays annually.


In the alcove behind the Reception desk is the Gift Shop. It features Local Authors and Local Artisans. Please stop in. If you are looking for a particular book ask the receptionist and/or hostess and they will see if they can get the information for you from our historians and Bookstore Manager.


The THIRD FLOOR HAS six (6) ROOMS TO SEE: The courtroom features the 'original' cherry wood furniture with the JUDGE'S CHAMBER just beyond.

A one-room SCHOOL with teacher and students shows how the three R's were taught in the 1880s.

The RANCH ROOM features early-day brands, tools, barbed wire collection, and antique saddles and tack and veterinary tools.

The FORESTRY ROOM features logging tools, and unique examples of tree growth and Firefighting tools.

The COMMUNITIES room features pictures and artifacts from other towns in Custer County.

The LOCAL HISTORY ROOM has new exhibits annually. The modern day headdress was made for use in the annual Gold Discovery Day's Pageant of Paha Sapa.


holds the GENERAL STORE, where anything from teakettles to neckties was sold, and part of the old Fairburn Post Office furnishings. At the end of the hall is the 'original' JAIL, complete with a prisoner. A law enforcement officer display is nearby. There is a large display of antique business machines. The large oak case features a KNIFE display collected locally, while the wall cses display antique GUNS that won the west. Another display case features artifacts, uniform, from the Revolutionary war. Other cases feature changing exhibits, In the foyer are a painted mural and the newspaper account of the killing of Abe Barnes by FLY SPECK BILLY.


Featuring THE Victorian bedroom - an 1870s bedroom suite, the PARLOR, also with Victorian furnishings. Also in this room you will find the WOMENS WORK display of the many tools of women's responsibilities in the 1800s.


are a hand-hewn log building housing printing equipment from Custer's 1879-first continuously operated NEWSPAPER; a brick building (originally the 'outhouse') housing early BLACKSMITH forge and tools; the site of Custer County's only 'legal' hanging; wagons and a CARRIAGE HOUSE with vehicles used in the 1870s through the 1900s.

The OLDEST BUILDING IN THE BLACK HILLS is known as the FLICK CABIN. It was built in 1875 and used as a military headquarters and as a residence. It is furnished as a pioneer home. and is open for you to see at your leisure. Pioneer historian Henry Way gave the cabin and land for Way Park so that it could be preserved. There is also a monument to Horatio Ross in Way Park. He was the first man to find gold in the Black Hills, even before the discovery of gold in Deadwood.

The cabin is across Mount Rushmore Road.

The Museum is a member of the Black Hills Badlands & Lakes Association of South Dakota.
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Custer County 1881 Courthouse reviews

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
102 reviews
  • Great museum. Enjoyed the artifacts and displays. Talk with the host/hostess and learn lots more about the building being firebombed. More exhibits out back.  more »
  • We got a quick grounding into the history of Custer in this building, which was built in the Dakota Territory eight years before South Dakota received statehood. There are three floors of themed...  more »
  • Really good visit at the museum. Has a lot of artifacts from the area and the exhibits are laid out in a good way. Very friendly staff. Would definitely recommend.
  • Well laid out in the old court house. Elevator to the basement and second floor for those needing this accommodation. Worth the time and effort. Be sure to donate to keep it up.

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