Bear Butte is a natural geologic formation in
Meade Country, South Dakota near a town of Sturgis. Bear Butte was
designated as a State Park in 1961. Before the arrival of white
settlers Bear Butte was revered as a religious site. Bear Butte was formed in the Eocene Epoch 56 to 34
million years ago as an active volcano. Magma rose from the depths
of the Earth and solidified once it reached cooler surface. In the
subsequent years the volcano eroded away due to natural erosion, but
sold rock was left in place in distinct cone like shape. Today it
reaches a height of 1254 feet or 382 meters above the surrounding
plain, but it keeps eroding and its height decreases.
First human settlements in the region date back to
10,000 BC. It is unclear whether ancient people worshipped, but
Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux regarded it as a spiritual place.
Prominent leaders of Plains Indians came here on their pilgrimage.
It included chief Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and many
others. In 1857 a council of many Indian tribes and nations gathered
here to discuss encroachment of white settlers on the plains.
Cheyenne called it Noaha- vose (giving hill) or Nahkohe- vose (bear
hill), while Lakota called it Matho Paha (bear mountain). The name
stuck with the arrival of the European settlers. Originally US
government signed a treaty in 1868 that prohibited white people from
entering sacred lands of the natives, but it was broken almost as
soon as it became a law. Thus most notably George Armstrong Custer
camped near Bear Butte during his expedition to the Black Hills
where he confirmed deposits of gold.
After removal of the native population the area was
settled by farmers. Local resident Ezra Bovee who owned lands in the
proximity submitted requests to give this geologic formation an
official recognition. Finally his family succeeded when in Bear
Butte was turned into a Bear Butte State Park in 1961 and added to
the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1965.