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History of Spearfish, South Dakota

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Prior to the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1876, the area was used by Native Americans (primarily bands of Sioux but others also ranged through the area) who would spear fish in the creek (hence the name of the creek and subsequently the town). Once the gold rush started, the city was founded (1876) at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon, and Spearfish grew as a supplier of foodstuffs to the mining camps in the hills. Even today, a significant amount of truck farming or market gardening still occurs in the vicinity.

In 1887, the accepted history of gold mining in the Black Hills was thrown into question by the discovery of what has become known as the Thoen Stone. Discovered by Louis Thoen on the slopes of Lookout Mountain, the stone purports to be the last testament of Ezra Kind who, along with six others, entered the Black Hills in 1833 (at a time when whites were forbidden by law and treaty from entering the area), "got all the gold we could carry" in June 1834, and were subsequently "killed by Indians beyond the high hill." While it may seem unlikely that someone who has "lost my gun and nothing to eat and Indians hunting me" would take the time to carve his story in sandstone, there is corroborating historical evidence for the Ezra Kind party.

In the 20th Century, the history of Spearfish was tied very closely to mining and tourism. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who visited Spearfish Canyon (located between Spearfish and Deadwood) in 1935, later called the area "unique and unparalleled elsewhere in our country," and wondered "how is it that I've heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of the Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous".

The Homestake Sawmill (previously part of Pope and Talbot, now owned by Neimen Forest Products) was built to supply timbers for the Homestake Mine in Lead (closed January 2002). In 1938 Joseph Meier brought the Luenen Passion Play to settle permanently in Spearfish and become the Black Hills Passion Play, drawing thousands of visitors every year during the summer months. In 2007 after the death of Joseph Meier, the amphitheater and 23 acres (93,000 m2) surrounding it were put on up for sale.

The City of Spearfish was established in 1876. Gold fever had brought people to Spearfish and the City began to grow rapidly. By 1890 the population of Spearfish had grown to 671.  The City is named after the creek that runs through it. The Indians that used to spear fish in the clear waters gave the creek its name.

In 1885 the City of Spearfish appointed its very first Chief of Police. On April 10th 1885, Charles Bond was appointed as City Marshal. Marshal Bond was appointed by Mayor Summers and was paid $54.00 monthly salary. Since then there have been 42 appointed City Marshals/Chiefs of Police. Along with the traditional police duties the Chief/Marshal jobs included being the Street Commissioner, Pound Masters and Fire Wardens. Chief/Marshal did this duty at a rate of $75.00 a month.

Several times in our history the City went without a Chief or a Marshal. Between 1890 - 1893 there was no Marshal or Chief for the City. It appeared that R F Crawford maintained the only law enforcement. Crawford was known as the Police Justice of the Police. During these years the City Council had petitions presented to them for the appointment of a Chief. It wasn't until February 1st 1893 that Mayor G.C. Favorite finally appointed our 7th Chief Benjamin F. Lazelle.

Other times during our history the City of Spearfish hired guards and did not have a Chief or Marshal. During the time of May 7th 1918 - Nov 4th 1918, the City hired 2 guards. They were hired from Company K and were referred to as The Spearfish House Guards. Their primary job was foot patrol in the areas of the business part of town, the railroad yards and the flourmill. They were also required to work nights from 8 PM until sunrise.

After Nov of 1918 the only law in Spearfish was the Pound Master E. B. Dotson. Dotson’s primary duties were like that of an animal control officer. From Nov until Aug 1920, the City did hire Night Watchmen. E. B. Dotson was at one time considered for the Night Watchman position, but he was never appointed.

In 1920 the City finally appointed Richard Lawrence as City Marshal. Since then the City of Spearfish has had a Chief of Police, along with appointed police officers, a Deputy Sheriff (Ed Charboneau Feb 10th 1927) and Special Police.

In the summer of 1995 the Spearfish Police Department along with other city offices moved into the newly built Municipal Services Centre. The building is located at 625 5th St. Prior to that the Police Department was at 722 Main St (Old City Hall).  
Today the Spearfish Police Department is comprised of 20 full-time Police Officers, that include a University Police Officer and a School Resource Officer, 7 full-time 911 Telecommunicators, 1 Animal Control Officer and an Administrative Assistant.