Bear Butte State Park

Bear Butte State Park

Bear Butte State Park, located eight miles east of Sturgis, South Dakota, is a lone mountain formed millions of years ago by the intrusion of igneous rock and is one of the more popular South Dakota parks. Eight miles of prairie separate Bear Butte from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Lakota Indians refer to Bear Butte as Mato Paha or “Bear Mountain,” because of its resemblance to a bear sleeping on its side with its head pointed toward the northeast. Native Americans have held this spot sacred, believing it to be where the creator communicates with them through visions and prayer. For thousands of years, Native American tribes traveled to Bear Butte to perform annual prayer ceremonies. Artifacts dating back tens of thousands of years have been recovered from the mountain. Today, Bear Butte remains a sacred site for more than thirty Native American tribes, including the Lakota, Dakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho.

Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull have all visited Bear Butte. In 1857, many Native American tribes gathered at Bear Butte to discuss the influx of white settlers into the Black Hills.

In 1874, George Custer led a 1,000-man expedition to the Black Hills, setting up camp near Bear Butte. Custer verified the presence of gold in the Black Hills, prompting an influx of prospectors to the area. Prospectors and settlers used Bear Butte as a landmark to help guide their journey into the Black Hills of South Dakota.

In the 1940’s, homesteader Ezra Bovee and his family were the legal owners of Bear Butte. In 1945, Northern Cheyenne leaders approached Bovee, requesting permission to hold a prayer ceremony dedicated to ending World War II. Bovee granted permission, and welcomed other tribes to the site. Throughout the 1950’s, Bovee generated interest in the site, and attempted to have the area designated as a National Park. When the federal government lost interest in the project, the state of South Dakota stepped in, declaring Bear Butte an official State Park in 1961.

Bear Butte State Park features a plaque and bust commemorating Frank Fools Crow, a Lakota Sioux ceremonial chief and Yuwipi medicine man who died in 1989. Frank Fools Crow promoted global racial harmony, and the belief that everyone shares the Earth.

During the summer months, visitors to Bear Butte State Park may see Native Americans camping at the base of the mountain, meditating, or performing prayer ceremonies. Colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles representing offered prayers are often seen hanging from the limbs of trees or lying next to the trails. As a sign of respect, visitors are asked to leave the bundles undisturbed, and to refrain from making loud noises, playing music, or bringing pets onto the site.

A campsite is available, or lodging can be obtained in surrounding communities.

Park Schedule & Rates

  • Open year-round, day use only
  • No showers. Water. Picnic shelter.
  • Contact park for current rates and availability.

Park Contact Information

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons.

Categories: State Parks, Western SD

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