A Short History of Belle Fourche
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Belle Fourche many years ago....

Belle Fourche (French for "beautiful fork") was named by French explorers when this area was owned by France, for the confluence of what is now know as the Belle Fourche and Redwater rivers and Hay Creek. Beaver trappers worked these rivers until the mid 1800's and Belle Fourche became a well-known fur trading rendezvous point. During and after the great gold rush of 1876, farmers and ranchers alike, settled in the fertile valleys, growing food for the miners and their work animals. At the same time the open plains for hundreds of miles in all directions were being filled by huge herds of Texas and Kansas cattle. Towns sprang up to service the ever changing needs of the farmers and ranchers. In 1884, the Marquis de Mores, a French nobleman and contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt, established a stage line between Medora, North Dakota and Deadwood, South Dakota. The Belle Fourche way station included a stage barn and a saloon.

Knowing the cattle barons and the railroad would need a point at which to load the herds of cattle onto freight cars for shipment to the packing plants in the Midwest, Seth Bullock provided a solution and became the parent, in effect, of Belle Fourche, the city. Bullock had come to the Black Hills from Canada to mine gold in 1848, but had quickly tired of panning gold. After serving in the Montana legislature in 1871-1873 (and being instrumental in the establishment of a national park at Yellowstone), he came to the Black Hills to cash in selling supplies to the Deadwood miners, arriving August 2, 1876, the day Wild Bill Hickok was murdered. During the next fourteen years, Bullock acquired land as homesteaders along the Belle Fourche River "proved up" and sold out. When the railroad came to the hills and refused to pay the prices demanded by nearby township of Minnesela, he was ready. Seth offered the railroad free right-of-way and offered to build the terminal if the railroad would locate it at a point on his land near where the present Belle Fourche Livestock Exchange exists. In 1890, the first trainload of cattle headed east. By 1895, Belle Fourche was shipping 2500 carloads of cattle per month in the peak season, making it the world's largest livestock shipping point. This was the start of the agriculture center of the Tri State area that Belle Fourche would become, and still is, well-known for.

In 1895, a fire of suspicious origin destroyed much of the downtown business district. Within three months (with the aid of buildings moved in from nearby Minnesela, now nearly a ghost town) it was nearly completely rebuilt. Much of the present downtown business district consists of these buildings.

On June 27, 1897, Kid Curry, of the Butch Cassidy-Sundance Kid Hole-in-the-Wall gang botched the robbery of the Butte County Bank (at the site of the present Norwest bank) in one of the funniest episodes documented in the Old West. However, behind this colorful history, lie the quiet feats of thousands of members of six generations of Belle Fourche and area residents which produce a town rich in a tradition of hardiness and ingenuity in the face of diversities.

Belle Fourche today serves a large trade area of ranches and farms. The wool, cattle, and bentonite industries have been important to the growth of Belle Fourche. Gateway to the Northern Black Hills, Belle Fourche has a population of 4500.

*Shamelessly stolen from the Belle Fourche America's Hometown Booklet (1998).


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Belle Fourche Volunteer Fire Department