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Bear Butte

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Title: Bear Butte  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Lone Horn, Devils Tower, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Black Hills National Forest, Wind Cave National Park
Collection: Black Hills, Buttes of South Dakota, Cheyenne Tribe, Iucn Category III, Lakota, Landforms of Meade County, South Dakota, National Historic Landmarks in South Dakota, National Natural Landmarks in South Dakota, Natural Features on the National Register of Historic Places, Properties of Religious Function on the National Register of Historic Places in South Dakota, Protected Areas of Meade County, South Dakota, Religious Places of the Indigenous Peoples of North America, Sacred Mountains, State Parks of South Dakota
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Bear Butte

Bear Butte
Bear Butte is located in South Dakota
Location Meade County, South Dakota, USA
Nearest city Sturgis, South Dakota
NRHP Reference # 73001746
Significant dates
Added to NRHP June 19, 1973
Designated NHL December 21, 1981[1]

Bear Butte is a geological butte feature located near Sturgis, South Dakota, United States, that was established as a State Park in 1961. An important landmark and religious site for the Plains Indians tribes long before Europeans reached South Dakota, Bear Butte is called Mathó Pahá,[2] or Bear Mountain, by the Lakota, or Sioux. To the Cheyenne, it is known as Noahȧ-vose ("giving hill") or Náhkȯhe-vose ("bear hill"),[3] and is the place where Ma'heo'o (God) imparted to Sweet Medicine, a Cheyenne prophet, the knowledge from which the Cheyenne derive their religious, political, social, and economic customs. The mountain is sacred to many indigenous peoples, who make pilgrimages to leave prayer cloths and tobacco bundles tied to the branches of the trees along the mountain’s flanks. Other offerings are often left at the top of the mountain. The site is associated with various religious ceremonies throughout the year. The mountain is a place of prayer, meditation, and peace.

The park includes a campsite south of South Dakota Highway 34 where horseback riding, fishing, and boating are permitted. On the summit side of Highway 34, a moderately sized herd of buffalo roams the base of the mountain. An education center and a summit trail are available. Official park policy advises visitors to Bear Butte to respect worshipers and to leave religious offerings undisturbed. Park fees are waived for those undertaking religious activities.

In 2007, Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota announced a proposal to use state, federal and private money to buy a perpetual easement in order to prevent commercial and residential development of some land on the western side of Bear Butte. This would cost more than $1 million, but would prevent development of nuisance businesses (such as potentially lucrative biker bars) on ranch land near the mountain on the northern edge of the Black Hills.[4]


  • Geological history 1
  • Modern history 2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Geological history

The summit trail head
The eastern half of the butte
View from saddle

Bear Butte is not strictly a butte (created primarily by erosion of sedimentary strata), but a laccolith: an intrusive body of igneous rock, uplifting the earlier sedimentary layers, which have since largely eroded away. This is the result of the forcible entry (or intrusion) of magma into cooler crustal rock in the Black Hills area during the Eocene Epoch. In this, Bear Butte shares a similar geological history with other formations in the region, including the Black Hills, Devils Tower, the Missouri Buttes, and some parts of the Rocky Mountains. It is possible that when the intrusion was emplaced, some magma may have breached the surface, forming a volcano; however, it would have eroded away long ago.

The peak rises 1,253.5 feet (382.1 m) above the surrounding plain and is 4,426 feet (1,349 m) above sea level.

Modern history

Human artifacts have been found on or near Bear Butte that date back 10,000 years, indicating a long and continuous interest in the mountain.The Cheyenne and Lakota people have maintained a spiritual interest in Bear Butte from their earliest recorded history.

Notable visitors like Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull made pilgrimages to the site. In 1857, a council of many Indian nations gathered at Bear Butte to discuss the growing presence of white settlers in the Black Hills.

Violating a treaty of 1868, prospectors and settlers into the region. Indian reaction to the illegal movements of whites into the area was intense and hostile. Ultimately the government reneged on its treaty obligations regarding the Black Hills and instead embarked on a program to confine all northern Plains tribes to reservations.

Ezra Bovee homesteaded on the southern slopes of the mountain, and by the time of World War II, he and his family were the legal owners of the site. In the spring of 1945, the Northern Cheyenne received permission from Bovee to hold a ceremony at Bear Butte to pray for the end of World War II. The Cheyenne found that the Bovee family welcomed their interest in the mountain, and over the years the Bovees continued to encourage native religious ceremonies.

By the mid-1950s Ezra Bovee was attempting to stir up interest in making Bear Butte a national park. After his death, his family continued the effort. When federal interest in the project waned, the state government in Pierre took action, and Bear Butte became a state park in 1961 and was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Frank Fools Crow, the Lakota ceremonial chief (d. 1989), made pilgrimages to Bear Butte throughout his lifetime. Fools Crow taught racial harmony not just between whites and Indians, but among all the peoples of the world. He believed the Lakota should never sell the Black Hills. A bust and plaque in front of the education center at Bear Butte State Park honor Fools Crow’s efforts.

In 2011, the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Bear Butte on its list of the 11 Most Endangered Places.[5]


  1. ^ "Bear Butte". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  2. ^ Elementary Bilingual Dictionary (1976) University of Colorado
  3. ^ English-Cheyenne Student Dictionary (1976) Northern Cheyenne Bilingual Education Program
  4. ^ Associated Press article, 12/17/07. (URL dead as of April 25, 2008)
  5. ^ "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places 2011: Bear Butte". Retrieved 2011-07-23. 


Oehlerking, Jerry. The Dick Williams Story: If Bear Butte Would Speak, South Dakota Conservation Digest, March/April 1977, pp. 22–25.

External links

  • Bear Butte State Park
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