By the early 1920s many Black Hills residents were thinking about a new source of revenue – tourism. State tourism supporters convinced a popular national sculptor to come to the Black Hills and create the huge memorial to American heroes that became known as Mount Rushmore. Special rail and bus tour packages were tailored to give visitors a great trip to the area, and tourism began to flourish
Though the region suffered from erosion, water shortages, grasshoppers, and economic depression during the 1930s, and tourism was not stellar, people still viewed the region as a haven. The carving of Mount Rushmore continued to be a major draw.
As the nation entered into World War II, the Black Hills area was a vital part in the defense effort with the creation of the Rapid City Air Base. Upon the end of the war, the Black Hills returned to the business of business. Mining, agriculture, commerce, and tourism continued to fuel the local economy. Another major memorial was dedicated near Custer in 1948 as the Crazy Horse Memorial project began. By the late 1950s and 1960s the automobile and improving highway system allowed thousands of tourists to visit the region yearly.
Racial tensions between the Lakota Sioux and the federal government turned violent in 1973 with a lengthy standoff at Wounded Knee and a riot in the city of Custer over issues that were over a century old. The use of and ultimate ownership/stewardship of the land was, and is, a divisive issue – whether it be land use, settlement, sites of religious observance, or water rights, the Black Hills remains a central point of interest in both cultures.
One point that all of the residents, visitors, and interested parties can agree on—the Black Hills is a special place with a rich and unique history.