On the eastern slope of the Black Hills, standing majestically on the banks of Battle Creek for over four hundred years, the Council Oak Tree witnessed the unfolding history in this area. According to Sioux Indian lore. a great battle was fought between the Ute tribe of Montana and the Dakotah Sioux. Battle Mountain divides the water shed between two creeks, one known as Squaw Creek and the other Battle Creek; both received their names from this episode. The Sioux placed the squaws and children on Squaw Creek before the battle began on Battle Mountain. This battle would decide which tribe would occupy the Black Hills. The Sioux were victorious and drove the Utes back to their northern range.
When gold was discovered in the sacred valleys of Paha Sapa or the Black Hills in the early 1870’s, a rush of gold hunters, businessmen and homesteaders populated the area. The problem of supplying the people with supplies and materials opened many opportunities for transportation of the needed goods. There were two trails into the Hills, the Sidney Trail which lay east of the Hills, began in Sidney, Nebraska and the Cheyenne Trail which ran through the center of the Hills, began in Custer County. Both trails terminated in Deadwood, a significant mining town. The Sidney trail was used by bull trains hauling freight in and out of the region. Monthly, a bullion coach would arrive to transport the precious cargo out of the Hills. Highway robbers attacked these coaches, unfortunately they were not that successful due to the heavily armed nature of the security guards riding within. Horse drawn coaches were transporting travelers along the Sidney Trail and much needed stations were situated to accommodate the travelers.
One such station, the Battle River Stage Station on Battle Creek became the first semblance of a town about one mile from the present site of Hermosa. Mr W. N. Walker owned a ranch on Battle Creek which became a station for changing horses, meals were served to travelers and new businesses took advantage of the site as settlers began to arrive in the area. Concurrently, the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad was building north from Chadron reaching Buffalo Gap, Dakota Territory in the fall of 1885. The following spring, June 14, 1886, Hermosa was founded as a survey crew crossed Battle Creek about a mile east and north of the stage station. Pete Folsom, the chief engineer for the Pioneer Townsite Company, is credited with naming the new town Hermosa.
Hermosa grew quickly with a population of 1,000 in 1887. The town was built on 400 acres acquired by Samuel Grass an early homesteader. There were three hotels, Ed Stenger owned the Battle River House, George Upton owned The Upton and Mr. Pool had a very commodious place. There was a newspaper named “The Pilot” owned by John Stanley; A. D. Wood was the first depot agent assigned to the new town. Dr. Churchil was the first physician and along with his wife they ran the first drug store. George Straight built a mill known as the Battle River Mining Company. Jim Hoisington started a saw mill in 1886 about three miles west of Hermosa. Cyrus Cole opened a lumberyard with a sawmill in Hermosa and became a county commissioner for many years. Two banks opened in the town, McKnight & Thomas was one and Maxons the other. The Hermosa State Bank began in 1910 by Arsene Hesnard and a group of directors. Buckingham and Ingram had the first general store; other early storekeepers were Van DeWort, John Wight and John Strater. Seven saloons were open by 1887; there were liveries, restaurants and blacksmiths with Art Reinard and Dad Ditch as the smithies. There were three churches in town, Congregational, Catholic and Methodist.
Hermosa's public water system didn't arrive until 1907, residents relied on delivers in barrels from the Battle Creek. The first fire department was organized in 1908 after the water system was completed. There were many fires in Hermosa notably the fires of 1886 and 1887 which destroyed two hotels, a restaurant, two general stores, two saloons, a livery barn, hardware store, and a lumber yard.
From the nomadic Sioux to the fur traders and explorers; the United States Army expeditions, miners and prospectors; the horse thieves to settlers, the entire cavalcade of western stereotypes have left their mark upon Hermosa's history. One of the forces leading to the rapid settlement of Hermosa in 1886 was the belief that a large trade center would develop due to the tin mines to the west. Hermosa never become a a railroad distribution center for the Golden Summit Tin mine or the famous Etta Tin Group, however, agriculture replaced mining as the major economic factor.
Moving into the 21st Century, Hermosa has become a growing community offering a central location to all the area’s surrounding magnificent sites. Once dubbed the ‘Hub to History and Adventure’, Hermosa serves as the eastern gateway to the beautiful Black Hills. It is located a mere 20 miles north east of the Custer State Park entrance and only 15 miles east of the historic Mt. Rushmore. In thirty minutes or less you could be driving through the Badland Lands National Park or its out skirting National Grass Lands, walking through Rushmore Cave, sitting in the healing waters of the hot springs, gazing at the abundant wildlife in the Black Hills, hunting for fossils or Fairburn agates, indulging yourself in the rich history of the Native American Sioux Tribe, or enjoying a day of shopping in Keystone, Hill City, or Rapid City.