Black Hills National Cemetery is located three miles east of Sturgis, S.D., in the shadows of the Black Hills. This region is the homeland of the Lakota Sioux Indians who traversed the Great Plains before the advent of Europeans in the mid 18th century. French explorers first arrived in the early 1740s, and Spain acquired sovereignty over the region in 1762. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase gave the United States title to the region. Yet, until 1856 when Fort Randall was established, fur trappers and traders were the sole European settlers. Soon after, the towns of Vermillion and Yankton became permanent establishments, and by 1861 the Dakota Territory had been formed.
The greatest rush of European immigration came in 1874 when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. A wave of prospectors flooded the area, radically transforming the region and causing disturbances as well as creating opportunities. Legally, the Black Hills had been closed to white settlement under the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The military, however, was in no position to halt the advancing settlers. In fact, it was the military that encouraged settlements when the 7th Cavalry, under Gen. George Custer, reported the discovery of gold.
America's first transcontinental railroad was completed in May 1869 through the combined efforts of government and private corporations. Subsidiary rail lines such as the Dakota Southern Railroad, established in 1872, proved to be more important for bringing newcomers into the region. Between 1870 and 1890, the white population in the Dakota Territory increased six fold.
The influx of settlers onto the Great Sioux Reservation culminated in a war of cultures at the Battle of Little Bighorn in June 1876. As a result of Custer's defeat, American Indians were forced to accept a reduction in their reservation land. This cleared the way for further development by settlers, which further angered the American Indians. As a result, the Fort Meade military reservation was established in the region shortly afterwards. The last serious cultural conflict began in the fall of 1890 with the death of Sitting Bull and ended with the massacre of hundreds of American Indians at Wounded Knee. Thus, barriers to settlement of the region eased.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, new railroads were laid across the Dakotas and aided in the further development of numerous communities. In 1890, Pierre was chosen as the permanent capital of South Dakota. Twelve years later, in 1902, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium was established in nearby Hot Springs to aid in the care of veterans within the region. Cemeteries at both the Fort Meade Military Reservation and the former sanitarium eventually became a part of the National Cemetery System in 1973.
Monuments and Memorials
In 1990, a memorial carillon was dedicated at the cemetery. It was replaced in 2005.
A memorial to Korean War veterans was dedicated in 2002.
Bivouac of the Dead erected 2004. A 52 Charlie memorial was dedicated in 2007.
In 2019, the Vietnam Memorial was dedicated and in 2021, a memorial to the USN Seabees was placed.