I've always had an affinity for the historic settlement of the Black Hills.
Throughout the years, I've realized just what an integral part Fort Meade played in making that settlement possible. It makes sense from a tactical standpoint that the fort was situated where it is. But at one point it was actually located north of its current location near Bear Butte and was named Camp J.C. Sturgis in honor of Lt. "Jack" Sturgis, who fought and fell with Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. (Not to be confused with his dad, Samuel, for which the town of Sturgis is named.)
The story of this cavalry fort is told through the quaint Old Fort Meade Museum on the grounds of the settlement. This column isn't the forum to debate whether allowing the settlement of the Black Hills was right or wrong, but the museum strives to include the Native American perspective in its displays.
It tells the story of Fort Meade, not through historic government documents, but rather from letters home to loved ones or hand-drawn maps of the fort by early inhabitants.
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Earlier this summer I attended an evening concert on the grounds of Fort Meade staged by the 7th Cavalry Drum and Bugle Corps of Rapid City. What I like about Fort Meade is that it's easy to transport yourself back in time to when such a concert may have been played or the nearby townsfolk would have been invited to a horse show and polo game on the grounds.
Each year Fort Meade plays host to an annual Volksmarch. It's usually in early May, around Mother's Day. Participants walk along the parade grounds, passing officer quarters and office buildings, as well as the recreation hall. The path also takes walkers to the Old Fort Meade Cemetery to take grave rubbings.
For most of the past 120 years, there has been some military presence at Fort Meade. Many cavalry and infantry units were stationed there, including the 7th Cavalry after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the buffalo soldiers of the 10th Cavalry, and the 4th Cavalry which saw the transition from horses to mechanization. Fort Meade still serves as a training site for the South Dakota National Guard and an Army National Guard Officer Candidate School.
There's no denying that Fort Meade had an impact on the history of the Black Hills, but visit the museum and you'll find out to what extent. You'll also better understand the men behind the names of Meade, Sturgis, Tilford and Lazelle.