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Congressional action dubbed the 1948 Act prefaced the momentum that eventually dissolved the 1,200 acres of original Rapid City Indian Boarding School lands.

Pushed for by city, school and National Guard officials as well as the city's Chamber of Commerce, the federal act allowed the Department of the Interior to grant boarding school land first to Rapid City, the South Dakota National Guard and Rapid City schools.

The act also allowed the sale of boarding school land to churches, as long as it would be used for religious purposes and sold at a fair market value. The 1,200 acres, a dominant portion of western Rapid City limits of the time, was originally split into five parcels.

Those five sections included 900 acres for the National Guard, which took the western roughly three-quarters of boarding school land and is now Camp Rapid; 175 acres for city park space that is now Sioux Park; a 15-acre tract adjacent to Sioux Park that is the current home of Canyon Lake Elementary School; and 35 acres dedicated to a Catholic church, which is now the Blessed Sacrament Church.

"I believe there are few people who realize the full significance of this grant and that this area, which lies in the most beautiful and accessible area of Rapid City, is now the focal spot for the development of a recreation center, which will be unexcelled so far as beauty and availability are concerned," then-City Attorney John Potter said in a May 11, 1948, report when the Journal first covered the land acquisition.

Aside from the acquisition of more than 170 acres of prime real estate by the city, the land grant also served as a linchpin for a greatly expanded military presence in town.

National Guard Brig. Gen. Theodore Arndt said in the 1948 Journal report that existing Camp Rapid grounds had only sufficed as personnel barracks and supply and maintenance facilities. The land grant secured statewide training grounds in Rapid City, Arndt explained.

"The acquisition of the Indian land will provide a very necessary close-in training area," he said. "The war department approved the training of the South Dakota National Guard at Camp Rapid this year due to the fact that it is in the preliminary stages of reorganization."

Land granted to the city, school system and National Guard, however, hinged on a reversion clause, which meant if the grounds were no longer used for their original purpose — such as park land for the city and education for the school system — ownership of it would revert back to the federal government.

Meanwhile, roughly 80 acres sitting near dead-center of the original boarding school lands had remained under federal control. Those 80 acres were to be rationed out to individual religious organizations as they applied for and were approved to buy the land, according to Journal archives.

Yet by 1958, more than 180 acres of boarding school land was sold to churches at prices that seem well below the fair market value of the time, according to deed records furnished by Heather Dawn Thompson, an attorney at Greenberg Traurig who specializes in American Indian law, who has been researching the land's history.

Much of the acreage sold to churches made its way directly into private development. A reversion clause was never enacted for churches, giving them the ability to sell without fear of having to return their land to the government.

Wesleyan Methodist Church of Sturgis was among the first to buy and sell off acreage. The church in 1951 bought 10 acres of boarding school land for $250, according to the deed records.

An exact figure on what the original selling price would equal in today's dollars couldn't be obtained from the Pennington County Equalization Office. But calculating only the current inflation rate of 1.7 percent over the years since the land was purchased, the $250 selling price in 1951 would currently equal about $2,000.

Housing now occupies the land along 38th Street and Canyon Lake Drive with an assessment of nearly $700,000 for the land alone, according to 2014 Pennington County assessment records.

By 1954, the Department of the Interior had reiterated that boarding school land could not legally be gifted or sold below market value, though the threat failed to curb the land sales.

Black Hills Bible School in 1956 purchased roughly 34 acres of boarding school land for $1,850 and sold it off. Using the same inflation-only formula, that would equal roughly $16,000 in today's dollars.

The land alone is now assessed at roughly $3.8 million.

Those 34 acres are home to John Witherspoon College, a nondenominational Christian college founded in 2012, and the Pointe West Apartment complex that overlooks west Rapid City from atop a hill off 38th Street.

Of the churches that bought land, only a handful kept the full acreage they purchased and remain on the grounds.

Despite several attempts by the Native American community to secure boarding school land, only one effort in the early 1950s was partially fruitful, though Native Americans were never allowed any of the original 1,200 acres.

The result of that effort established what is known as the Sioux Addition in north Rapid City and West Middle School on Sheridan Lake Road.

A group of Native Americans, who were technically entitled to boarding school land per the 1948 Act, had tried to obtain roughly 27 acres where West Middle School now stands, according to Dawn Thompson.

The goal was to establish Native housing, yet scrutiny via a petition from neighboring residents helped lead the government to allocate those 27 acres to Rapid City, which in turn sold the land to the school district.

Money from the land sale — about $15,000 — was shuffled by the city to a nongovernmental committee, which ultimately purchased land in North Rapid that is now the Sioux Addition. The housing addition sits adjacent to Lakota Community Homes, a low-income housing tract for Native Americans.

The shuffling of the 27 acres, Dawn Thompson said, questionably relieved the federal government and city of the 1948 Act reversion clause.

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Contact John Lee McLaughlin at 394-8421 or john.mclaughlin@rapidcityjournal.com

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