The discovery of gold in the Black Hills  in 1874 was a pivotal event in the history of the region. Gold was first discovered just east of Custer in French Creek. It was not a shining moment in U.S. history, as this discovery led to a gold rush that in turn led to the breaking of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
The Fort Laramie Treaty had delineated a district to be “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the Great Sioux Nation, and the land described included the entire Black Hills region.
In 1874, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, in the company of over 1,000 troops, was charged with the mission of exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota, officially to scout out a potential location for a military outpost to control unsigned Native Americans. In addition to the troops, the expedition included a scientific corps comprised of a geologist, a botanist, a zoologist, and two miners. A photographer and several news correspondents were also expedition participants.
In July 1874, Horatio Ross, one of the expedition’s miners, made the gold discovery near French Creek. In just four days, the news was broadcast to newspapers all over the country. The gold rush was on, and, unable to stop the onslaught of miners to the area, the military was eventually charged with protecting them.
The Fort Laramie Treaty was broken. By January 1875, just six months after the discovery of gold, an estimated 10,000–15,000 miners had invaded the Black Hills. The U.S. government tried to buy the land but their offers were rebuffed. The miners couldn’t be stopped and the Indian Wars began again in earnest.
The population of the town of Custer peaked in 1875 and then, as richer discoveries of gold occurred in the Northern Hills , rapidly crashed as miners rushed north to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Today, Custer’s population hovers around 1,900 and a good part of the community’s income is generated by tourism. Custer sits on the edge of the Central  and Southern Hills  and is well situated to serve as a home base for day trips into every region of the hills. Custer provides easy access to Mount Rushmore , Custer State Park , Jewel Cave National Monument , and is 30 minutes from Wind Cave  and 45 minutes to the city of Hot Springs  at the southernmost edge of the Black Hills —and it offers a wider variety of shopping, dining, and lodging than nearby Custer State Park.
Golden Circle Tours (12198 Hwy. 16, 605/673-4349) provides shuttle service from Rapid City Regional Airport. Car rentals are provided locally by Murner Automotive (747 Mt. Rushmore Rd., 605/673-4438). Fort Welikit Car and Camper Rentals (675 W. Mt. Rushmore Rd., 605/673-6600 or 888/978-2267) rents automobiles and campers.