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Belle Fourche Tri State Museum (South Dakota, USA)

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Address: 415 5th Ave / Belle Fourche / SD 57717 / USA / Tel: 1-605-723-1200

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      11.08.2011 11:17
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      Really interesting little museum and the geographical centre of the nation

      Belle Fourche, South Dakota

      Belle Fourche which is actually pronounced Belle Foosh is a small town with a population of about 5,000 and is not really the sort of town you would take much notice of when driving through. In fact we did drive straight through on Highway 85 and onto Spearfish where we spent a couple of nights. When we got to our hotel I read in the guide book left in the room that Belle Fourche was the geographical centre of the USA and had a decorative marker to celebrate that fact so of course with a claim to fame such as this we had to go back and check this out.

      Belle Fourche is located on the northern slopes of the world famous Black Hills in western South Dakota and is considered the gateway to the northern Black Hills. Belle Fourche which is actually French for "beautiful fork", was named by French explorers when this area was owned by France. It is situated on the fork of two rivers which when we were there was in full flood. The marker that we had come to see was under water the day before and although we could see it we were not able to walk up to it because of the flood waters.

      Belle Fourche's claim to fame as the centre of the nation only happened in 1959 because of the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the United States which moved the location of the official centre of the nation. The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey officially designated a point 20 miles north of Belle Fourche as the Geographic Centre but the marker is in the centre of the city next to the Tourist Information centre and the interesting little museum which we spent an hour or so wandering around.

      Historically Belle Fourche was a fur trading rendezvous point for the beaver trappers who worked the rivers in the area until the mid-19th century. During and after the gold rush in the Black Hills of 1876, farmers and ranchers settled in the area growing food for the miners and their work animals. It is still a big cattle area and the rodeo is a big event in the annual calendar and is held in July.

      Having driven straight through the previous day we returned to Belle Fourche to see this marker and visit the Tri State Museum. The marker itself is a huge circular marble marker with eight points like a compass and a row of flags from various states but as it was very cold and still raining I didn't stand out there too long to work out the significance of what the different flags were or if all of the state flags were there.

      Having inspected the marker we came back inside to the warmth of the Tourist Information centre and walked through into the Tri State museum which is in the same building. The elderly couple welcoming you into the museum were very chatty, not sure if they were volunteers or paid but they were quite elderly. It took a good few minutes to purchase the postcard we wanted. Entry to the museum was free but they had a box for donations which I thought was nice as you could put what you could afford and felt that you wanted to donate.

      The museum had a variety of displays starting with a lot of household bits and pieces from the early days of the settlers to the area. I was fascinated by the hair curling machine which looked like an instrument of torture from the French Revolution to me. It was invented by Marjorie Joyner in 1928 and she was the first African American woman to receive a patent in the States. The machine had clips that hung from above and heated the hair to 200 degrees Fahrenheit unfortunately it left the hair stiff and somewhat brittle and often people got badly burned!

      There were old fridges and an old vacuum cleaner which looked like a giant injection syringe and it seemed to need about three hands to operate it. I have included a photo of the instructions for the vacuum cleaner to share with you all how 'simple' it was to operate.

      Another section had information and displays of dinosaur bones as this area is a treasure trove of prehistoric animal bone discoveries. There was a mammoth tooth, huge Tyrannosaurus leg bones and a tyrannosaurus claw and a tooth which were impressive.

      Moving on we came to the displays about famous people in the area. One was known as 'Potato Creek Johnny' because he found the largest gold nugget to be found in the Black Hills in Potato Creek. He was acquainted with Calamity Jane and Deadwood Dick and other infamous people in the Deadwood area. The part of this information that we found amusing was that he came from, and I quote:
      "Potato Creek Johnny was born just plain John Eli Perrot, in 1866 in Wales, England". My husband's father was Welsh and I am sure he would be interested to know that Wales was in England!

      The last section was dedicated to the rodeo, cowboys and cattlemen. One family, four generations of the Olsens had a number of bison that they trained for riding and doing other performing tricks. A stuffed bison head was on the wall on display but I'm not sure if this was one of the famous trained ones or just an ordinary wild one.

      Another section showed a display of James Newland's expertise and a certificate to show that he held the Guinness book of record for having attended every Black Hills Roundup Rodeo since it began in 1918.

      Part of this section was the display of the different outfits worn by the various Miss Rodeos over the years. Also on display were a number of Western saddles, fur coats as worn by trappers in the past and a display celebrating the fact that Belle Fourche had once been a big sugar growing and refining area.

      Outside and away from the museum building is the 'Buckskin Johnny' Spalding cabin which was the first home in the area and was built by Johnny Spalding from logs he cut and split himself in 1876. He was an experienced scout familiar with the Sioux nation and their ways. He acted as a lookout for settlers to warn them if a war party was approaching. He lived in the cabin for twenty years before moving to California where he married. The cabin is set up as it was with furnishings of the time or original items. It was originally built on the river side about two and a half miles away from Belle Fourche but was donated to the town museum by the present owners and rebuilt by the Lions Club in its present position.

      It was a fascinating little museum in a town that we had driven through without really noticing. It was one of these towns that is deeply steeped in its pioneer and cattle ranching history and they are proud of their heritage. The museum was a great little place with a diverse series of displays covering a lot of the history of Belle Fourche and the Black Hills. If you are ever driving between Miles City, Montana and Spearfish in South Dakota on highway85 then make a stop in Belle Fourche, you can't miss it as there are very few towns on the highway.

      I had to take a star off for their lack of knowledge about countries in the UK.

      Thanks for reading and trust this has been of some interest. This review may be published on other sites under my same user name.
      ©Catsholiday

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