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Spearfish, South Dakota

Historic commercial district of Spearfish
Historic commercial district of Spearfish
Queen City
Location in Lawrence County and the state of South Dakota
Location in Lawrence County and the state of South Dakota
Spearfish, South Dakota is located in the United States
Spearfish, South Dakota
Spearfish, South Dakota
Location in the United States
Country United States
State South Dakota
County Lawrence
Founded 1876
Incorporated 1888
 • City 16.75 sq mi (43.39 km2)
 • Land 16.75 sq mi (43.38 km2)
 • Water 0.01 sq mi (0.01 km2)
3,648 ft (1,112 m)
 • City 10,494
 • Estimate 
 • Density 701.85/sq mi (270.99/km2)
 • Metro
Time zone UTC−7 (Mountain (MST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC−6 (MDT)
ZIP codes
57783, 57799
Area code(s) 605
FIPS code 46-60020
GNIS feature ID 1262476

Spearfish (Lakota: Hočhápȟe) is a city in Lawrence County, South Dakota. The population was 10,494 at the time of the 2010 census.


Before the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1876, the area was used by Native Americans (primarily bands of Sioux but others also ranged through the area) who would spear fish in the creek (hence the name of the creek and subsequently the town). Once the gold rush started, the city was founded in 1876 at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon, and was originally called Queen City. Spearfish grew as a supplier of foodstuffs to the mining camps in the hills. Even today, a significant amount of truck farming and market gardening still occurs in the vicinity.

In 1887, the accepted history of gold mining in the Black Hills was thrown into question by the discovery of what has become known as the Thoen Stone. Discovered by Louis Thoen on the slopes of Lookout Mountain, the stone purports to be the last testament of Ezra Kind who, along with six others, entered the Black Hills in 1833 (at a time when whites were forbidden by law and treaty from entering the area), "got all the gold we could carry" in June 1834, and were subsequently "killed by Indians beyond the high hill." While it may seem unlikely that someone who has "lost my gun and nothing to eat and Indians hunting me" would take the time to carve his story in sandstone, there is corroborating historical evidence for the Ezra Kind party.

In the 20th century, the history of Spearfish was tied very closely to mining and tourism. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who visited Spearfish Canyon in 1935, later called the area "unique and unparalleled elsewhere in our country," and wondered, "How is it that I've heard so little of this miracle and we, toward the Atlantic, have heard so much of the Grand Canyon when this is even more miraculous?"

The Homestake Sawmill (previously part of Pope and Talbot, now owned by Neimen Forest Products) was built to supply timbers for the Homestake Mine in Lead (closed January 2002). In 1938, Joseph Meier brought the Luenen Passion Play to settle permanently in Spearfish and become the Black Hills Passion Play, drawing thousands of visitors every year during the summer months. After Meier's death in 2007, the amphitheater and 23 acres (93,000 m2) surrounding it were put up for sale.

Panoramic view of Spearfish in 1902.


Spearfish is located at 44°29′23″N 103°51′9″W / 44.48972°N 103.85250°W / 44.48972; -103.85250 (44.489803, -103.852585).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.35 square miles (42.35 km2), of which, 16.34 square miles (42.32 km2) is land and 0.01 square miles (0.03 km2) is water.

Spearfish Creek is a fast-moving creek that emerges from Spearfish Canyon at Spearfish. It runs roughly south to north through the center of town (parallel to Canyon Street), year round. The creek is unusual in that it freezes from the bottom up, instead of icing over. This unusual phenomenon occurs due to the very fast rate at which the creek flows. This speed prevents ice from forming except along the bottom of the creek bed where friction and turbulence allow the water to slow down long enough to freeze. Since the creek continues to flow atop this ice, the water level of the creek gradually rises as more ice accumulates on the bottom, in some cases causing flooding on the north side of town where the channel is not as deep.

Spearfish has been assigned the ZIP code 57783 and the FIPS place code 60020. Black Hills State University has its own ZIP code, 57799.


Given its location at the base of the Black Hills and its proximity to the High Plains, the climate in Spearfish is highly variable at any time of the year. This is especially true in the winter months. According to the Köppen climate classification Spearfish is in a transition zone between subtropical and continental. Due to January being just above the 26.6 °F (−3.0 °C) isotherm for continental (according to NOAA figures) it slightly leans towards subtropical, in spite of the cold winter nights. According to Weatherbase’s figures, the climate is instead firmly within the continental zone. Snow depth is limited: even in winter half of all days have no snow on the ground, although on average 48.0 inches or 1.22 metres of fresh snow falls.

Climate data for Spearfish, South Dakota (1981–2010; extremes since 1893)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 79
Average high °F (°C) 38.4
Average low °F (°C) 17.2
Record low °F (°C) −32
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.53
Snowfall inches (cm) 7.6
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 inch) 6 5 7 8 11 13 9 7 6 7 5 5 89
Source: NOAA

World record temperature change

Spearfish holds the world record for the fastest recorded temperature change. On January 22, 1943 at about 7:30 a.m. MST, the temperature in Spearfish was −4°F (−20°C). The Chinook wind picked up speed rapidly, and two minutes later (7:32 a.m.) the temperature was +45 °F (+7 °C) above zero. The 49 °F or 27 °C rise in two minutes set a world record that still holds. By 9:00 a.m., the temperature had risen to 54 °F (12 °C). Suddenly, the chinook died down and the temperature tumbled back to −4 °F or −20 °C. The 58 °F or 32.2 °C drop took only 27 minutes. The sudden change in temperatures caused glass windows to crack and windshields to instantly frost over.

Extreme winter maxima in the district are remarkably warm for its latitude and on January 19, 1921 Spearfish reached a remarkable 79 °F or 26.1 °C, not only the hottest January temperature in South Dakota on record, but almost certainly the hottest temperature recorded in or near mid-winter anywhere so far from the equator.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 170
1890 678 298.8%
1900 1,166 72.0%
1910 1,130 −3.1%
1920 1,254 11.0%
1930 1,577 25.8%
1940 2,139 35.6%
1950 2,755 28.8%
1960 3,682 33.6%
1970 4,661 26.6%
1980 5,251 12.7%
1990 6,966 32.7%
2000 8,606 23.5%
2010 10,494 21.9%
2019 (est.) 11,756 12.0%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 10,494 people, 4,644 households, and 2,350 families living in the city. The population density was 642.2 inhabitants per square mile (248.0/km2). There were 5,045 housing units at an average density of 308.8 per square mile (119.2/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.5% White, 0.4% African American, 2.0% Native American, 1.1% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.7% of the population.

There were 4,644 households, of which 23.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.5% were married couples living together, 8.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 49.4% were non-families. 39.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.09 and the average family size was 2.79.

The median age in the city was 33.2 years. 18.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 20.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22.3% were from 25 to 44; 21.2% were from 45 to 64; and 17.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.1% male and 52.9% female.


Spearfish is the headquarters and hometown of two bus and coach transport services; Dakota Trailways and Prairie Hills Transit.


Spearfish is the home of Black Hills State University, a four-year public university in the South Dakota system. Founded as Spearfish Normal School in 1883, it is still largely a teacher training institution, although its mission has expanded far beyond to include masters programs in Integrative Genomics and Business Administration. It also hosts a summer arts institute, with Spearfish native and international opera star Johanna Meier (daughter of the Black Hills Passion Play founder Joseph Meier) serving as Artistic Director.

Notable people

  • Blacklite District, musical artist and YouTube star
  • Wendell E. Dunn (1894–1965), born near Summit, South Dakota, educator, former resident
  • Johanna Meier, born in Chicago, Illinois, international opera singer
  • Gary Mule Deer, comedian and country musician
  • William T. Powers (1820–1909), born in Bristol, New Hampshire, manufacturer, former resident of Spearfish
  • Bill Russell, Tony-nominated playwright and lyricist, internationally produced author of musicals for the stage
  • Rich Sattgast, state treasurer
  • Frank Schoonmaker (1905–1976), born in Spearfish, travel guide writer and wine merchant
  • Ernie Smith (1909–1985), college and NFL football player and coach
  • Dick Termes, artist
  • Jeff Trandahl, 32nd Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Amy Williams, women's basketball head coach, University of Nebraska
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