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1936 Postcard - HiWay Camp Pactola cropped.jpg


Pactola is one of the oldest settlements in Pennington County dating back to the 1870's. Soon after the discovery of gold in the creek beds, prospectors and miners began to flock into this pleasant valley until it became a populous, thriving community. For a short period of time, Pactola was the actually the seat on County government. Owing to its isolation in the heart of the Hills, there was little law enforcement and the valley became the hiding place for many who, for various reasons, did not wish their whereabouts known. The miners made and administered their own law, but the two things they would not tolerate were claim-jumping and horse-stealing. (WPA, 409)


"At first the valley was called "0" Valley, because of its round shape.  In 1876 General Crook with his United States Cavalry, on their way to fight the Indians, made his headquarters here and called it Camp Crook. The development of placer mines, together with the establishment of the first post office in Pennington Co., and a tri-weekly stage service, made things boom". (WPA, 409)

A long flume was constructed, and a store was opened to serve the approximately 300 miners in the area.  A hotel soon followed as well as the construction of the railroad around 1906.

Around Pactola there was also a CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps) as well as other camps such as the Presbyterian Church Camp, Flavin's Corner, Camp Judson, and the Methodist Camp.  When Pactola Reservoir was started to be built in 1953, these historic sites were drowned under the reservoir.  Many acres of land were condemned by the government in preparation for the building of the dam and the flooding of the valley. It was deemed at the time that no new buildings for human habitation were to be built upstream of Pactola below the elevation of 4,621.5 feet.  Many of the cabins and buildings that were to be flooded were moved (some to Silver City) and the remaining are now rotting underwater and providing sights for the scuba divers that sometime take to Pactola Lake.

More resources on Pactola:  Minnilusa Historical Association


How did the name Pactola come about? According to records of the time, the populace of Camp Crook decided to have a more appropriate name and  "A mass meeting was called, and a lawyer who had recently moved into the community was asked to make the nominating speech. Having had a number of drinks and feeling fanciful he recited the legend of Midas; whose touch turned everything to gold; and he proposed, in view of the gold being taken from the sands of Rapid Creek, that the place should be called Pactola, for the Lydian river Pactolus, whose  golden sands were believed to be the source of the wealth of Croesus"


From WPA 409

1892 Mining Claim Pactola District.png


The dam was conceived to provide flood control and water to Rapid City.


At a time when the town's population had dwindled, the remaining buildings were auctioned off and many were moved to Silver City and other nearby locations. Those that remained were simply abandoned.  Even the railroad track was salvaged in the years preceding the  project.

Construction of the dam began in 1952 and was completed in 1956. At times nearly 200 men worked on the dam. Unskilled workers earned $1.25 an hour and skilled workers $2.75 an hour. The men placed 2,163,251 cubic yards of impervious earthfill and 2,156,742 cubic yards of rockfill for a total of 4,319,993 cubic yards of embankment fill. There were no accidental deaths in the four years of construction at Pactola, but numerous injuries resulted from the steep terrain and outcroppings of hard rock known as amphibolite.

Source: Historical Marker Database

Friends of Jenny Gulch

The picnic area popular with teenagers and kayakers is managed by the Black Hills National Forest. It is cared for by the Friends of Jenny Gulch, a group of residents of Silver City who every year clean-up the area.


Pactola Lake is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The lake is located on Rapid Creek and provides the water supply for Rapid City.  It is owned and operated by the U S Bureau of Reclamation, with the various recreational facilities operated by the US Forest Service, and is one of the recreational areas of Black Hills National Forest. Boating and fishing are very popular, with a walk-in fly-fishing area located on Rapid Creek below the dam.

Facilities include a marina, improved swimming beach, campgrounds and group campground on the South areas including the Jenney Gulch Recreation area by Silver City (see Friends of Jenny Gulch).  


The dam across Rapid Creek is very large, and was enlarged following the Black Hills Flood of 1972. Lake water levels vary greatly, as the lake is used for flood control, domestic water, streamflow maintenance, and irrigation.

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