Hill City History
September 27, 2020
About noon on July 10, 1939, one of the worst forest fires in the history of the Black Hills started ten miles northwest of Hill City. By the next morning it had burned six miles, jumped the Mystic Road, the C.B.&Q. Railway and was headed directly for Hill City. The fire was within three miles of town at noon when the wind changed and carried it further north and east.
The weather was hot and very dry plus a high wind repeatedly “crowned” the fire. Fire fighting was very dangerous. All of the CCC boys in the area were immediately put on the fire and forest rangers called for more help. One of the first crews to respond was a group of 25 school boys from Hill City. The crew included the entire basketball squad, one 8th grader and several boys who had recently attended or graduated. Their foreman was Charles Hare, President of the Board of Education.
The inferno continued throughout the second and into the third day. Over four thousand firefighters labored to bring it under control. The crews became isolated and consequently many of the brave workers did not get food and water for a number of hours. Heat, smoke, and the danger of being trapped hampered the firefighters but the blaze was brought under control the third day.
The people of Hill City had spent many anxious hours watching the smoke and direction of the fire. Many had packed their belongings and were ready to move, but the order to abandon town was never given.
The school boys from Hill City were at the fire every day. They were later recognized by the U.S. Forest Service officials as one of the best crews.
The name “Rangers” was given to them in honor of their good record. Because of the work of these school boys back in 1939, Hill City Schools became the ONLY school district in the United States to have the privilege of using “Smokey Bear” as its mascot. The school colors are green and gold which also represent the National Forest Service theme, and Hill City is the ONLY school with the honorable privilege of having their graduation ceremonies held at Mt. Rushmore. The staff, student and teams representing Hill City Schools hope to continue the traditions of the splendid group of men that our boys so ably assisted, The United States Forest Rangers.
Written by: Bob Burden