Spearfish is nestled at the mouth of scenic Spearfish Canyon, in a beautiful valley of the world-famous Black Hills of South Dakota. The climate is surprisingly temperate, allowing residents to recreate year round.
Prior to the Black Hills Gold Rush of 1876, Native Americans (primarily bands of Sioux but others also ranged through the area) used the area and 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 (1876) at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon, and Spearfish grew as a supplier of foodstuffs to the mining camps in the hills. Even today, a significant amount of truck farming or market gardening still occurs in the vicinity.
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. In 2007 after the death of Joseph Meier, the amphitheater and 23 acres (93,000 m2) surrounding it were put on up for sale.
Spearfish is located at 44°29′23″N 103°51′9″W (44.489803, -103.852585). Spearfish has been assigned the ZIP code 57783. The population was 10,494 at the 2010 census.
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.
As foothills to the Rockies, the Black Hills enjoy periodic Chinook winds. Chinook is Lakota for “snow-eater,” thus contributing to the area’s year-round moderate weather.
Spearfish actually holds the world record for the fastest 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 (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 (-20°C). The 58°F (32°C) drop took only 27 minutes.
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. Black Hills State University has its own ZIP code, 57799.