I have never experienced 4th of July in the way I did this year. South Dakota celebrates Fourth of July in a truly American Way!
All throughout South Dakota the celebrations started the weekend prior, with fairs & carnivals popping up, street vendors and bands playing, parades down main-street and fireworks lighting up the night sky. Each little town did it’s own thing, focusing on the heritage of it’s own setting.
Our little town may have less than 5000 residents, but when the carnival opened on the 30th and the cattle drive made it’s way down State Street towards the rodeo grounds, the motels filled and our town was lively. Crowds of people swarmed to the rodeo each night as bull riders, bronc riders and cowgirls competed for titles. Prizes of saddles, leather chaps, belt buckles, checks, cash and even a new horse trailer to Miss South Dakota Rodeo Queen, were handed out.
The carnival buzzed in the night sky, set up in the streets, blocking off most of downtown to traffic, but making walking interesting and fun. The smells of funnel cake, corn dogs and other deep fried goodies filled the air and tickled our noses. The Ferris Wheel and Swings towered above the historic buildings and contrasted with the old west feel of the town. The Merry-Go-Round spun circles in the road between buildings that once housed banks and saddle shops. Children and adults alike filled the spaces in between, throwing darts, slurping at melting snow cones and laughing and shrieking as the rides toss and turned them.
The bars hopping. Live bands kept the dance floors stomping. Tap beer over flowed from cups as guests ventured onto the patios to watch the colors of fireworks blasting against the darkened skies.
Belle Fourche is small, but they do nothing small. The fireworks show lasted two nights. The sky and ground a blaze and trembling for over an hour and a half each night. Then followed by another three to four hours of neighbors keeping the sky a fire. The roar of the crowd after the finale could be heard for miles.
On the night of the Fourth the town set back and let the citizens put on their own show. The sky glowed reds, purples, greens, blues and whites for hours. In every direction palms, brocades, waterfalls and comets exploded above us. We watched from a field, a friend’s yard and finally from our car as we drove home. The sky never ceased to light up; sometimes appearing to be directly in front of us as though we would drive through the stars.
The Fourth itself was a lively day, as the streets began as early as 6 or 7 am filling with people waiting for the parade to start. Not sure what to expect, I too wait in anticipation. To my amazement, the largest parade in the Black Hills wasn’t a Rose Bowl. There were no fancy floats or overly decked out cars. Instead it was a neighborhood party of sorts! High School Alumni from each decade (1998, 1988, 1978, etc & so on) rode on trailers and in cars, hung memorial banners for those lost and drank Bud Light as they shot each other and the crowd with water guns! Kids ran back and forth greedily gobbling up candy. Cowboys and Cowgirls filtered in-between Semi’s and Army vehicles. Every politician imaginable walked beside Bikers on Harley’s and motocross riders doing tricks. Casino Owners showed off their fancy rides and their beautiful women. Firemen, policemen and medical workers all waved and hollered at the crowd. Sirens blared and children screamed in delight. The Cowboy Band (a group dressed in full Cowboy gear, ranging in age from teens to far to old for me to gracefully guess) rode on trailers and played the sounds of the west. Bands sang music from my childhood and rock my kids bounced to as they were pulled down the street. Marching bands danced and blew on trumpets and horns, beat on drums and waved their flags. Antique cars lined up and tooted their horns. More horses, stage coaches and even an 1800’s hearse, heaved down the street. Water balloons were tossed, firemen sprayed hoses on the crowds, and Frisbees, balls and other goodies were tossed about. The children edged closer and closer to the parade participates. It was more than a parade it was a gathering of neighbors and friends, a moment of pride in their community.
It was the most beautiful, connected moment I have ever been a part of in a community. The Fourth of July in Belle Fourche; in all of South Dakota is a celebration unlike any you will ever experience elsewhere. If ever you want to travel on the holiday, take a trip to the Black Hills and experience the celebration of America’s Freedom in the place where the west was won and the past is still alive!