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Lithium mining in the Southern Hills

Joseph Budd

Recently a report surfaced regarding a company that was looking lithium mining in the Southern Black Hills, south of Custer. The area isn’t known as a mecca for mining property, if anything, it’s been pretty quiet for years. The area does have a few small towns like Pringle, the old Sanator location that was the State Hospital and later the Star Academy, now closed. And beyond that is the former location of Argyle.

A few mining operations here and there exist, for gravel mining and former homestead locations, but compared to the mining in the Central and Northern Hills, it’s been well, like a ghost town.

Then, in steps a company called United Lithium Corporation, a company located out of British Columbia, who is looking at over 500 unpatented lode claims, covering nearly 15 square miles. In the west and southwest parts of the Black Hills, this “Liberty Lithium Project” is looking at pegmatite bodies, where mining existed during WW II. The company, looking forward is trying to put in claims, either at existing points or next to existing adjacent claims, if property is privately owned, to make mining claims proceed faster. The majority of the staked land is currently being administered by the US Forest Service, and extends out towards Jewel Cave, to the west end, while remaining south of the highway with an exception of claims located north of the highway, about seven miles west of Custer, SD.

From what is known, Custer and Keystone both produced a good amount of Lithium in the 1940s and 1950s, with records showing nearly 200,000 tons being mined and removed from the Black Hills.

From the United Lithium website:

“The pegmatites of the Black Hills in South Dakota have contributed significantly to the economic development of the region and have been sources of a wide variety of mineral species. Production from the pegmatites consisted chiefly of feldspar, beryl, sheet and scrap mica, spodumene, montebrasite, lepidolite, and columbite-tantalite. Mining of the pegmatites has diminished since the 1950s, except for production of feldspar, quartz and mica from quarries in the vicinity of Custer that remain in operation.”

The earliest recorded exploration in the Black Hills was an expedition led by General George A. Custer in 1874. The first pegmatite mining was in 1879 for sheet mica about three miles (five kms) northwest of Custer. During WWII the Black Hills were an important source of lithium minerals, mica, feldspar and beryl, with production peaking during 1943 and 1944. The total value of pegmatite minerals produced from 1941 to 1958 in the Black Hills is recorded at approximately US$13 million (approx. US$400 million in 2021 dollars). This production is large in comparison to most other US pegmatite districts of the time. Individual mines were modest in size, operated by relatively simple techniques. Open-pit methods predominate, although underground mines exist, they are rarely more than 200 feet (70 m) deep. Hand cobbing was the chief concentrating method; the main exception was the milling techniques used by the Lithium Corp. of America to concentrate spodumene at the Etta Mine.”

So, how does all of this effect the Black Hills?

The company is looking at an integrated exploration program, to evaluate if the Custer land area holdings would be a valuable place to go mining for materials needed to help produce the batteries for electric cars.

Does it seem like if it’s not gold, silver, tin, or another mineral, people want to dig into the Black Hills and take out another? And as the fear exists, right now the current freeway that heads south drives through a nice, quiet and beautiful patch of hills. Green, low, rolling hills. Now imagine the landscape, like where the Wharf Mine is in the Northern Hills. Not a pretty picture.

(Contact Joe Budd at


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