Belle Fourche (pronounced bel-FOOSH) is a city in and the county seat of Butte County, South Dakota, United States. Belle Fourche is the site of the geographic center of the fifty United States. Belle Fourche (French for "beautiful fork") was named by French explorers when this area was owned by France, for the confluence of what is now known as the Belle Fourche and Redwater Rivers and the Hay Creek. Beaver trappers worked these rivers until the mid-19th century, and Belle Fourche became a well known fur trading rendezvous point. During and after the gold rush of 1876, farmers and ranchers alike settled in the fertile valleys, growing food for the miners and their work animals. At the same time, the open plains for hundred of miles in all directions were being filled by huge herds of Texas and Kansas cattle.
Knowing the cattle barons and the railroad would need a point at which to load the herds of cattle onto freight cars for shipment to the packing plants in the Midwest, Seth Bullock provided a solution and became the parent, in effect, of Belle Fourche, the city. After serving in the Montana legislature in 1871-1873 (and being instrumental in the establishment of a National Park at Yellowstone), he had come to the Black Hills to cash in selling supplies to the Deadwood miners, arriving August 2, 1876, the day Wild Bill Hickok was murdered. During the next 14 years, Bullock acquired land as homesteaders along the Belle Fourche River "proved up" and sold out.
When the railroad came to the Hills and refused to pay the prices demanded by nearby township of Minnesala, Bullock offered the railroad free right-of-way and offered to build the terminal if the railroad would locate it at a point on his land near where the present Belle Fourche Livestock Exchange exists. In 1890, the first train load of cattle headed east. By 1895, Belle Fourche was shipping 2500 carloads of cattle per month in the peak season, making it the world's largest livestock shipping point.
After winning a competition with Minnesela over the railroad which now goes through Belle Fourche, Bullock's town went on to win the county seat in the election of 1894; still, cowboys rode into Minnesela and stole the county books. Belle Fourche today serves a large trade area of ranches and farms. The wool, cattle, and bentonite industries have been important to the growth of Belle Fourche. Belle Fourche serves gateway to the Northern Black Hills.
In 1959, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey officially designated a point 20 miles north of Belle Fourche as the Geographic Center of the United States. It is the center of the nation because the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the United States moved the location of the official center of the nation. As of the census of 2000, there were 4,565 people, 1,854 households, and 1,186 families residing in the city.