Totem pole honors Hills’ heritage

Charity Wessel

Honoring our Black Hills history, Doug Fluke designed a totem pole last year and now the 28-foot tall carving stands in Custer County.
Located on Fluke’s family ranch off U.S. Hwy. 385 near Newberg Lumber Company, wood carver Abby Peterson produced what Fluke describes as a “Black Hills, living-history pole.”
Each carving on the pole is an emblem of our western South Dakota area’s heritage.
The carved bison head at the bottom of the totem pole represents the beginning of the Black Hills as “they were here first,” Peterson said.
This living-history pole also honors Custer County’s first ancestors with paired “Native American carvings, along with General Custer,” Fluke said.
Near the middle of the pole, Custer County’s history of homesteading and mining are honored in two wood carvings.
At the top of the living-history pole, Mt. Rushmore faces are depicted to “represent modern day, the current Black Hills,” Fluke said.
The carved timber was initially a large, damaged Ponderosa Pine that Fluke had removed because of concern it was going to “tip over on the house,” he said. The tree’s rings were counted and it was estimated to have a 160-year life.
Last fall, Fluke conveyed his design intent to accomplished, wood-carving artist Peterson, and Peterson  completed the project in a month.
Peterson said he first took a chainsaw to the tree and roughed-out the bulk of the envisioned design by removing chunks of wood.
Then with a chisel Peterson chipped away and hand-carved the detailed artwork that stands today.
Although Fluke held the creative blueprints and Peterson constructed every figure, they both give credit to the whole team of surveyors and diggers whose coordinated efforts made the totem pole concept a reality. Peterson said he was simply “happy to help achieve” the design.
Peterson describes the totem pole as a “South Dakota timeline” because it both represents Black Hills’ history and “leaves behind a legacy,” he said.
This living-history pole is located about five miles from downtown Custer, on the way to Sanator. On the right-hand side of the road, you’ll see this emblem dedicated to the Black Hills.

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