I remember my first family vacation like it was yesterday. I was six years old, we loaded up the family station-wagon and headed out to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We saw all of the usual sights: Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore and Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, just to name a few.
Those are all great memories, but the part that I remember most vividly was when some “wild” donkeys in Custer State Park sauntered right up to the car and stuck their heads inside. We fed them our leftovers from lunch, took a few photos and then drove on with donkey drool all over the car.
I later came to find out that these little panhandlers were famously known as the “begging burros.” The begging burros are still hanging out in the park, near Custer, and continue to stop traffic and beg for food.
This morning I found myself wondering how they came to be in Custer State Park along with all of the other wildlife. I called down to the park office and spoke with the park’s administrative assistant, Peg, who filled me in on the interesting history of the begging burros.
The burros were originally brought into Custer State Park in 1927 and were used as transportation for visitors to the top of Harney Peak. That’s right – you used to be able to ride a burro from Sylvan Lake all the way to the top of the highest point in South Dakota!
The burro rides continued for several years until the herd began to age and the trail began to show wear from all of the hoof traffic. At that time, the rides to Harney stopped and herd of burros were simply released into the park.
Since being released, the burros have multiplied over the years and have taken up the habit of begging motorists for treats. Today, there are around 40 begging burros in the park. The most popular spots to run into them are just north of the east entrance to the park or near the buffalo corrals.
So, next time you visit the Black Hills, be sure to bring along a little something for the burros. The original pack animals are long since gone, but their families still appreciate a sweet treat.