The Remains of Cottonwood, South Dakota

The Remains of Cottonwood, South Dakota

On Highway 14, about halfway between Wall and Philip, lies sleepy Cottonwood, South Dakota. We visited Cottonwood at the suggestion of our friend Maya Greywolf who had been momentarily captivated by these abandoned places while passing through on a roadtrip. We had little idea what to expect, but we were thrilled at the photo opportunities when we arrived.

Cottonwood, South Dakota

Interstate 90 passes a few dozen miles to the south of Cottonwood, and travelers use that high speed corridor to access highly-photographed locations like Badlands National Park and the globally-famous Wall Drug, but in the northeastern corner of Jackson County where Cottonwood resides, tourist snaps are decidedly few and far between. We need no better reason to visit.

Cottonwood, South Dakota

The sign on the highway outside Cottonwood says the population is 12. The 2010 census lists it as 9.

Cottonwood, South Dakota

Cottonwood, South Dakota

Cottonwood, South Dakota

The church stands at the north end of Illinois Street, its bell-tower tweaked slightly with age. A vacant structure stands immediately to the south, next to one of the few inhabited homes in Cottonwood.

Cottonwood, South Dakota

In 2014, a group of cyclists passed through Cottonwood and got beer at the local bar. We were in Cottonwood very early in the morning, so we’re not sure if the bar is still in operation.

Cottonwood, South Dakota

Cottonwood, South Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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32 thoughts on “The Remains of Cottonwood, South Dakota

    1. My grandfather was raised in Cottonwood. My great grandparents would be buried, do you know if the city has a local cemetery?

    1. The bar was made into a house. It was still standing last Sept. whan I went to South Dakota Lois and Red Pigsley had the bar for a long time. Went to that bar years ago when I lived in Philip and worked at the Experiment Farm that is just east of Cottonwood.

  1. My father Marion Charles Mower was born in Cottonwood South Dakota in 1919I visited there in 1971 will be traveling to SD in September so glad to see this post looking forward to seeing this little piece of family history

  2. The Buckhorn Bar is now a residence and has been for several years. JoAnn’s Trading Post & Bar were sold many years ago and the owner from Philip left it to decay. The rodeo arena is severely run down and grown over. My grandparents have been residents of Cottonwood since 1985. My grandmother was at one point in time the mayor of Cottonwood. Was just there last summer visiting during the Sturgis Rally. Not sure why this individual took pictures of the old buildings but failed to take pictures of the original Cottonwood Jail as it is the most significant building still left standing in Cottonwood.. Probably too late now, as it belonged to my grandparents and may not be standing anymore. Still cool to see pictures of Cottonwood SD on the internet though!

      1. I’m trying to locate Peter Ferwerda’s homestead (1907). We have a photo take there, “on the Bad River”. Cottonwood seems to be around 10 miles away. Does anyone keep track of old homesteads…remains??

        1. Not sure if this is the same Peter Ferwerda you’re referencing but I know of a Peter Ferwerda that was born 1/10/1883 in Castalia, which at one time was located in Charles Mix County (South Dakota). His brother, Bert Ferwerda, was my uncle. Bert & his family lived in Okaton (South Dakota) for many years. Peter married Edna Davenport in 1931 and I think they had 3 daughters… Hope this helps!

          1. Yes, that’s him. Bert is my dad’s uncle. (Laddie) We used to stop at Okaton when I was little. I still stop on my way past even though the house is deserted.

        2. Twyla, I am late to the party, but we found our grandparents original Platt maps at the county Auditor’s office. We found ours in Kadoka for Cottonwood where my grandparents ranch was. Good Luck! Cindy (Brown) Reaper.

  3. My great great grandfather is buried there. I spent some time looking for the graveyard but I think it’s on private property. Very cool town!

    1. Did you have any luck? My great grandparents would be buried here as well. Looking to take a road trip with my son.

  4. I am trying to relocate to that area for work…are there ANY rentals in cottonwood, Quinn, or Wall? I have a dog and a cat, and a 9 year old. I can’t find ANYTHING online 🙁

  5. My husband and I are planning to buy a school bus and convert it into a tiny house, so we can also travel in it. How do we go about a lot to rent while we are there? I have family in Quinn, Kadoka, and Wasta.

  6. Was working missile sites for the Air Force 1964-1968′ In my dreams I remember what looked like a school on the hill with a bunch of rotted old school buses. Now it is 50 years later, trying to sleep, damn place just popped into my head, once there you will never forget. Always wondered why no one wrote a history from beginning to the end. It appeared that no one had the money to bribe uncle sam when he was building I-90. Wall on the other hand had the Interstate come right to town. Those were the days my friend!

    1. Hi Callista, My father, Lawrence Brown was born in Cottonwood in 1912. Later in life he got a copy of a book called : Jackson County History. I think my brother has it now, but I do remember there are a lot of pictures and history in it, including my Grandfather’s ranch. Good Luck!

  7. Our family lived in Cottonwood the summer 1961. My father worked on the Minutemen Missile bases. It was hot. There was a State Farm across the highway. It had two horses. Flash and Commanche. We rode them everywhere…

  8. Several miles behind State Farm was a pond with a diving board. I rode Commanche onto the diving board it crashed. We tumbled into the pond. I held on to his mane as he swam to shore…I was 12.

  9. My brother ventured up to the old school on the hill…everything was there…books, desks…but no students.

    Behind the restaurant was an old covered wagon…a man with a long white beard was living in it….he told us wonderous tales…

    The houses were filled with furniture..dishes…there was a double barrel shotgun, the barrels was square…

    We walked to the Badlands…once on the road a car stopped it had New York plates…the family departed the car to explore the gravel on the side of the road…they were looking for arrow heads….my brother and I looked at each other and smiled.

  10. I am very interested in purchasing this beautiful historic town, my grandparents Tom and Margaret Thorson are from grindstone and have passed on, yet the potential to rebuild the community into a sustainable environment with The THRIVE project the horse whisperer as well as working with the ASPCA to save abused horses from other states and relocating them here, could you please provide me with contact information for the purchase if possible. Email me

  11. My granduncle John Bouska homesteaded in those parts 1906-1909. He went by railroad to Philips, then by wagon to Cottonwood (that was the name he used) and then to a homestead 3+ miles from Grindstone Buttes. (Does that work out?) I worked cattle at the Stanley Steven Roberts ranch 18 miles North of Phillips back in 1951. (Yeah, I am that old.) Didn’t know grand uncle’s story until he found I had worked near Phillps. Had I known, I might have made it to Cottonwood.

  12. My grandfather, who died when I was a baby, had a small ranch there, and worked for the railroad. My dad, Clarence Diehl, was born there in 1926. Hope to travel through next month … first time visit.

  13. My father lived in Cottonwood as a child, back in the decade of the 1910’s. My grandfather operated a drugstore in Cottonwood, and also showed movies next door. They moved to Quinn in the late 20s (not sure just when). I’m told that grandpa had a chance to buy the drugstore in Wall, but didn’t have the money. The fellow who did made quite a business of it, needless to say.

  14. My grandparents lived about three miles from town, Cottonwood. I spent several Summers there doing the chores, and milking the cows. They had about twelve, and were glad to see me. Everyone roller skated at the community hall. My uncle worked for the railroad. My aunt, Margaret worked at the Buckhorn Bar & Grill when Husteads owned it. The brick from the school up on the hill was removed when there were no longer students, they all went to Quinn or Phillup. Although my grandparents only live less than ten miles to Mount Rushmore, I never made it. My grandparents ran cattle on Doc Cowan’s property across the highway from their home. My relatives had a family band and had dances in the front room very often. Interesting in ready these post. Wayne Kappenman

  15. as a child, we would leave Rapid City on our way to the farm in Onaka. There used to be a cottonwood tree and a single picnic table along side of the highway where we would always stop and eat our lunch. I could see the elevator from this stop. Is that old picnic table still there???? One of my favorite memories.

  16. My grandfather was raised in Cottonwood by his Grandparents. I am trying to find my Great-Great Grandparents Grave.

    1. Hi Amilyn, try looking for them at : I’ve found many relatives graves that way, including a great grandparent who died in 1899 and buried in Parker, SD.
      Good Luck!

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