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Photo courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society-Archives

Thorns and roses

How to Buy the Book:

Coming home from a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969 and still grieving friends who had died in an unwinnable war, Don Barnett resolved to run for office and change the way decisions were made. After his bid for a seat in Congress failed, he was elected mayor of Rapid City in 1971 at the age of 28. After a rocky start colored by youthful hubris, he learned how to compromise and collaborate with the city council and other civic leaders. With voter approval of a plan to finance a new civic center, the city seemed poised for takeoff.

On the night of June 9, 1972, a massive thunderstorm unleashed torrential rains over Rapid City and the central Black Hills. Swelling Rapid Creek far beyond its normal channel, the raging waters destroyed homes and businesses, swept through a nursing home, and caused severe damage to the city’s main water plant. By the time the dead were accounted for, 238 people had perished and five others were never found. Barnett spent the night of the flood helping rescuers. The next morning, he and other civic leaders began the process of recovery and rebuilding. 


Many people in Rapid City were still trying to put their lives back together eight months later when long simmering racial tensions between Native Americans and the Non-Native community boiled over following a barroom murder in nearby Custer county. Leaders of the American Indian Movement took to the streets, brandished weapons, and promised to shut the city down.


Thorns and Roses provides a riveting first-hand account of Don Barnett’s tumultuous years as mayor of Rapid City from 1971-1975 and helps document an important era in the history of the city and the nation.

John Brewer,retired banker and former member of the Rapid City Planning Commission,

Rapid City Main Street Square, and president for Downtown Redevelopment.

"Thorns and Roses chronicles not only the life and times of former Mayor Don Barnett, but also the tragic and tumultuous events that occurred in Rapid City between 1971 and 1975. I felt I was at Don’s elbow as he waded in the flood waters that night in June 1972. My heart wept as bodies were pulled from the wreckage. I learned again the value of civil servants who selflessly, bravely, and at the ultimate cost responded in crisis. And when the insidious evil of racial discrimination triggered a time bomb of civil unrest eight months later, strong leadership saved the day. Without a road map, Mayor Don led the city through a crisis to a favorable outcome."

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