Fort Meade was established during the winter of 1878-79 by units of the 1st and 11th Infantry and the reorganized 7th Cavalry. The mission of the 10 company post was to provide military protection against the resentful Sioux for the gold seekers and settlers who had invaded the region both before and after the Black Hills Treaty of 1877.

General Phil Sheridan, famed Civil War Cavalry leader, reportedly selected the picturesque site for the new post. He is said to have ridden horseback around what became the parade ground in the center of the 12 square mile military reservation, pointing with his saber to where he wanted each building to be constructed.

The new post replaced Camp J.C. Sturgis, established in July of 1878, about two miles northwest of nearby Bear Butte. It was first named Camp Ruhlen for Lt. George Ruhlen, 17th Infantry quartermaster officer who supervised the building of the post. It was subsequently renamed Fort Meade in honor of General George Meade of Civil War fame. Its strategic location at the mouth of the natural gap in the hogback ridge forming the outer rim of the Black Hills, on the main Indian trail to the favorite hunting grounds of the Sioux, and near the confluence of the heavily-traveled Bismarck, Fort Pierre and Sidney trails of the pioneers, enabled Fort Meade to play a major role in maintaining peace on the western Dakota Frontier.

The 7th Cavalry, re-formed after the disastrous Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, constituted the first permanent garrison of the post. Its commander, Colonel Samuel D Sturgis, was one of the founders of the nearby town that bears his name.

In June, 1879, the horse named Comanche, who survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn, was brought to Fort Meade by the Seventh Regiment. There he was kept like a prince until 1888, when he was taken to Fort Riley, Kansas. He died at Fort Riley a few years later and was buried with military honors. Shortly thereafter the horse's remains were sent to a taxidermist, and in the early 1900s Comanche was displayed at the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. A restoration of the display was completed in 2005.

It was here, too, that the Star Spangled Banner first became the official music for the military retreat ceremony, long before in became the National Anthem. In 1892, the post commander Colonel Caleb H. Carlton, 8th Cavalry, began the custom of playing the "Star Spangled Banner" at military ceremonies and requested that all people rise and pay it proper respect long before it became the National Anthem. 

Many celebrated frontier Army units saw service at Fort Meade, including the 4th Cavalry which was headquartered there for over 20 years. It outlived all other frontier posts of the Upper Missouri West, surviving as a military installation until 1944 when in became a Veterans Administration Hospital as it remains today. 

Though no longer an active military base, Fort Meade still serves as a training site by the 196th Regiment for Officer Candidate School (OCS)

The 196th Regiment, Regional Training Institute, located at Fort Meade is one of four major commands of the South Dakota Army National Guard and is one of the premier regional training institutes throughout the Army National Guard. The regiment maintains its status of “A Learning Institute of Excellence” by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command as it continues to be one of the nation’s top training institutes.

With 60 members, the regiment provides a model environment for training future leaders for the Army National Guard and provides general instruction on a variety of military courses. The 196th Regiment (RTI) has two subordinate battalions: 1st Battalion (Officer Candidate School) at Fort Meade and the 2nd Battalion (Modular Training) in Sioux Falls.

The Fort Meade campus is home to one of the nation’s four consolidated OCS programs where enlisted Soldiers who want to become officers conduct a three-phase program designed to stress their mental and physical capabilities, and evaluate their leadership potential for future commissioning as second lieutenants.

1st Battalion also manages a Warrant Officer Candidate School Program,  designed to develop and evaluate leadership skills for enlisted Soldiers wanting to become highly skilled, single-track specialists and serve as technical experts in a particular field. The battalion also offers the Tactics Certification Course and Platoon Trainer Qualification Course; two specialty courses for platoon trainers and instructors in the OCS environment.

Second Battalion provides instruction in military specialties such as truck driver (88M), multiple launch rocket system crewmember (13M) and operations/fire direction specialist (13P) as well as conducted Noncommissioned Officer Education System courses within the 13M and 13P specialties. The battalion also provides functional course training to Soldiers through its Combat Lifesaver Course, Modern Army Combatives Program, Small Group Instructor Course, Army Basic Instructor Course and Resilience Trainer Assistance Course.