~ Black Hills Weekly Times • March 19, 1887 ~
A Rare Tablet,
Concerning the First Visitation to the Black Hills, by Intrepid Whites.
No portion of the great western continent is so rich in legend, incident and event, as that known as the Black Hills of Dakota. Until a very recent date the very heart of the Indian country, sacredly guarded by a nation of the most populous, barbarous and blood-thirsty savages, it enjoyed still greater immunity from invasion by reason of the expansive, uninviting waste designated on charts and improperly estimated by all as “the great American desert,” far within which this realm of hidden wealth reposed. That an oasis existed in the Sahara of the west was indefinitely known to frontiersmen long before that mythical line designated “the border,” had reached the Missouri, but such knowledge was vague and altogether unsatisfactory. Now and then incoming Sioux, ladened with furs and precious metals were questioned as to the source of their booty, but with significant shrug of shoulders, and indefinite glance toward the setting sun, they pressed their lips still closer and moved along. Occasionally a more condescending, if not more intelligent half breed or squaw man, would hint of a beautiful land; of majestic mountains; of streams of clearest, purest health restoring water; of defiles, and parks and lakes; of a wealth of luxuriant foliage and bright tinted, odorous flowers, all of which commingled and presented a scene of the most picturesque character. The streams were curbed with gold; the towering mountains contained all manner of metals; game of all kinds roamed throughout the marvelous region harmless to each other and unharmed by the Sioux who held the locality sacred as the abiding place of the Great Spirit. Such were the Hills outlined but never were located. They were merely — “way off there.” Then came an occasional statement from the Jesuits, also unsatisfactory at first, but reaching tangibility by degrees until Father DeSmet supplied the first accurate information, in 1828. In an unguarded moment he let drop the secret of the isolated realm of wealth, and thence on the whites maintained determined effort to penetrate the mysterious locally. If jealous of the Hills before, the Indians were doubly so after their secret was betrayed, and for over fifty years fought with all the craftiness and determination of the race to hold the domain inviolate.
The first exploration of the Hills by white men is unknown and never will be determined. The great California stampede of ’49 passed a couple of hundred miles south, and it is said that a number of small parties therefrom visited this locality. If so such expeditions resulted disastrously, for nothing was ever heard of them. A few years later government exploring parties passed along the foothills, but it was not until 1874 that anything definite was known of the interior. From that date to properly begins a record of the occupation of this favored portion of Dakota. Now and then discoveries are made indicative of explorations and prospecting by whites years and years ago, but such are silent, uncommunicative souvenirs attesting the one undisputable fact, but giving no details. A rusty, stockless pistol; the deeply blazed tree; the deserted cabin and other discoveries appear as monuments to the intrepid explorer, but to whom and of what period, there is no record.
On Monday the number of relics of by-gone days are early adventures was increased to a very interesting extent by the discovery of a remarkable tablet. While roaming over the prairie west of Lookout mountain, near Spearfish, Mr. Louis Stone (Thoen) unearthed a sand stone about ten inches square, upon which in irregular characters had been cut, evidently with a knife this inscription:
CAME TO THE HILLS IN 1833 7 OF US.
E. W. HOOD
ALL DED BUT ME EZRA KIND.
KILLED BY INDIANS BEYOND THE HIGH HILL. THEY GOT ALL OF OUR GOLD. JUNE 1834.
The tablet was found beneath a heavy stone imbedded some distance in the ground, and bore evidence of having rested in the one position for years. The inscription was, evidently cut with a knife, a long time ago, and was in places partly effaced by action of the elements. Nothing else of significance was found. The tablet is a valuable addition to the archaeology of the Black Hills, and may lead to important developments.
The Thoen Stone was named for Louis Thoen who discovered the stone at the foot of Lookout Mountain, near Spearfish on March 14, 1887. Although some scholars dispute the authenticity of the stone, the late historian Frank Thomson devoted much of life researching the history of the men named on the stone. His research added more credibly to the likelihood that the stone is genuine.
According to Frank Thomson, a group of men left Independence, Missouri, with the intention of opening a route to Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the spring of 1833. While on the trail, they met an American Indian from the Crow tribe who knew of the existence of gold in the Black Hills. It was the Crow guide who led the expedition into the Black Hills.
The only record that exists as to the fate of the explorers is the Thoen Stone.
Although no one knows what happened to Kind, it is assumed he died in the Black Hills. For if he had ever made it back to civilization, history might have been rewritten with the Black Hills gold rush preceding the California rush.
In the years following the discovery of the Thoen Stone, Frank Thomson located the descendants of several members of the ill-fated party. All of the descendants confirmed that their ancestors headed west in 1833 and were never heard of again.
The members of the ill-fated Ezra Kind party may have been the first gold seekers to enter the mysterious Black Hills, but they would not be the last.