To many people, the Black Hills of South Dakota are known primarily as the home of Mount Rushmore and the source of unique golden Black Hills jewelry. However, this region has so much more to offer. The history of this beautiful but troubled region is often turbulent and sometimes tragic, but always fascinating. There are even some mysteries that have never been solved to this day, like the perplexing Thoen Stone.
The Stone’s Story
Allegedly discovered near the Northern Hills town of Spearfish at the base of Lookout Mountain, the Thoen Stone is a sandstone slab with writing scratched into it. It tells the unverified story of a prospecting party that came to the Black Hills seeking gold in 1833, long before it was officially discovered. The purported creator of the stone is one Ezra Kind who describes coming to the Black Hills as one of a party of seven. Kind claims to be the sole survivor of the expedition, the other six having been killed. If the account is to be believed, the expedition found gold and took as much as they could carry. The author alludes to the other six members being killed by “Indians” who also took their gold and their ponies in June 1834. The message ends with a haunting lament: “I have lost my gun and nothing to eat and Indians hunting me.”
The Questionable Authenticity
Louis Thoen was a stonecutter in the Black Hills in the late 1880s. In 1887, two years before South Dakota became a state, he claimed to have discovered the stone with its mournful message. Parts of the alleged message by Ezra Kind seem to line up with facts: the “high hill” where he says that his comrades were killed could refer to Crow Peak, an imposing mountain just west of the valley where Spearfish would eventually be founded. However, some maintain that Thoen carved the message himself in a bid to gain attention.
Years of research have not yet verified the authenticity of the Thoen Stone. The curious can see it for themselves in the Adams Museum in Deadwood, just north of Spearfish.