An odd historical marker sits on a hilltop overlooking the small city of Spearfish, South Dakota. A lone sandstone slab is the tribute to a 130 year old mystery that still sparks curiosity to this day.
To find the intriguing Thoen Stone we began by following St. Joe Street south out of Spearfish. The road eventually becomes Thoen Stone Road and leads directly to the trailhead for the monument. We parked near a large sign that pointed the way.
Beyond an unlocked gate a paved pathway led up a gentle slope. Beautiful snow-dusted hills surrounded us on a lovely winter afternoon.
The path was dry and very easy to follow. The dogs were having a wonderful stroll in the sunshine.
After a short walk we reached the hilltop. Wooden structures surrounding the monument came into view.
The Thoen Stone Historical Monument sat atop the hill facing Lookout Mountain. The carved slab of sandstone before us was a historical re-creation (the original Thoen Stone is safe in a local museum). This particular vestige of the wild west era felt ominous nonetheless.
The (original) stone was hand carved and dated 1834. It sums up the harrowing tale of one of the very first discoveries of gold in the Black Hills. Carved by adventurer Ezra Kind, the stone reads:
"came to these hills in 1833 seven of us
G W Wood
all ded but me Ezra Kind
Killed by Ind beyond the high hill got our gold June 1834
Got all of the gold we could carry.
our ponys all got by the Indians
I hav lost my gun and nothing to eat and indians hunting me"
This eerie message carved in stone was discovered in 1887 by Louis Thoen. It was supposedly found near the base of Lookout Mountain, which the monument overlooks.
An inscription on the back of the slab detailed its discovery and historical significance. An informational sign next to the stone filled in the rest of the story. Although there is evidence that the gold seekers mentioned in the stone's inscription actually did head west (and then subsequently disappeared), some people have questioned the artifact's authenticity. But perhaps even more intriguing is the notion that if the entire tale is true, then somewhere out there a hidden cache of treasure may still be waiting.
The dogs weren't too interested in the Thoen Stone but they very much enjoyed the views surrounding us. Wintry countryside faded into distant pine trees. Maggie took some time to gleefully roll in the sunlit snow.
We enjoyed the scenery as the sun began to set. Eventually it was time to make our way back down the hill.
The return trip was quick and easy along the dry, snow-lined walkway. Soon we had made it to the gate and then back to the car. This had been a lovely little place to visit on a sunny winter day.
The short and simple walk up to the historic site would be suitable for dogs of all sizes and abilities. We actually spent more time atop the hill than walking up the path.
It had been an interesting and worthwhile stop. Admittedly, as we drove away I found myself wondering what did happen to that gold -a mystery that still remains unsolved.