South Dakota

Thoen Stone Investigated Part 2

Would a frantic survivor attempting to hide from his pursuers, pause, and then take the time to write a message on a piece of stone?
Thoen Stone
Thoen Stone
Also see part one and part three

Would a frantic survivor of a deadly Indian attack, without his gun, starving, attempting to hide from his pursuers, pause, and then take the time to sculpt on a piece of stone the names of his six dead comrades and then compose a short message detailing their fate?

This question, among many others, is often asked by those who are introduced to the mysteries of the Thoen Stone. Is the Thoen Stone real, or is it a fake?

We will now look at the questions posed in the first article of this series and evaluate each one applying basic logic and common sense, and reviewing the information and data that is available.
In his book, The Thoen Stone, Frank Thomson does an admirable job of tracking down some of the families that seem to validate the authenticity of the names inscribed on the stone. The possible background of “Indian Crow” is particularly interesting. Thomson assumed that this person was a Crow Indian who under some arrangement was included in the mining party. Using some wonderful insight and intuition, Thomson presents a plausible case that “Indian Crow” and “Wm. King” were from Lumpkin County, Georgia, which had been an area of lucrative gold mining since 1828 (thereby accounting for their mining expertise—“all the gold they could carry”) . At the time of Thomson’s publication (1950s), members of the Crow and King families still lived in the area and supplied anecdotal support to Thomson’s argument. Further support might be supplied by the argument that a forger is not likely to use real names that could be checked.

What about the text of the message? That is, do the spelling and language, and the arrangement of the text give one confidence that the Stone is authentic? Does the message seem spontaneous or carefully composed (as one might find in a hoax)? And finally, does the content of the message make sense, free of internal contradictions?
The misspellings are minimal ( ded instead of dead; hav instead of have). And the grammar is what one might easily expect from a frontiersman in 1833, whether on the run from Indians or not. We feel that the spelling and language prove nothing; they could easily be the product Ezra Kind or the result of a clever hoax.

The arrangement of the names and the text on the surface of the stone does indeed have an air of spontaneity. The message is really a simple narrative. Mainstreetmoments would argue that the side written first is the one containing the names, date and author. After all, this is really the essential information and provides a testament to his comrades’ fate. After that was done, the author found room to add “all ded but me…” And then came the reverse side, “Got all of the gold… “We have no idea how long Kind was in hiding. Side two could have been written immediately, a day later, or a week later. There is no evidence of a carefully crafted hoax apparent within the structure of the message itself.

One of the reasons that the Thoen find attracts attention by historians writing about the American West is that it is often pointed to as being the first evidence of non-Indians prospecting for gold in the Black Hills. After all, 1833 is some forty years before Custer arrives on the scene. In The Thoen Stone, Thomson provides numerous claims of relics and artifacts being found in the Deadwood and Lead area. That suggests that there were several prospecting efforts in the area in the early 1800s. The Thoen Stone invites scrutiny because it is a written message with a date! But, it is likely that the Kind party was not the first white mining effort in the area.

The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the stone seem quit straight forward and believable. There is nothing in the account of the Thoen brothers’ discovery and its subsequent display at the John Cashner store in Spearfish that appears suspicious. Thomson was able to interview descendents of Louis Thoen and their recollections of events surrounding the stone ring true. It appears that if fraud was in the works that the message would have to have been fabricated before the discovery. That is, it would have created by someone and then planted in the creek bed near Spearfish in the hope that it would eventually be found. That seems unlikely, but not out of the question. (The fraudulent “Drake’s Plate” was planted in a road ditch in Marin County, California and was much later “discovered.”) However, Mainstreetmonents feels confident that the Thoen’s were not part of any hoax.

The image of Kind desperately hiding from Indians and then taking time to sculpt the message in stone is a credibility issue for many. Ezra Kind is on the run, without a gun, without a horse, and starving. So he takes the time to etch a message in stone! Part three of this series confronts this problem and by virtue of an actual experiment, Mainstreetmoments attempts to shed some light on the matter.

Where is all the gold? The reverse side of the stone states that they “Got all the gold we could carry.” But, how much gold was there? Here is where it is interesting to try interpreting the actual content of the message. The message reads: “Got all the gold we could carry our ponys all got by the Indians.” One could read that message in at least two ways. Consider:
"We had all the gold we could transport but the Indians got our ponys."
"We got all the gold we could carry after the Indians got our ponys."

In the first construction we could visualize horses laden with sacks of gold that were seized by Indians and the great treasure ends up scattered over the Great Plains.
In the second case the picture is one of desperate miners, without horses, trying to carry as much gold as possible in their packs or on their backs. This might result in smaller amounts of the treasure being deposited near long-lost skeletons of the seven miners, or perhaps strewn among old Indian camp sites. (It remains unclear among historians as to whether certain tribes of Plains Indians recognized the value of gold in the early 1800s.)
At any rate, Mainstreetmoments does not believe that, if the specifics of this story are true, the Kind party’s gold is buried at some intriguing site waiting to be found by a lucky treasure hunter.

In part three we will reveal the results of our experiment and give our opinion on the authenticity of this tale.

Read more about the Thoen Stone find in our first article of this series.

Author: EVM STAFF on 03/02 2011
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