Hunting has always been good in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Indians of the nearby plains knew this, so it was not unusual for a small hunting party to penetrate the pine forests in search of meat when game happened to be scarce on the prairies. It was such a Sioux hunting party, led by Chief Yellow Bear that moved deeply into the hills in 1865.
The party reached Whitewood Creek below Deadwood. To their surprise, they found that the water had been muddied.
Beavers could have sullied the ordinarily clear mountain stream. Beaver furs were worth finding, so they proceeded up the stream. They soon found that the discolored water was coming into Whitewood Creek from another stream now known as Deadwood Creek. As they investigated, they suddenly came upon seven men panning gold in the stream.
In the year 1865 the Black Hills were in Indian country, theirs by government treaty. White men had no right to be there at all. Stories differ as to what happened next. Some say that the Indians promptly began firing on the miners. Other stories insist that the whites fired the first shots.
In the initial exchange of gunfire, one Indian was killed and another was wounded. Chief Yellow Bear was enraged.
They have killed one of our people without reason, he cried. Now it will be war!
In the battle which followed, five miners were killed and the other two fled up Blacktail Gulch to the north and then followed False Bottom Creek to the foothills, where they managed to hole up on Lookout Mountain for a short time before continuing west.
Charles Clay, a Wyoming frontiers man who was employed at the trading post of an army camp east of the Big Horn Mountains, says that these two survivors escaped. Clay said that two Swedes speaking broken English arrived at the post in 1865, exhausted from their flight but still carrying their gold intact. The two were army deserters and were arrested as such and held at Fort Laramie, but were later released.
The Swedes said they had found their gold in the Big Horn Mountains and had accumulated $7,000 worth of nuggets and gold dust before being attacked by Indians. They spent the winter at Fort Laramie and in the spring they organized a new party with the addition of five new miners.
After entrusting their gold to Clay for safekeeping, they left for the Black Hills to find the cabin they had built there the previous year. They still insisted that they had found their gold in the Big Hornsa statement thought by the traders to be purposely misleading, to keep other prospectors from finding their diggings. Before leaving they did say they would be going first to the Black Hills.
Clay said the Swedes were never seen again.
According to Indian stories, the second party of seven Swedes went directly back to the original gold panning creek and set up operations. Here they were found by another group of Indians in 1866 and a fight began immediately. The white miners opened fire on seeing the Indians, killing a 17-year-old nephew of Sitting Bull and wounding another young warrior named American Horse.
Again the miners fled, taking their gold pokes with them. They ran up Blacktail Gulch to the north, as the first group had done, and followed False Bottom Creek to the foothills, where they managed to hide on Lookout Mountain for a short time.
The Indians followed them with no trouble and attacked again. As before, five white men were killed, but two escaped to the west, near the Sundance area. On a hill there the two built an impromptu fortress, though they fought valiantly for two days and nights, the Indians eventually killed both.
One version says that the miners managed to take their gold as far as Sundance Hill, where the Indians found it.
What is this heavy rock these men carry? is suggested as the question in the Indians minds as they pondered the gold bags. They should have known it was gold by 1866, surely, but may not have known its value. A young half-breed Indian, son of John Richards, Sr., proposed to take it to his brother, John Richards, Jr., who had studied in a white mans school, so the Sioux party took the gold to Wyoming.
A second version contends that the Indians sold the gold to the Hudsons Bay Company for $1,800, but does not state whether the gold was obtained at Sundance Hill or on Lookout Mountain.
The Indians story indicated that the sacks of gold were found with the five miners who were killed at Lookout Mountain. The Indians carried the gold only a short distance, they said, then abandoned it because it was so heavy. Their aim was to find the two fleeing miners, whom they caught in the Sundance area. They did not return to get the gold on Lookout Mountain.
In corroboration, various instances are cited which are supposed to uphold this story. The Black Hills Pioneer, in its New Years edition of 1882, published in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, mentioned that a tree was found near Gayville at the mouth of Blacktail Gulch which had been peppered with bullets. Near the tree a pit had been dug where a party may have tried to repel an Indian attack. In the same issue, Chief Black Crow of the Brule band of Sioux was quoted with a story that more than 20 winters previously (that would be 1862), the Oglala Sioux Chief Crazy Horse and a band of Cheyennes had killed white miners in Deadwood Gulch.
Robert H. Evans, while climbing Lookout Mountain in 1876 and 1877, is said to have found a gold pan and other placer mining equipment strewn on the side of the mountain, and later to have found a pistol of a design used by California forty-niners. Another person, unnamed, found a cap-and-ball six-shooter on Lookout Mountain, very rusted, which is surmised to have been used by the men killed on the mountain in 1866.
Chris Colome, an educated Indian after whom the town of Colome, South Dakota, was named, admitted that Sioux Indians found seven men mining gold in the northern Black Hills in early days, The white men fired on the Indians, killing one and wounding another. Two miners escaped but were later killed by the Indians.
A story published in an early Black Hills newspaper, the Black Hills Telegraphic Herald, in May 1878, relates that in 1877 two Frenchmen, L. E. Fevre and his brother were hunting near Sundance Wyoming. On top of a hill they found two human skeletons a hastily constructed breastworks was nearby which indicated a fight with Indians. A broken gun was found, together with a notebook that was weathered beyond legibility except for the figures 1-52.
The Frenchmen buried the skeletons. Some historians to the killing of the last two Swedes tie this story, but the figures 1-52 are interpreted by others to indicate the year 1852, which certainly would cancel any connection between the two parties of miners.
Also in 1877, Patrick McDermott found five graves in the Black Hills below present Deadwood, marked by crude crosses of aspen. The graves obviously were there before the big gold rush into Deadwood the year before, 1876.
Now all of this does not hang together. For instance, while evidence abounds that prospectors had been working in the Black Hills long before the 1876 gold rush, it is impossible to tie any one bullet-peppered tree to the story of the seven Swedes. Nor does a hole in a hillside necessarily mean that a pit was dug for protection against marauding Indians. If, as the stories go, the Indians surprised the miners on both occasions, there would have been no time for the digging of a protective pit in either case.
As for the gold pan and other equipment on Lookout Mountain, no group of frightened miners would have carried such a heavy burden up Blacktail Gulch, down False Bottom Creek and up the side of Lookout Mountain if a horde of bloodthirsty Indians were hot on their trail. The pistols, yesbut not mining equipment.
They might have carried their gold. It is, in fact, most probable that they would have carried their fortunes as far as possible, even with their lives depending upon escape.
Let us assume that the prospectors did get their gold as far as Lookout Mountain before abandoning it. If the Indians actually found it there, the Indians story is that they carried it only a short distance before abandoning it in their turn. If the gold got as far as the hill near Sundance and the Indians recognized its value, why would they have sold it to any fur trader?
The Indians in 1866 had little use for money. True, they were being assembled in reservations by that time, but even at the reservation agencies they were issued rations, not money.
It doesnt make too much sense to say they would have carried the gold to some other spot.
Frank Thomson, Spearfish historian, relates an incident in which he was talking to George Ackers, a part Sioux Indian, in 1925, Ackers said to Thomson, There is much gold hid over there, on that mountain. He pointed toward Lookout Mountain.
How do you know? Thomson asked.
A very old woman told me, said Ackers.
Ackers then related that the old woman was with a band of Indians who killed four white men with horses carrying gold many years before. The Indians buried the gold, not having any use for it.
So there you are. Is there gold on Lookout Mountain? Is it buried, or strewn among the rocks? Have the snows and rains of more than 100 years eliminated all possibility of its ever being found?
The gold could be there. It could be in a little pocket of earth, six feet under the surface by this time. Or it could be mixed with earth and pebbles near a protected area, where one might find it quite by accident.
At least we know where Lookout Mountain is. If the gold was really carried to an unidentified hill near Sundance, Wyoming, the possibilities of finding it are not encouraging.
But it could be on Lookout Mountain.