On March 14, 1887, a sandstone slab with a message was found by an old Indian trail near Spearfish, South Dakota. Carved in cursive script it reads:
Came to these hills in 1833 seven of us
All dead but me, Ezra Kind. Killed by Indians beyond the high hill. Got our gold June 1834.
The inscription on the back: Got all the gold we could carry. Our ponies all got by the Indians. I have lost my gun and nothing to eat and Indians hunting me.
This stone tablet is now in the Adams Museum in Deadwood (also displayed is a six-inch gold nugget found in 1929). It was reportedly found by Norwegian immigrant brothers Louis and Ivan Thoen searching for building material on the west face of Lookout Mountain. The validation for the sandstone's message is found in the book, The Thoen Stone: A Saga of the Black Hills, by historian Frank Thomson. Some argue that a man without a gun and hunted by Indians would not take time to write a message. Others say a man without hope would want to tell the world what happened to his group after a year of searching for gold.
If Ezra Kind had successfully traveled out of the Black Hills with the large quantity of gold, as written in stone, western South Dakota would have been flooded with miners prior to the 1849 California Rush. The Thoen Stone message precedes Custer's 1874 report of gold by forty years. Noted Jesuit priest Father DeSmet stated that he repeatedly saw gold dust in the possession of Sioux Indians who got it in the Black Hills--and there was plenty of it. He was in the Hills off-and-on from 1848 until 1870. Dr. McGillycuddy came with a military exploration in 1875 and found a cave with rusted mining tools and a pair of spectacles. He also saw two decaying log cabins, indicating the presence of earlier miners.
Gold was known to the Sioux and Cheyenne, but it had no value among them. However traders were glad to exchange goods for the yellow nuggets and dust. The Cheyenne tribe, as first occupiers of western South Dakota, avoided venturing far into the Black Hills, fearing Thunder Beings. This lack of a strong Indian presence allowed the party of seven miners to pan gold for a year without being discovered. Around 1834 the Sioux and Cheyenne were at war and during this time Indian bands roamed the Hills further than before and discovered the party of miners. Prospectors usually kept their gold in a small, rounded pouch called a "poke". Because the poke was bulky and heavy, miners usually melted gold pieces into coins; bars for large amounts. Stagecoaches leaving Custer to Wyoming often carried bars through Red Canyon, but with a heavy guard. The U. S. economic crisis of 1874 caused thousands of fortune-seekers to come to Custer for riches.
The gold poke on the previous page came from a Northern Cheyenne family, married into a Sioux band. It is said this pouch was used to carry gold dust "mined from the miners". Its shape was copied from a poke stolen from a miner and constructed Indian-fashion. The bag is of brain-tanned, smoked buckskin and beaded with a white background. Rather than a traditional Cheyenne geometric design, the maker depicted five gold nugget shapes using small, yellow cut beads which glitter in sunlight. The lower portion on the back is rubbed with yellow ochre to symbolize the color of gold. The sinew-sewn seam of the poke is beaded with metallic, silver beads to preclude gold dust from leaking. A double drawstring is used to firmly bind the opening and small fringing decorates the top.
In addition to the gold poke, the Lakota family inherited a beaded pouch, captured from an enemy tribe and converted it into a bag for making arrows. Although many Sioux and Cheyenne owned guns, often the ammunition was not available so bows and arrows were often used. This pouch may be connected to an arrow used in the Red Canyon Massacre.
From the same source as the poke and arrow pouch is a hair lock with blonde, wavy hair. The attached card says it was purchased by "Mrs. Smaltz, Dakota, Hot Springs." She is known to have visited during the early days of Hot Springs to find a place for Civil War veterans. Eighteen wounded soldiers had been brought to the town and all but one improved due to the healing water and, given more time, this veteran was believed could improve. During her stay, she bought a blonde hair lock and artifacts from the nearby reservation for a museum near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, known for its Civil War connection. When this museum closed, its collection was sold and items were attempted to be returned to the Smaltz family. Lacking success, the hairpiece was given to a Sioux family who often came to Pennsylvania to perform dances.
The hair lock is believed to connect with the Metz Massacre, also called the Red Canyon Massacre, sold in Hot Springs before statehood. The purchase tag reads "Made by Sioux Indians". It is a rare piece since it was not considered courageous to kill a woman when bravery was important to the Sioux. However, Crazy Horse killed a woman in his early years, when challenged after undergoing a Thunder Being ceremony,
This blonde hair lock is shown for comparison next to a black, braided hair discovered in an abandoned cabin on the reservation. It compares with the woman's hair piece in construction with a bead at the top, dedicated to the Thunder Being, and ochre-colored buckskin ties. The difference is the woman's hair has spiral beading to hold it in place, whereas the man's piece was removed with buckskin folded over and colored. The woman's hair was not taken as a war trophy, but as a sign of vengeance.
THE METZ or RED CANYON MASSACRE
In spring of 1876, Mr. and Mrs. Metz, their black cook named Rachel Briggs and wagon driver Simpson were violently killed in Red Canyon. Metz was a baker from Laramie who came to Custer during the gold rush. When a richer gold strike was discovered near Deadwood, the population of Custer dropped from 10,000 to several hundred. Rather than join the crowd further north, Metz sold his bakery for $2,000, probably in gold, and on April 16 headed back to Laramie, Wyoming. He could have joined a party traveling the next day to the south through Red Canyon for safety, but was likely concerned about the weather--and needed to get back to earning a living.
Red Canyon is about eight miles long, north of the present-day town of Edgemont. Much of the road runs beside a sandstone wall showing Indian petroglyphs carved by early Indians. The party of four stopped to eat and rest horses by a nearby creek, shown below. The next day freighters found the group mutilated: Metz shot three times and lying by a wagon, Simpson dead half a mile back toward Custer, Mrs. Metz shot through the heart further away and the maid discovered days later in a ravine with an arrow in her back. The women had been "ravished" and contents of trunks and boxes scattered.
In the April, 2014, Wild West magazine, historian Paul Hedren narrates the events of the Metz Massacre on pages 46-51. He points to horse thief, Persimmon Bill Chambers, with the help of Indian companions, as those responsible. In Crazy Horse, a Lakota Life, author Kingsley Bray on pages 200-1 writes that Crazy Horse came from a meeting with the Cheyenne tribe, asking them to join him in fighting incoming white miners, and headed to French Creek gold diggings where he encountered the Metz party. Both articles point to Indian involvement due to the killing of the black cook with an arrow and indicate this was more than a robbery.
The cook and teamster were buried where they fell. Mr. and Mrs. Metz were buried ten miles away near a stage station, then reburied near Omaha with a stone reading "Killed by Indians in Red Canyon".
The Cheyenne beaded poke, arrow maker's bundle and woman's hair add to the mystery, challenge and excitement of finding and keeping gold found in the Black Hills.
c. Larry Belitz, Plains Indian Material Culture Consultant, April 2014