When most people think of treasure hunting, they think of shipwrecked troves, ancient pyramids, and maybe even Nicholas Cage. But, if Sheridan residents were to do a little digging, they might find a lode of gold hidden somewhere in the Bighorns.
No one is sure if the lost gold is a matter of fact or fiction, and one telling of the story may differ from another, but the many variations of the story have certain details in common with each other.
According to most accounts about the Bighorn lode, a group of seven Swedes made their way to the Bighorns from the Black Hills and decided to make camp by a stream. While camped, one of the Swedes walked over to the stream to collect some water and noticed yellow flecks in the bed. He scooped some up to inspect it further and, upon doing so, realized it was gold.
The man called his colleagues to the site, and the seven of them decided to explore the stream the next day. The stream revealed a vein of gold worth more money than the Swedes had ever dreamed of. They built a cabin and spent the following days mining gold from the stream.
Unfortunately for the Swedes, a band of Indians spotted the group working in the stream and attacked.
From here, the stories begin to diverge. The majority of the accounts say that two of the Swedes survived the attack and sought refuge at Fort Reno. In some versions, one of the miners led an expedition back to the Bighorns to recover the lost lode and was killed by a second skirmish in the mountains. But, almost every version of the story depicts one of the miners—the last survivor— suffering a breakdown after the death of his peers and mumbling incoherent sentences about gold and Indians for the rest of his life.
An artifact found near Spearfish, South Dakota, known as the Thoen Stone, is sometimes linked to the ‘lone survivor’ story. The stone, found in 1887 by Louis Thoen, is inscribed with the following message:
“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.
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.”
Although none of the seven names are Swedish, research by Frank Thomson in the 1950s revealed that the names were those of real people who disappeared while prospecting in the West.
Whether or not that party found gold in the Bighorns—or even found gold in the Black Hills—is a matter of speculation. People have searched for the lost mine in both locations and, for now, have turned up with nothing.
But, that doesn’t mean it’s not out there. Sometimes, the best things take a little bit of digging.