William Emery Adams was born in 1854 and moved to Deadwood at the age of 23 with his brother. Like most, Adams went looking for gold, but eventually teamed up with his brother to run the Banner grocery store. The store was destroyed, along with 299 other buildings in a fire in 1879. Undaunted, Adams and his brother rebuilt and Adams remained a successful businessman, serving as mayor for several terms over the course of his residency in Deadwood.
Convinced that a museum was necessary to preserve Deadwood’s past, Adams donated over $75,000 to construct the Adams Museum (54 Sherman St., 605/578-1714, www.adamsmuseumandhouse.org, May–Sept. daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Oct. Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., closed Sun., Nov.–Apr. Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., closed Sun.–Mon., suggested donation: adult $5, child $2) in honor of his first wife and two daughters.
W. E. Adams married Alice Burnham, from the nearby community of Fountain City, in 1880. Their daughter Lucile was born in 1884 and daughter Helen followed in 1892. Lucile died of typhoid in 1912. In 1925, Alice went to Pasadena, California, to assist Helen, who was about to give birth to their first grandchild. Alice, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, died unexpectedly while she was there. Distraught, Helen went into early labor and died the next day. The baby lived only a few hours. In the course of just 48 hours, W. E. Adams lost his entire family. He was grief-stricken.
Adams was to find happiness again, however. In 1927, he married his second wife, Mary Mastrovich Vicich. He was 73, and she was just 29. It was also in 1927 that a group of businessmen decided that a museum was needed to preserve the history of Deadwood. It was Mary who encouraged Adams to contribute to the project in honor of his first wife and his daughters. The museum was completed in 1930 and is considered to be the oldest museum in the Black Hills.
The museum has three floors of pioneer, mining, and Lakota artifacts; artwork; old photos; and maps and cultural items outlining Deadwood’s wild and diverse history. There are also artifacts left by some of the local town characters. Look for Wild Bill Hickok’s gun collection, and N. C. Wyeth pencil sketches of Wild Bill. A highlight on the main floor of the museum is the first steam train ever used in the Black Hills. Weighing in at about five tons, it makes for an impressive display. The controversial Thoen Stone (is it real or a hoax?) is also on display at the museum.
The Thoen Stone
In 1887, brothers Louis and Ivan Thoen were hauling building stone from the base of a mountain near Spearfish when they found a sandstone slab inscribed with a message. On one side of the stone was carved:
Came to these hills in 1833
seven of us
all dead but me Ezra Kind
killed by Ind beyond the high hill got our
gold June 1834
On the reverse:
Got all the gold we could carry
our ponies all got by Indians
I have lost my gun and nothing to eat
and Indians hunting me.
There is no controversy surrounding the idea that gold might have been found by someone before Custer announced its discovery in 1874. But the stone’s authenticity is questionable. After all, if you were weaponless, hungry, and being hunted, would you stop and carve a relatively long message into stone? And the men who found the carved message were, coincidentally, stone workers, who very well might think about inscribing a message in stone.
Researchers have been trying to determine if the Thoen Stone is a hoax or if it is real ever since its discovery. To date, research has determined that many of the men named on the stone did, in fact, head West in the 1830s and were never heard from again. And, apparently, it is possible to carve wet sandstone fairly easily with just a knife. So, perhaps this was the equivalent of a desperate miner’s last words. Or…perhaps not.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition