A Short History of the Black Hills
When my grandfather, Troy L. Parker first came to the Black Hills
in 1907, he may have seen Palmer Gulch in its pristine state, much
like the photograph above. The Black Hills had been explored, settled
by miners and cowboys and exploited by businessmen. But it was not
always so. Geologically ancient, the land was home to the Lakota
spirits, the eagle and the bison, and not much else.
Millions of years ago, when the earth was young and plastic, a huge bubble
began to form in the spot we now call the Black Hills. It rose up
out of the plains, perhaps six or eight thousand feet above the
surrounding level, covering an area about a hundred miles long and
seventy-five wide, pushing up silt, soil and the underlying limestone
with a huge fist of primeval basalt. Somehow the blow fell short,
and instead of breaking through, the huge bubble slowly froze into
a massive mound, a single giant mountain thrust towards the heavens
by the powers of the inner earth.
The tremendous forces that pushed up this bubble of earth and stone
did other things. Strange and rare mineral were brought near the
surface, or formed in the compressed and super-heated rock. Iron,
tin, silver, gold, quartz and spar - that which was in the earth,
or could be formed there by time, force, and fire was laid down
throughout the mountain and then, slowly, the mass cooled, and the
rains came upon it.
At the first the soil was washed away, torn away and sent in whirling,
muddy torrents down the rivers to the sea. In the southeastern Hills,
and above all in the Badlands, one can see what must have taken
place as the soil of the smoothly-rounded mountain was cut into
canyons, pinnacles, and in the end to nothing.
The underlying limestone was soon exposed to the force of the rain.
Most of this stone was washed away, in the millions of years that
the water fell and flowed upon its surface, until now only a circle
of limestone remains, girdling the Black Hills like a belt of marble.
It is being seamed and quarried, riven and torn by the rains that
some day will level it all. this limestone area, particularly in
the northern and western Hills, is a fascinating study - the eroded
blocks, the deep canyons, the many caves, all are evidence that
billions of gallons of water, acting over countless ages, have cut
and are still cutting the stone that was forced up so very long
With the soil removed and the limestone pared away to a ring of
foothills, the lowest layer, the central granite, was exposed to
the air and water. No longer was there a level surface on which
the fingers of the rain could pluck and pull at will. The face of
the mountain was now seamed and cut, and the flow of the water channeled
into valleys, so the work of the rain moved more slowly, cutting
deeply in the ravines, but scarcely touching the higher hills and
Still the rain cut and chewed at the mountain, now with all its
rocky layers exposed. The water swept new earth from the mountain
tops, and gold from the mountain caverns, into the slowly-widening
valleys. Whole mountains were slowly cut away, to bring a treasure
in minerals to the surface of the hills, And the winds blew upon
the mountains which now stood in the place of that first great mound,
and carved the ageless granite into an ever wilder fantasy.
There the Black Hills stand today, raised toward the heavens by
the forces of earth and slowly returning to earth under the relentless
grinding of wind and rain. As you see them now, the Hills, are a
massive area of wildly eroded granite, huge peaks sheltering narrow,
winding valleys, the whole surrounded by a ring of carved and canyoned
limestone, and covered with a dark carpet of pine forest, from which
the Black Hills takes its name.