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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.

The Land

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 ago.

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 ridges.

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.

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