The Tower was an object of curiosity to early white explorers. Although fur traders and others probably saw the gigantic formation, no records survive to confirm this suspicion. Lieutenant G. K. Warren’s expedition of 1855 passed through the Black Hills en route from Fort Laramie to Fort Pierre; it is unlikely they were close enough to see the Tower. In 1857, Warren, accompanied by Dr. F. V. Hayden and others, started from Fort Laramie to explore the Black Hills and then, returned to the Missouri via the Niobrara River. At Inyan Kara, they met a large party of Sioux who threatened to attack if they attempted to advance farther.
While there Warren reported seeing the "Bear's Lodge" and "Little Missouri Buttes" to the north through a powerful spyglass. It is not known if he was referring to the Bear Lodge Mountains or to the Tower itself. The explorers retraced their route 40 miles and took another route eastward instead of the one originally planned. Captain W. F. Raynolds' Yellowstone Expedition passed through the Black Hills region two years later. His topographer, J. T. Hutton, and the Sioux interpreter, Zephyr Recontre, reached the Tower on July 20 and returned to the expedition's camp on the Little Missouri River. Despite being in the region, neither Warren nor Raynolds left descriptions of the formation.