Feel the fall in South Dakota

by Austin Kaus on October 8, 2015 · 0 comments

“My favorite color is October.” – Unknown

     October is my month. It’s the perfect excuse for some of my favorite activities: decorating the yard in order to scare strangers, watching cheesy horror movies that make my wife question her marriage and, of course, watching my beloved South Dakota change colors. In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d whip up a list of beautiful and/or scary places to check out in SD.

1) Absorb the mystery of Sica Hollow State Park (15 miles northwest of Sisseton)


     Legend has it that the Native Americans named this area “Sica” (prounounced “she-cha”) which means “evil” or “bad” and, probably, “not a place we should hang out for very long.” There are a few reasons why early visitors may have been on edge. Streams appear to be flowing “blood red” because of iron deposits, which led the Sioux to believe they were seeing the flesh and blood of their ancestors. The phosphorous in the rotting tree stumps can make the wood appear to be glowing green. In recent years, visitors have reported hearing drums or war whoops, spotting distant campfires that can never be found, or seeing a bear/Bigfoot type creature or ghosts of Indian braves.

     The history and legends of Sica Hollow make it a must-camp space for those looking for intrigue and adventure. It’s also an amazing place to experience fall colors. If you’re looking for a South Dakota outdoors spot to get in the Halloween mood, I can’t think of a better place. I do, however, have some other suggestions.

2) Fish for a ghost at Pactola Lake


     The town of Pactola became Pactola Lake in the 1950s when the mining town was submerged in water. That makes it a ghost town, but one report says there is a ghost on the lake as well…and he likes to fish.

     According to a story by Bob Willis in the Jan 20, 1984 issue of the Rapid City Journal, there was once a man who fished Rapid Creek almost every day. He went mad for reasons unknown (South Dakota winters aren’t for the weak) and died one day after falling through the ice. His body was recovered in the spring and buried properly, but reports started coming in of the “mad Pactola fisherman” who was always fishing with a smile on his face. People spotted the ghost fishing for trout up and down Rapid Creek. He reportedly looked so lifelike that one might not even know he was a ghost, However, if he caught a fish, it mysteriously never had a hook mark in the lip.

     Things got weirder. Fisherman started reporting that their ice fishing lines would be torn away before suddenly going limp. (Yeah, uh, me too. GHOSTS ARE EVERYWHERE.) Also, people would report cracking on the lake “almost as if something or someone were down there trying to get out.”

     Skeptics could easily dismiss the cracking and line pulls as part of ice fishing, but the legend says that if someone bores a hole in the ice that’s large enough for a man to fit through, the cracking stops. When the hole freezes over, the cracking begins again as the “Pactola Fisherman” starts trying to escape from under the ice.

     Are the legends of the Pactola Fisherman true? There’s only one way to find out. (Pick up your fishing license online here.)

3) Take a tour of the “haunted” Fort Sisseton


     The site of this 1864 fort was chosen because of its location, ample supply of lime and clay (for making bricks), abundant drinking water and a thick stand of trees for timber and fuel. Some believe the ghosts of soldiers stationed here still haunt the area. It’s a legend workers embrace by giving Haunted Fort tours every October. All that’s required for entry is a state park entrance license (which can be purchased here), but interested parties must RSVP at (605) 448-5474 or at fortsisseton@state.sd.us. For more information, click here.

4) Meet some ghostly residents at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood


     Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock are all buried in one of South Dakota’s most beautiful and mystical cemeteries. The hillside place of rest is also home to, according to the cemetery’s website, “western legends, murderers, madams and pillars of Deadwood’s early economic development.” Will you see a ghost during your visit? No guarantees. However, the eerie feeling once you set foot in the cemetery is undeniable. Bonus: Seth Bullock’s grave is more than 750 feet away from the main grounds, so you can get a nice short hike in during your visit.

5) Check out the other Halloween events in South Dakota


     Want to check out this weekend’s Spirits of the Forest at Good Earth State Park? How about a pumpkin festival or a corn maze? Whatever you’re looking for, TravelSouthDakota.com has a great list of events for people unafraid of a little outdoor fun.

     Happy October!

Leave a Comment