Rich with history and littered with lore, ghost stories from South Dakota have risen from the oral traditions of the Lakota Sioux Indians who have inhabited much of the land for centuries. The majority of South Dakota urban legends evolved from weird Native American creatures and stories. Historic landmarks, ancient burial mounds, and otherworldly forests pepper the state’s terrain.
Much like urban myths from Arizona and various other states, South Dakota’s lore and horrors includes fabled beasts, real-life murders, evil entities on the hunt for souls, and more ghosts than one could ever possibly catalog. There’s even an urban legend about the infamous Jesse James jumping over an ridiculously wide ravine while evading capture. From the impossible to the spine chilling, this list explores some of the myths and ghost stories that make up creepy South Dakota.
The Gitchie Manitou is a nature preserve just southeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in the northwestern corner of Iowa that many believe is haunted. It has ancient Native American burial mounds, has witnessed the murders of four teens, and has been the site of the rape of an adolescent.
In November of 1973, five teens from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, went out camping in Gitchie Manitou. The unsuspecting group was sitting by a fire with some marijuana when suddenly, a shotgun went off. Roger Essem, 17, was killed instantly by brothers Allen, David, and James Fryer, who descended on the group, pretending to be cops. They separated the remaining three boys from the only girl, 13-year-old Sandra Cheskey, and placed the girl in the back of their truck.
Then, the Fryer brothers lined up Stewart Baade (15) with his little brother, Dana Baade (14) and friend, Michael Hadrath (15) and executed them. Cheskey was kept alive and raped by James Fryer. She later identified the attackers and testified against them. They were sentenced to life in prison but locals on both sides, Iowa and South Dakota, believe their heinous crimes still haunt the Gitchi Manitou.
The Dakota Sioux Native Americans once hunted in the forested ravines known as Sica Hollow - that is, until they realized it was haunted and put a warning in its name. Sica means ‘evil’ and there are several legends that have come out of this State Park.
It’s believed evil is steeped into every nook and cranny of this area, which is why the water runs red in the Sica Hollow springs - nevermind the mineral content, it’s pure evil. The path referred to as ‘The Trail of Spirits’ has bubbling red bogs and was believed by the Sioux to be the flesh and blood of their ancestors. Between all the red water, swamp gas, and tree stumps glowing in the dark, it’s no wonder they thought the place was evil. Perhaps they were right.
There was a rash of mysterious disappearances in the 1970s, paired with sightings of a half-man-half-beast similar to Bigfoot in those woods. Even today, visitors have claimed to see the spirits of Indians in addition to hearing voices, war cries, and chanting. Maybe those bogs really did consume the flesh and blood of the Sioux tribe’s ancestors.
The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has had an alarmingly high suicide rate amongst their youth and it’s believed an urban legend is responsible. The land is being stalked by an evil, ancient entity that takes on the form of “Walking Sam.” Like the “Tall Man,” “Slenderman,” and the long feared “Stick men,” this creature feeds on the living, infecting their minds and altering their thoughts.
In the case of Walking Sam, his evil bidding is collecting the souls of suicides so he doesn’t have to wander the earth alone. He convinces the already lost, depressed, or hormonal adolescents that they aren’t worthy of life and that they should end it. He stands around seven feet tall, has no mouth, and has gangly limbs. When his arms are outstretched, you can see the bodies of Lakota men and women hanging from them.
Since December of 2014, Pine Ridge has had 103 suicide attempts with nine people succeeding. The youngest was only 12 and the oldest was just 24. There have even been attempts at mass suicides on the grounds. Thankfully, church leader Pastor John Two Bulls discovered and prevented one of these plans from being carried out. He and a few other adults found a group of teenagers with nooses already hanging from the trees.
Another group of teens, all female, tried to carry out a similar plan but were stopped in time. Why are they doing it? Tribe leaders, clergymen, local mental health professionals, and law enforcement are scratching their heads. What, if not some great evil, is infecting the minds of so many young people in Pine Ridge? Is it poverty? Is it abuse? Or is it the creature kids call Walking Sam?
A famous ghost in Rapid City, South Dakota, is Hooky Jack. In life, his name was John Leary, but after a mining explosion in the 1800s, he lost both of his arms and one eye. His arms were replaced with hooks, hence the nickname Hooky Jack. He became a Rapid City police officer, but tragically died after being struck by a car in 1926. Now, his spirit is said to haunt his former residence, which has since been converted into a tavern.
According to legend, Hooky Jack lived on the third floor and can still be heard roaming up there today. Employees don’t even want to venture to that floor unless they absolutely must - many employees have even refused to work the closing shift alone. Voices, rattling, and eerie sounds can be heard upstairs at night.
Strange flashing lights and spirit orbs have been caught on the proprietor’s security footage. Multiple witnesses have seen chairs, tables, and the billiard balls moving around the table on their own. A few bartenders claim to have seen a figure sit at the end of the bar out of the corner of their eye, only to look up and realize there’s no one there.