Thunder Butte, in South Dakota, has featured prominently in my family's history since 1913. Also known as "Wakinyan Paha" to the Lakota, its religious and cultural significance to the Lakota goes back much further in time, still. Rising from the dry, rolling prairie grasslands in Ziebach County, in northwestern South Dakota, the butte is located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
From the top of the butte, you can see for miles in every direction. There are not many people here, although the land is alive with the memory of those who walked here before us. Taking in the quiet of the plains as they reach to the horizon, you can well imagine the way the world was before we were here, and what it may look like long after we have moved on.
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March 08, 2005
Ghost Lights on the Prairie
An important part of the Crowley family's folklore about life at Thunder Butte involves tales of the strange and unexpected things that happened there. A story from one winter's night, sometime during the mid to late-1930's, provides a good example.
Gene and one of his brothers were out checking the gate of the property. Some of the family members were away and expected back, but there were about two feet of snow on the ground, making travel across the prairie track virtually impossible. Suddenly, the boys saw two headlights approaching up the snow-covered road. They looked like the headlights seen on a Model T, an old Ford that was common in the country back at that time. They were a bit taken aback because the road was impassable. But, they waited patiently at the gate, expecting that someone-and perhaps their own family members-would need their assistance.
As the lights got closer, the boys became uneasy. They could hear no engine, but the silent headlamps kept approaching. Suddenly, as the headlamps neared the gate, they turned and headed out across the open, snow-covered prairie. Again, because of the depth of the snow, this was an impossibility. The boys stood by the gate and watched as the lights slowly receded into the distance and eventually disappeared down a draw.
The next morning, still thinking that someone must have been out driving in the snow and in need of help, the boys went out searching for the tracks. They found none on the road or where the lights had veered off into open country. No car had traveled that road the night before. To this day, there is no explanation for the ghost lights seen near Thunder Butte that night.
Mike Crowley Tuesday, March 08, 2005