Thunder Butte

October 31, 2010

Halloween Trickery on the Prairie

Halloween historically has been more about tricks and pranks than about treats. Just imagine what it must have been like in days past when outhouse tipping was a common Halloween prank in the West River country. Envision stumbling out of your house or ranch shack late at night to use the john and to find the whole affair knocked over. If you were desperate, I imagine you would have just improvised, but with considerable aggravation.

My Dad doesn’t remember much about Halloween from the days when he lived around Thunder Butte. By the time he got to high school in Lemmon, it was – you guessed it – outhouse tipping that marked the haunted holiday.

Lucia Callis reported in Faith Country Heritage: 1910-1985 that:

“Halloween was a special time for little kids. We didn't do "trick or treat", but tried to scare elders with our jack-o-lanterns, and stay away from the big boys who were busy pushing over outhouses, and I think there was a buggy on the schoolhouse one year. I clearly remember one time when one was put right at the front door of the bank, with a sign "Make deposits here." My dad was furious, but mother thought it was very funny.”

But, there were a few other pranks played in times gone buy. In a poem published in 1917, W. E. Brown of Meade County recalls overturning board walks, the kind used for sidewalks in the old towns out on the prairie. Another Faith correspondent recalls soaping the variety store windows on Halloween as a prank.

In more recent times, as trick-or-treating has come into vogue, it isn’t always just the kids playing the tricks. Sometimes, for example, the weather can leave trickery and treachery for those wanting to venture out on Halloween night. Stu Surma mentions that sometime in the 1990’s, it snowed a couple of days before Halloween when he was living in Isabel. He plowed the 14 inches of snow, but there were huge windrows – piles of snow – left across people’s driveways that the little kids had trouble scaling as they attempted to go trick-or-treating that Halloween night.

Adults also get a kick out of playing tricks on the little ones on Halloween night. Stu says that Helen Brinkman was a long-time teacher in Isabel, northeast of Thunder Butte. Her house “was always a stop for the trick or treaters because being a grade school teacher everyone knew and liked her! It was cold one Halloween evening, so I was driving my two girls around to trick or treat. When we drove up to Helen's house there was a stuffed witch seated in a lawn chair all slumped over.” When Stu’s kids rang the doorbell, the witch straightened and said in her best “witchy” voice – “Can I help you?” It was Helen all dressed up as the witch – and that was plenty scary for a Halloween night on the prairie.

--Mike Crowley
Mike Crowley Sunday, October 31, 2010


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