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
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October 29, 2010

A Spooky Name for a Local Waterway

With Halloween approaching, it’s the time of year when some might start wondering about a certain stream just south of Faith called "Spook Creek" – and how it came to be called that. Was it someone’s ghostly encounter that led to this name? Did someone see something in the nighttime gloom that gave them a fright? Or, was it something more mundane?

Writing some years ago in a 1985 area history book, Faith Country Heritage: 1910-1985, J. Maynard Jonas tells a gruesome little tale about the stream involving an unfriendly encounter between members of the Fox and Lakota tribes:

“There was a large hunting party of the Fox Tribe Indians on a buffalo hunt into Sioux Territory. The battle started near the Arrow Head hills. The Sioux drove the Fox hunters southwest, killing them as they could. The big battle took place about where Faith is now. A number of the Fox Indians were caught in the timber on Spook Creek near the north end of present Durkee Lake. All were killed and their bodies tied to trees along the creek where they hung for many years. Anyone riding there saw the skeletons and was plenty spooked! None of the Fox hunters were ever buried, as none of the hunting party survived. All bodies were left where they fell and for many years the bleached bones of the hunters could be seen. The old Lakota name was Wakan Wakpa or Spirit Creek.”

But, there is more than one story about how the creek got its name. The same book includes an anonymous narrative about two brothers, Hans and Henry Boke, who arrived in the area to establish a ranch in 1897. According to the story:

“The boys had little experience in branding cattle when they first arrived. Their branding irons burned too deeply. As a result, a range rider would often come across a letter B, or an 0, or a K on the prairie. That gave him an eerie feeling. The creek nearby came to be called Spook Creek and the Boke brothers, the Spook brothers.”

I don’t know whether either story is true or not. Perhaps there are other stories about the creek and its interesting name that are worth repeating. You can let me know by leaving a comment below!

--Mike Crowley

Editors Note—Spook Creek was dammed just south of Faith in the 1930’s. Today, Durkee Lake is an important local recreational and fishing spot and provides the town of Faith with much of its water supply.
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October 02, 2010

He Hang Glided From the Butte

I have always attempted to do honor to all things “Thunder Butte” on this blog, so it is appropriate to mention the life of a man who jumped off the butte, flew away into the air, and lived to tell about it. Donald Dunn was born in Bison in 1942 and grew up on a ranch southeast of Coal Springs. He raised a family and passed away suddenly near Meadow at the age of 68. According to the obituary that ran in the Mobridge Tribune last month:

“Aviation was Donald's lifelong passion. Over the years he owned and piloted numerous airplanes, a hot air balloon, an experimental ultra-light aircraft, and accumulated many ‘project fuselages.’ He thrilled his passengers with hammerhead and dive bomb stunts and could land anywhere. He astounded friends by hang gliding off of Thunder Butte. He often went "airport bumming," visiting airports to watch the airplanes and swap stories with other pilots.”

Stu Surma mentioned to me that “about twenty years ago, he brought his hot air balloon to the Isabel Rodeo Arena. Just before the rodeo, he fired it up and went floating off to the southwest. It was just beautiful.”

I have to admit that it would never occur to me to hang glide off of Thunder Butte. Our Native American friends consider it a sacred place, and it is quiet – almost like a church – up there. It’s a good place to go meditate. So, it does take quite some imagination and perhaps a mischievous streak to think of using the butte as the launching point for an ultralight aircraft. Because the sides of the butte are mostly gentle slopes, too, you wouldn’t have much margin for error to avoid slamming into the ground. And, you would need a really good wind. Donald had the wind when he jumped that day. One likes to think that he’s now on his second wind.

--Mike Crowley
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