Exploring American Monsters: South Dakota

South Dakota is a state in the Midwestern U.S. It’s the seventeenth largest of the United States, but the fifth least populated. Famous residents include TV game show host Bob Barker, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, TV journalist Tom Brokaw, and Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd. It’s also home to Wall Drug Store. Located on the edge of the Badlands in the town of Wall, people as far away as France, Afghanistan, Australia, and Antarctica (mostly a few hundred bored climate scientists) know how many miles they are from this tourist destination.

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The store that originally attracted travelers with free water as far back as 1930s has more than 3,000 signs around the world. If you haven’t seen one, you haven’t looked very hard. The state’s rolling plains to the east are covered in fields and ranches, eventually giving way to the stark beauty of the Badlands, and the Black Hills. The Black Hills aren’t really hills; they comprise a low mountain range that features the carvings of four U.S. presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt), and the partially completed Crazy Horse Memorial. A large pocket of mammoth remains was discovered near the city of Hot Springs in 1974. Although there are no more mammoths tromping through South Dakota (maybe), there could be dinosaurs.

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Living Dinosaurs

Living fossils may still roam South Dakota. In 1934, a large dinosaur-like creature lumbered onto a road near Lake Campbell in eastern South Dakota forcing a farmer to swerve his tractor to miss it, causing the farmer to drive the tractor into a ditch. When the farmer came back with help, people discovered a trail of unidentifiable tracks from a large, four-legged beast that went through a muddy field, and toward the lake. Before this sighting livestock had been mysteriously disappearing from the area. Unfortunately there was no follow-up to this story.

However, if you want to see a dinosaur in South Dakota, swing on over to Wall Drug for a mechanical Tyrannosaurus rex that pushes its head from a patch of palms, then roars.

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Taku-He

The Taku-He is South Dakota’s Bigfoot. Although this beast fits the typical physical description of a Bigfoot as a smelly hair-covered giant, the Taku-He has a worse attitude than most Bigfoot, and may also be a snappy dresser. Some people have reported seeing the tall, hairy, ape-like creature wearing a coat and tall hat.

Although there were Taku-He reports from early in the 1970s (specifically on 6 September 1974 near Jefferson, South Dakota, when a man saw a Bigfoot dragging a dead animal through an alfalfa field), sightings of the South Dakota Bigfoot increased dramatically in 1977.

In September of that year, ranch hands near Little Eagle saw a big gorilla watch them run cattle. When the men approached the creature, it ran away. The encounters didn’t stop there. More than twenty-five reports came from the area around Little Eagle in the next three months. Some of the encounters put the Taku-He in the vicinity of mutilated livestock that’s genitals had been removed, and the animals drained of blood.

The Little Devils of Spirit Mound

In the southeast corner of South Dakota is a 1,280-foot tall, 320-acre hill that is the highest point on Great Plains in a 100-mile radius. The Sioux, Omaha, and Otoes Indians revered, and feared the Spirit Mound believing “Little Devils” dwelled within. The devils, eighteen-inch-tall little people, hated humankind. One legend has hundreds of Indian warriors attacking the Little Devils’ home on the mound. The diminutive creatures slaughtered the war party with magical arrows.

During their historic westward expedition, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark visited the mound to look for the Little Devils. Lewis, Clark, and ten others from the expedition traveled three hours from their camp by the Missouri River to Spirit Mound.

“This Mound is Situated on an elevated plain in a leavel and extensive prarie,” Clark wrote in his journal (grammatical and spelling errors are Clark’s). “The base of the Mound is a regular parallelogram. … The reagular form of this hill would in Some measure justify a belief that it owed its Orrigin to the hand of man; but as the earth and loos pebbles and other Substances of which it was Composed, bare an exact resemblance to the Steep Ground which border on the Creek in its neighbourhood we Concluded it was most probably the production of nature–.”

Sergeant John Ordway’s journal revealed that although the party “found none of the little people,” they discovered “several holes in the ground” which were large enough for the Little Devils to hide in.

Today the Spirit Mound is a state park covered in native prairie grass.

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Banshee of the Badlands

The Badlands of South Dakota open from seemingly nowhere. The rolling plains of the rest of the state suddenly give way to a dramatic series of spires and canyons dotted by bighorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs. Fossils are commonly found in this ancient seabed, the strata as easily visible as the layers of a cake.

Something lonely roams this desolate area in the southwest part of the state, specifically around a butte known as Watch Dog. Called the Banshee, the shriek of this entity pierces the soul of anyone who hears it. The creature looks like a woman, but anyone who sees it knows it is no woman. The scream pierces the night and has terrified travelers, cowboys, and immigrants for the past century and a half.

A banshee is a creature of Irish folklore that’s scream predicates the death of someone in the family. Why one would be in the middle of America is anyone’s guess.

An artist’s illustration of the Kampeska monster of the 1880. (Illustration by Tim Keller)

An artist’s illustration of the Kampeska monster of the 1880. (Illustration by Tim Keller)

Lake Kampeska Monster

In 1888, a group having a picnic at Lake Kampeska in eastern South Dakota, were surprised when a monster broke the surface of the water, and ruined a perfectly good lunch. The lizard-like creature was at least 200 feet long, according to the witnesses. The beast had a thirty-foot-long fluked tail, and a “crested head as large as a yearling calf,” they reported to the Watertown Public Opinion newspaper. The monster was covered in scales.

“Opening its awful jaws (it) uttered the most unearthly laugh that ever broke on mortal ears,” one witness told the Public Opinion. The picnickers, all well educated and sure of what they saw, left everything on the lakeshore and hurried home.

Although this was the biggest sighting of the monster in this 5,250-acre inland glacial lake, people aboard an excursion boat saw something similar on the lake two years before, according to South Dakota Magazine.

Two-Faced Monster

American Indian mothers spoke of the Two-Faced Monster in sharp tones to keep their children close when the sun went down. The monster would nab over-confident children, or in some cases pregnant women, and stab them to death with its knife-like elbows.

The Plains, Sioux, Lakota, and Omaha Indians all have legends of the Two-Faced Monster. Lakota legends claim Two-Face was once a beautiful woman who tried to seduce the god of the sun, and was given two faces as punishment – one beautiful, one disfigured and ugly. Anyone who sees both faces of this monster dies instantly. Or so the stories go.

Next up: Tennessee.