Driving along the flatlands of South Dakota is about the last place you’d expect to see valleys, hollows, and hills, but in the northeast corner of the state where the Prairie Coteau Hills run, is the vastly mysterious state park known as Sica Hollow. Sica Hollow (pronounced she-cha) State Park is hidden away, between Lake City and the ghost town Hill Head, like the myths and legends that haunt her wooded boundaries.
Traveling along narrow paved roads, passing quaint farmhouses with yard full of old farm machinery, the Hollow is an amazing sight as you descend towards the rivers. Densely wooded with tall maple and linden trees along with an abundance of forest-floor plants, the Hollow is a magical sight. Name Sica, meaning bad or evil, by the Dakota Tribes of the area, Sica Hollow is a place that captures the imagination of anyone who sets foot inside.
The babbling streams that have reddish tinted water, the reports of drumming sounds and chanting at night, and the reports of strange glowing lights within the Hollow have always kept the haunted rumors alive. What actually happened at Sica Hollow to create all of these myths and legends? Is the place actual haunted or are the stories simply legend designed to attract people to the Hollow? Having hiked on the Trail of Spirits that meanders through the Hollow, I can attest that the haunting beauty of Sica Hollow will stick with a person forever, but there is more to the story than just the natural beauty of a State Park.
Native legend told of a stranger named Hand who entered the Hollow one winter. The Hollow was the perfect place to winter, as the trees and hills protected the Natives from the cold prairie winds and snow while her trees were a perfect place to obtain fresh meat over the winter. Hand wasn’t like the other Natives, didn’t give thanks or show gratitude for the bounty that Mother Earth provided. He took without concern and it was decided in council that he would be banished from the Hollow once the weather turned warm.
Hand spoke to the young boys of the tribe, convinced them to turn their backs on the old ways and to take what they wanted instead of paying their dues like the generations who’d come before them had done. The Elders of the tribe prayed and after much bloodshed, Hand was destroyed by Thunderer, a god the tribe prayed would help them.
Is the water in the Hollow red due to all the blood spilled by Hand? Is the chanting heard at night the sounds of the Elders praying for help? Or is the lights seen in the sky Thunderer coming to make sure no one like Hand ever harms the Hollow again? Throughout the Hollow, mounds of dirt rise up between the trees where no animal will go. Are these the grounds of those who fell at Hand’s hands?
Robert Roi was the first white to make his home near the Hollow in 1841. He found the area to be a perfect place to live due to the abundant game that was in the area. Roi built his home in a deep ravine but all the Natives thought him to be crazy for building a home in an area that they would not dare set foot in. Only a fool would build his house on haunted, cursed grounds.
Years passed and eventually an expedition of soldiers from nearby Browns Valley Minnesota set out with the intent of gathering strategic information about the area. They wanted to find Robert Roi and determine what he knew about the area, if he had any information that would prove to be useful for them. After a few days of searching the troops finally found Roi and after speaking with him, agreed with the Natives that he must be crazy to live in such a haunted place.
In more modern times, the park has garnered attention when several hikers went missing in the 1970’s and were never found. Many people joined the search for them but some of the search party admitted to being there to look for a mythical ‘bigfoot’ like creature who they believed was behind the disappearances. Skeptics said it was nothing more than a bear who had found its way into the Hollow, however no bear or bear evidence has ever been found.
During the Civil War, as legend goes, troops were moving the Natives towards the reservations but one group didn’t want to leave their home. The army couldn’t convince them to leave the land they had cherished for many generations. The medicine man told the army that they would never be able to force the Natives out and if they tried the land would be cursed. The army chased the Natives into the Hollow, but the Natives were never seen again. Could the hauntings of the Hollow be the spirits of the Natives who took such pride in their land that they would never leave them?
Climbing up from the grassy prairie, these jagged and rough forested hills and hollows were formed after the last great glacier receded less than 20,000 years ago. Called ‘Paha Tanka’ or ‘Great Hills’ by the Natives, trying to describe Sica Hollow to someone who’s never been there is like trying to describe the northern lights or a lightning storm to someone who’s never experienced them.
There’s a magical quality in northeast South Dakota that has captured the imagination of all who pass through her trees. Sica Hollow has been the center of legend for hundreds of years and, due to the haunting beauty and eerie wonder of the place, will remain legend for many years to come.
To see how Sica Hollow has influenced my writing, specifically the ‘Ghost Town’ series and ‘Hidden Trails’, both which were directly inspired by Sica Hollow, please visit my website, www.leifericksonwriting.com and buy my books today.