Native American Ghost Stories

On moonlit nights on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Holy Rosary Mission School graveyard could be seen clearly through the tall windows of our third floor dormitory. As the moonlight reflected off of the tombstones those of us sleeping near the big windows hid our heads under the covers.

One night many years ago a Jesuit priest saw something burning in the graveyard. He went to investigate and saw the image of the Devil glowing on a tombstone. He put out the fire and called a Brother to chisel the image of the Devil off of the tombstone.

To this very day if one comes across that tombstone, the face of the Devil, now nearly obliterated, can still be seen and the tips of its horns are still visible. One Halloween KEVN-TV in Rapid City sent a news team to the mission school to tape the image on the tombstone for the nightly news.

There were many spooky stories that emanated from the mission boarding school, now called Red Cloud. One story I can verify was the organ that played eerie tunes and could be heard in our dormitory into the wee hours of the night.

One of the more popular stories again originated from our dormitory. There are those students who swore that oftentimes, late at night, they would wake up and see a nun dressed in black floating through the aisles between the bunk beds.

We were often awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of something rolling down the concrete steps that led to the dormitory. It as if a bowling ball was rolling down the steps and pausing for a short time on each step before bouncing to the next step. I heard that sound several times and to this day none of the students have ever figured out what was making those chilling sounds.

There was one very spooky reality that every student experienced. In the dark of the night after all of us had finally fallen asleep we would wake up to the squeak, squeak of leather shoes pacing between the rows of our bunk beds. We would listen and pull the covers over our heads, but we knew it was a Jesuit prefect trying to walk silently between the rows of beds in the dorm to check on the students. But I'll never forget how spooky that squeaky sound was in the dark hours of the night.

Across America there are spooky stories about Indian hospitals and BIA Indian boarding schools. The Indian Health Service Hospital in Rapid City, SD, known locally as "Sioux San," can be a spooky place for those working the late night shift. There are sounds of people talking and babies crying that Sioux San employees swear they have heard. The former Stewart Indian School in Nevada has been the subject of haunting stories. Visitors to the school, now closed, swear they can hear children laughing and crying and these sounds echo through the empty hallways.

Stories of spirits and ghosts were common on the reservation. Every community had its own story. But the one that rings true to me because I lived in that community was a story that was born at Wounded Knee. The elders would sit on the benches in front of the Wounded Knee Trading Post on the warm summer evenings when I was a boy and talk in whispers. My father worked for the Gildersleeve family, the owners of the Trading Post and we lived in one of the cabins in the community. I used to listen with interest and fear as they talked about the bitter, cold nights in December when the cries of frightened women and the terrifying screams of children could be heard echoing through the woods and canyons around Wounded Knee. The Massacre at Wounded Knee happened on a freezing winter day on December 29, 1890.

Perhaps it was the suggestion of the elders that became reality to me because one winter night in December I swear that I heard these mournful and frightening sounds outside of my cabin window. I pulled the covers over my head and listened and then I wondered if it was just the wind in the trees that had frightened me.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He is the recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award from the Baltimore Sun, the Honor Award for Distinguished Service to Journalism by the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the Golden Quill Award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors)