Monday, January 6, 2014

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Do you believe in ghosts?

It's a simple enough question. Do you? Do you think that some people, for one reason or another, linger here after death? Leave behind an energy that cannot be fully explained?

I ask this because until fairly recently, I would have rolled my eyes at such a question. But living in
the Hills has certain risks, and one of those is a direct challenge to such skepticism.

The Black Hills are considered a sacred place by the local Lakota tribes, alive with an energy not found everywhere. Maybe it started centuries ago; maybe it has more to do with the violent history surrounding the European settlement here.

When white folks first found their way into the Hills, they were first fought off and later (through various treaties) banned from the area. It wasn't until the discovery of gold (we're in the 1870s or so by now) that the area was flooded with would-be settlers looking for riches. Towns sprang up, places with no law and no legal existence (remember, treaty territory) and the competition was fierce -- for land, for gold claims, for businesses both legitimate and illegitimate.

It's less than surprising that such beginnings led to the violence, mayhem, and rise and fall of towns that were so prevalent around here and so often associated with ghost stories. The entire town of Deadwood was born in the gold rush and is one of the few that survived when the rush died out, its history violent and compelling. The rest of the Hills are sprinkled with ghost towns from that era and others, abandoned outposts left to the pines, and there are stories surrounding each and every one of these places.

One such place is my own town, Rockerville. The town was the anchor of the flume that served placer miners throughout the valley, and for awhile its official population wound its way through the trees for a couple of miles in every direction. This included our own valley, a place that was rife with miners and laborers of all kinds in the late 1800s. Tent towns sprang up, semi-nomadic merchants finding their homes here temporarily. Miners camped near the flume. Laborers lived on the hillsides.

Our valley, like so many other locations around here, has ghost stories of its own. People that still live on the hillsides. A (rather scary) woman in the staff cabin. And of course, Dan Finney, the miner who once owned the claims where the camp now sits, who allegedly lives in one of my bedrooms upstairs and gets blamed for a lot of random mishaps. (I'm pretty sure Dan's a good guy -- one person was told by him that he was "here to help.")

I didn't believe any of this before I lived here.

Then I started to hear footsteps upstairs, especially while Skyping with my sister. Felt breezes at strange times. Found lights on that I was certain were off, and vice versa. And got goosebumps in 70 degree rooms.

The fun story I can now tell goes like this: one of our buildings, a lodge somewhat removed from the main camp, had a problem. The back door kept popping open for no clear reason, and a couple of times a bird got in. I can say with certainty that "clean bird poop out of couch cushions" was not in my original job description.

After the second time this happened, I finally gave in. I stood in the middle of the room and talked directly to the ghosts. "Look, I know you guys want to take care of this place as much as I do. So could you please keep the birds out? At least, please keep the door closed." And then I went on my way, absolutely certain that I'd just gone off the deep end.

While I'm pretty sure that's still true -- the going-off-the-deep-end thing -- it, well, hasn't happened since.

I know, I know. There's no reason to put any stock in that. Re-reading that bit makes me feel a bit more like a nutter.

However, the more I see and read, the more I wonder. Could the Hills' past still be lurking in the trees?

Or maybe my imagination has just run off with me again.

[If you'd like, there are all sorts of resources out there. For more reading, I'll send you to the main one in Rapid City, the Hotel Alex Johnson, another well-known spot.]

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