Spooky Bad

haunted and spooky jail at mondak

Abandoned jails far from today’s population centers are suspected to be haunted.

They are called the spooky bad lands for a reason.  Long before settlers moved across the region, indigenous people considered the land to be bad. They thought it could be very spooky. 

Murders and untimely deaths mark the history of the region. Those deaths help make the three most spooky places we’ve found.


Wheelock. Is this North Dakota town haunted?

Wheelock. Is this North Dakota town haunted?

#1 Wheelock

On the edge of the northern reach of the Badlands, the little town of Wheelock was a busy railroad town.  A popular business district in the area included a bank, hardware store, lumberyard and drug store. Then bad things started happening when a bank was robbed and left one person dead.

The railroad brought in trouble, too. It seems that as much as the rail connection helped Wheelock, it also hurt the town. That’s how at least two mass murders started in Wheelock and the nearby towns of Ray and Epping. Click here to read the story.  (You’ll learn why the line “forgive me, for I am insane” was left at the scene of one mass murder.)


Murderer J.C. Collings in Front of the Jail at Mondak, Montana/North Dakota Not Long Before the Lynching

Murderer J.C. Collings in Front of the Jail at Mondak, Montana/North Dakota Not Long Before the Lynching

#2 Mondak

The most colorful town in the region sat on the shores of the Missouri River right on the border between Montana and North Dakota — thus the name “Mondak.”  And from that “color,” entire series of books or movies could be produce from the history of the town. It served as a shipping point — both rail and steamboat — and as a “wet” town when North Dakota was dry.  Adding to that reputation, a  bar on the state line had a dry side (North Dakota) and a wet side (Montana). The town also was the getting on and getting off point for legitimate and illegitimate businesses such as “bawdy houses,” (bordellos), highway robbers and moonshiners.  


Perhaps that’s why the jail was such a sturdy building and still stands today. 

The jail was the scene of our next spooky story after things turned wild at the Snowden Lift Bridge. Click here to get the story, then follow the links in the story to learn more about Mondak and the haunting of the spring ice melt.

Marmarth, North Dakota in it's Heyday.

Marmarth, North Dakota in it’s Heyday.

#3 Marmarth

Just like Wheelock and Mondak, the railroad figured heavily in the history of Marmarth. The town marked the crossing of river traffic, cattle trails, road travelers and the railroad. That’s why it flourished and even had an airport that connected Seattle to Chicago in 1921.

Ranching became the big industry in Marmarth, and it still is a major part of the region, today. A sheepherder was one of the victims of Marmarth’s attractiveness.  The railroad claimed its share of untimely deaths, too. That could be part of why paranormal investigators like to snoop  around the abandoned buildings of Marmarth.  Any one of these incidents could have produced a lingering spirit in town who is looking for closure.

Just click here to read the deadly history of Marmarth.



face in the rock on wind canyon trail

Look round on Wind Canyon Trail. The west-facing hillside has many faces.

Bonus: Rock Faces Myth

The Little Missouri River cuts though the Badlands, and carries not just the erosive silt, but also the stories of many incidents.  Perhaps that it why there is a myth about some of the eroded rocks that look like faces. That’s a bonus haunting story for you today. 

Click here to read of the rock faces along river.

We’re always looking for more historic stories of the way it used to be in the Badlands. Got a tip?  We’d love to dig in to it.  So, just leave a comment below.



Frequently Asked Questions

Are there ghosts in the Badlands?

Some people say yes there are. In fact, paranormal investigators back up that claim and have visited towns from Marmarth to the south to Williston in the north and report significant findings of haunted places.

Where are there spooky places in the Badlands?

Stories of ghosts prevail in every one of the towns along the Little Missouri from Marmarth north to Watford City and on to the mouth of the Little Missouri river between Killdeer and Mandaree.  And so, local stories indicate murder was not unusual in the region. So, if that’s true, then murder victims and victims of strange accidents haunt places such as Marmarth and the long abandoned towns of Mary and Charbonneau. 

Why is the area called the Badlands?

Lakota Sioux gave the region the name Maco Sica, Bad Land. They felt their ancestors had left their mark on the area and their spirits remained. When explorers, trappers and eventually settlers came through the region, they picked up on the name.  General Sully said it looked like “hell with the fires burned out.”  Dinosaur skeletons are scattered about the region. That indicates this was a deadly area to try to live.  It’s maze of valleys and hills could trap a person with no hope of coming out alive. (Incidentally, “maco sica” is the basis for the name of the state park in Glendive, Montana where Badlands landscape spreads across Makoshika State Park.)

Did bad guys hide in the Badlands?

Yes. It is an easy place to escape justice.  Even U.S. Army payroll was not safe from the bad guys who could hide in the Badlands on the Yellowstone River between Miles City and Sidney, Montana. Adding to that, Granville Stuart and Bill Cantrell made names for themselves as bounty hunters who tracked down cattle and horse thieves in the Badlands.  Theodore Roosevelt knew of their exploits and said, “Some of their victims may have been guilty.”  A local entrepreneur, Bill Chaloner also made a name for himself tracking down bad guys in the region when he wasn’t busy ranching and building a crossing over the Little Missouri River at Watford City.

Coming up:

Look for a story identifying the sisters of the North Dakota Badlands, making a set of Badlands Triplets you can explore on a fun road trip down I-94. Leave your email address in the subscription box so you will be the first to know when the story is published.

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