Ghostly Sitings in the Badlands!
History sometimes confronts those who explore the grasslands and badlands of western North Dakota and eastern Montana. Author Claire Eide of Williston, North Dakota, shared one real experience with another realm in this short story, at Snowden Bridge.
Three Ghostly Beings
It was the night of the full moon, as it would have to be to tell this tale. For it is only when the full moon and the month of April collide do the three ghostly figures walk the bridge known as Snowden.
But I have hastened to the end without the telling of the beginning.
The year was 1914 and America was awash in investment money and expansion was the order of the day. Jim Hill’s railroad was about to build what was called the Rockford to Lewistown cut-off. Now, this branch of the railroad would cross the Missouri river, the first bridge to span the Mighty Mo for over a hundred miles either up or down stream from the confluence of the Missouri and the Yellowstone. The promise of opening up the country south of the Missouri was about to come to fruition. Things were looking up for this little part of the world.
Then it happened. Strife! Yes a dark cloud of discontent blocked the sun from shining on the happy little community. It seems that one of the workers, they lived on the south side of the river in a shanty town, accosted the wife of one of the other workers. His name was Collins, or something like that, but the name will do for this relating. He was a big man, and powerful. Well, the offended man reported the incident to the newly elected sheriff in the small town of MonDak on the north side of the river.
The sheriff rounded up two deputies and crossed over to the shanty town to make the arrest. One of the deputies, a smaller man, and maybe meaning to prove his worth despite his size, moved on ahead of the sheriff and other deputy. Collins grabbed the smaller man and turned him around as he wrapped his massive left arm around the deputy, squeezing the smaller man against his chest and used hi as a human shield. The deputy had a new fangled self-loading pistol and Collins unsheathed the deadly tool. As the sheriff and other deputy approached, Collins loosed some lead and killed the deputy and moments later wounded the sheriff.
Collins scornfully released the smaller man from his grasp to fall into a heap on the ground and threw the pistol away, figuring no one would mess with him now that he had shown his meddle.
Sometimes a man can be wrong; sometimes he can be very wrong. This time Collins was very wrong. Town’s folk and bridge workers alike subdued the big man. As Collins was being subdued a special train was called to rush the wounded sheriff to the hospital at the bigger town of Williston.
The wait was tense. Finally word came that the newly elected and popular sheriff had died on the operating table. That set of a flurry of emotion with cooler heads loosing out to the crazed majority, and the big man, this Collins, was lead to a telephone pole, a rope thrown over the cross arm and placed around the struggling man’s neck. Several town’s folk pulled on the running end of the rope and he was lifted to kick and frail suspended in mid air in that dance the English once called ‘To piss when you can’t whistle.’
When the kicking stopped and life had fled the body the crowd dispersed. One of the last to leave set the clothes of the dead man a light but it was a short blaze.
Nobody seemed to agree after the fact. Some said that the body was cut down and thrown into the Mighty Mo to be a feast for the Pike and the Sturgeon. Other claimed that the body was cut down and pushed into the wet cement of the south pylon that had been poured that afternoon. Nobody knows.
But that is the history of the three ghostly figures that are supposed to walk the bridge every year when the moon is full and the month is April.
Many years later a man named Bart and his wife Sophia joined their brother-in-law Arthur, on an expedition to test the story and see if it were true. It was a cold day that April, and the wind was blowing as it will on the northern plain from time to time. The crisp weather welcomed the dauntless trio as they left in the late afternoon for the forty mile or so journey.
As Mr. Sun was hiding himself in the west, Miss Moon was rising in all her beauty in the east. the trio arrived at the supposed scene of the long ago crime. They parked the car, readied their cameras and ascended the grade and gained the railroad tracks. From there they had an unobstructed view of the length of the bridge. Nothing unusual was to be seen. No ghosts. Nothing eerie. Just a bridge that they had all seen countless times.
Sophia thought the weather was too cold and sharp to stick around if nothing was going to happen, and she retreated to the warmth of the car. Bart and Arthur remain on the tracks, taking pictures with their digital cameras in the event that the camera might capture something not visible to the human eye. They ventured into the bridge, taking pictures in the failing light.
Then, all of a sudden, as Bart was taking a picture, his camera failed. It didn’t feel right when it did. Something he couldn’t explain. It was just different than before when the batteries had died. It wasn’t a slow failing like he had experienced before. It was quick, like the taking of that last picture had been too much and extinguished any power left in those storage devices.
He was disappointed, of course, but he blamed himself for not making sure he had fully charged batteries. He figured he had just been careless. So he retreated to join Sophia in the warmth of the car to await Arthur and his clutch of pictures.
After about ten minutes or so Bart hoped that the batteries had recharged enough to at least get a glimpse of whatever he had capture through his lens. He turned the camera on and much to his satisfaction, the batteries had recharged and he started to look at the images he had captured. He advanced the pictures quickly before the batteries failed again. But they didn’t fail. After several minutes the camera was still on. The batteries hadn’t lost their charge, but if not, what, that is why, no, what had just happened?
It was then that Sophia said, “Do you know where you were standing when you took that last picture?”
“No,” he admitted.
“I was watching, and you were standing right over that south pylon. The one where, well, you know.”
“Yeah, where the body was supposed to be pushed into the wet cement. Strange. You know it felt weird when the camera died. Right over the south pylon, huh?”
Arthur returned from his foray through the bridge. “Didn’t see anything strange. Maybe not psychic, or maybe psycho, enough to connect,” he offered.
“Well,” Bart announced to his brother-in-law, “My camera died and then resurrected itself. Kind of strange.”
The ride home was fairly quiet. Each keeping to their own thoughts for the most part. When they got back to town, Bart went to the computer to down-load his images. He plugged the camera into the appropriate port and the program came up with the proper prompts. Bart hit ‘download all pictures’ and sat back while it loaded. The program started and then the stopped, and then the computer froze up. “Crap,” thought Bart. He hadn’t froze up a computer for a long time. He thought he had grown out of that sort of thing. He turned off the computer and started it up again. Reconnected the camera and went through the process again. This time the computer didn’t freeze up, but would not accept any pictures. He put the camera away after another try, figuring he would just let it rest.
He tried to load the pictures the next day. The same thing happened again. He even had his kid help him, and that usually worked. Not this time.
It took three days of trying before the pictures loaded. When they finally loaded they loaded in a halting manner. Something just didn’t feel right. There seemed to be an air of dread, or unrest, or some feeling he couldn’t put his finger on.
Once the pictures were loaded Bart took his time looking at them, hoping to see some kind of aberration, some distortion or maybe the clear cut outline of three figures. None of the pictures revealed a trace of anything supernatural or ghostlike. The picture before the last one was actually a good picture, Brad thought. It looked straight down the bridge, the dying sky visible through the girders and beams of the structure, with the exit on the other side where it touched the other river bank centered in the composition. One he thought he might save just as a well composed and well executed photo. Then he brought the last picture up, the one that had been taken just a few feet from where the one before had been taken, but this one on top of that south pylon. It was all black. Nothing but coal colored black. Bart decided to lighten the photo just to see if there was anything there, anything at all. His was not a complicated manipulation program at all, but he could lighten it by degree by accepting the results, then lightening again. Finally, after several maneuvers, he saw what the picture contained. No dying sky between the girders, no peripheral light as had been in the preceding picture, nothing like that. All there was on the picture was the darkness of black with only the far exit in about the same location as on the preceding picture, by this time is was a foggy, dull blue. Only this, this exit to, to, to where? Hell? Death? The ghostly in-between world of the dead but not released? Nothing but the exit showed. Just the exit.
Brad felt a dread, or something like a dread. Uneasy, at the very least with a foreboding of sorts. He couldn’t define it, but he felt it.
A few days later he was out to take some nature pictures. It seemed the camera was cured. It was working well. When he returned home, he wanted to review what he had photographed. He turned the camera on and the lens extended like it was supposed to, and then went back in as the camera turned off. Over and over it did this, so Brad put the camera away and looked up the trouble shooting instructions on the internet. No, he hadn’t dropped it. No, he hadn’t gotten it wet. Then there was nothing he could do short of sending in for repairs.
Then the camera decided to work again, but it didn’t feel right to Bart. There seemed to be a ‘presence’, something that allowed the camera to work—or not work. Bart didn’t feel in control, as the camera might work or might shut down and refuse to do anything. Did it really depend on the ‘presence’? Maybe, maybe not. But the foreboding that Bart felt was real, and indefinable.
A month passed and Bart felt the ‘presence’ more and more. Was it really in control? Was Bart just going crazy? Had he talked himself into this childish fantasy? Was the ‘presence’ really in control?
As the sun was starting to set on the New Moon in May Bart, without benefit of forethought, hopped into his car and drove out to the Snowden Bridge. He arrived after the sun had hidden itself. He sat and looked at the bridge in the twilight. He thought about that horrid crime so many years ago. Was there any connection from that year, so long ago, and now? Who knew? Not Bart. He got out of the car and slowly walked up the grade to the iron tracks. He looked down the throat of the bridge. He saw the exit and remembered that picture, the portal to, to, to where? Slowly, he walked down the bridge. When he was at midcurrent he stopped and looked down at the muddy water, glistening now in the glow of the full moon. It was like a soft sun and he was surprised at the detail he could see that night.
He took the camera, this innate machine that had some how gained a power, and he looked at it. Then he reared back and threw the thing as far upstream as he could. He felt a twinge, a small pain or a fear as he loosed the camera. It sailed out maybe fifty feet and he heard the splash it made in the cold water. He peered down and was a little surprised that he could clearly see the instrument. It was floating, lens up, in the current. When it reached the point directly below Bart it turned over and exposed the viewer to the underside of the bridge. Bart went to the downstream side of the structure and caught sight of it again as it passed from under the bridge and somehow was not surprised to see it flip over again, the lens once more pointing up. After another fifty feet or so the camera stopped in the current and bobbed three times, in a sort of a salute Bart though, and sank into the swirling, cold waters. As it sank Bart felt a force, maybe the ‘presence’, leave his chest, as though the camera had reclaimed the strangeness.
Bart walked back to the car, wondering what had just happened. One thing for sure, he would never relate the story. He would forget the whole thing. He didn’t know if he had escaped the jaws of Hell or had a bad dream. But it was over.
What are your ghostly experiences in western North Dakota and eastern Montana? We’d love to learn about them!
Read more about Monday and hit’s history here: A Bawdy Border Town Filled with Murder and Mayhem!
More photos and facts here: Lynching in Mondak, body floating at the Snowden Bridge!
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