Was it just the wind or something more sinister? “Never would I venture alone into the dreaded Ghost Hollow,” wrote David Beckman about his 1940s boyhood on a farm between Houston and La Crescent. His father told him the story of a hanging in Ghost Hollow, where the man’s ghost still roamed throughout that coulee, “spooking all who dared intrude into his domain.”
David’s uncle said the name was given to the coulee because of “the weird and eerie sounds that were created by winds swirling through its unusual topography … Or, was it something more sinister?” Legends survived about sinister possibilities. None have been proven by evidence or retold here as historical fact, but what is true is the effect these legends have had on the mindset of area residents, especially adventuresome lads like David Beckman, who later wrote, “Regardless of what may have actually happened there or was alleged to have happened, I didn’t want anything to do with Ghost Hollow.” And several mysterious, more-recent events are still unexplained as well.
Another fact, according to plat maps, is that Storer Valley Road, which ran through Ghost Hollow was rerouted between 1871 and 1878. Were residents afraid to drive a buggy through a haunted valley?
Common to all four lingering legends is death by hanging. Three involve vigilante justice – or injustice.
First legend: A man took his own life by hanging in Ghost Hollow. One version has him driving a wagon and team of Belgians to the site. It was said he and the horses could still be seen late at night driving through the woods. The reason for the suicide, if ever known, is lost in time.
Second legend: A black man was found in the area and hanged in Ghost Hollow. Was there a crime alleged? No details have endured, only the legend.
Third legend: When neighbors gathered after a horse theft, someone mentioned the perpetrator might be the vagabond or highwayman, likely seen at the Loretta House, the main stopping point for stagecoaches along the Territorial Road. Too much time would be lost if the sheriff was notified, so the farmers searched and found the suspect sleeping in an abandoned barn, but there was no horse. The man denied any wrongdoing, but he was found guilty by a kangaroo court, taken to Ghost Hollow and hanged. The ghost of that innocent man was said to wander the “ravines and mounds of Ghost Hollow” haunting all he encountered in his search for justice.
Fourth legend: As late as 2013, a 95-year-old man said an ancestor, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, owned an area grain mill where a black employee was accused of having an intimate relationship with the daughter of the owner, possibly resulting in a pregnancy. The employee was apprehended and hanged in Ghost Hollow.
And more: Another enduring tale involves the only known sighting of a ghost in Ghost Hollow in the early 1940s by 7-year-old Alvin Jorgenson, son of the owner of the coulee. One evening when the lad went to bring the cows home for milking, he ventured into Ghost Hollow, where he saw a ghost and raced home – without the cows. He vowed never to fetch the cows again unless he could see them from home in the open pasture.
A common occurrence recounted by several farmers was the disappearance of livestock in or near Ghost Hollow, especially newborn calves. Thorough searches revealed nothing – no hide, no hair, no bones. This was before the presence in the area of predators such as coyotes and black bears.
Later, land owner Dan Gavin saw on his trail camera the carcass of a dead deer. When he went to investigate, he found nothing – no bones, no blood, no remains.
In 2011, a booklet entitled Ghost Hollow was published by former Houston County surveyor Dick Walter, who called it “a real place called Ghost Hollow by all the locals.” At age 11 or 12, he heard stories from neighbors about Ghost Hollow being a “noisy place, maybe from the wind” but also, “sometimes on a perfectly calm day, a herd of cattle would come stampeding out of Ghost Hollow for no apparent reason.”
Source: The Legends of Ghost Hollow, part of the private memoirs of David. H. Beckman