A cowboy ghost story in Bowman
It's Halloween, a date to remember the eerie, spooky, or unexplainable. One such story was recalled by James M. Foley in 1915. Around 1889, just before North Dakota became a state, Foley was visiting one of A. C. Huidekoper's horse ranches with its manager, George Woodman. This section of land was eight miles from the Little Missouri in Deep Creek, about 40 miles south of Medora.
During the visit, the men decided to go farther south, to the unsettled, unpopulated area that would become Bowman. The men camped on Turkey Creek, and while Foley went duck hunting, Woodman went looking for horses.
Despite the lack of a settlement, their camping location held two old buildings – a destroyed dwelling and a serviceable stable. Foley shared the history of the buildings, as told to him by Woodman:
"Woodman asked me if I was afraid of ghosts; that the barn was haunted. He then told me that the place we were at was … an old time camp of the Hash-Knife Cattle company [which originated in Texas]; that [just a few years earlier,] during the hard winter of 1886-1887, two men had been stationed to ride the line during the winter; that the snowfall was so great that no line riding could be done; that not only did all the cattle die, but the horses also, excepting the ones in the stable."
The story continues with one of the two men becoming very ill. The other cowboy made an attempt to get help from the nearest ranch, which was 20 miles away, but he was unable to make it more than a few miles in those conditions. So, he stayed with the sick man until he died, then stored the body in the stable until spring had thawed the ground enough to bury him.
Afterward, there were reports that the dead man had been seen riding across the prairie on a white horse. Both horse and rider disappeared if anyone tried to overtake them.
Foley said, "This was fully believed by some of the old cowboys. It might have been true. We do not know, but we do not believe."
Ranching was a big business, then, and it is not surprising that in the wild, wide open spaces of Dakota Territory, a story or two of a ghostly cowboy would ride across the prairie breeze.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Ward County Independent, July 8, 1915, p10