Stained glass windows inside the Holy Rosary Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Raymond Bucko, SJ

Tim Giago: Scaring up some spooky stories from the old Pine Ridge boarding school

Notes from Indian Country

My friends scare up a few ghosts for me
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

My friend Rick Sunka Nunpa responded to a comment I put on Facebook stating that I was stuck in a mental block and could find nothing to write about this past Sunday. Rick wrote, “Write about Sister No Head.” John Brewer added, Holy Rosary ghost stories, and John Young wrote, “It’s Halloween, write something spooky.

All of the comments were well-taken and started my writer’s juices flowing.

It is obvious that these guys were very familiar with some of the spooky stories that came out of Holy Rosary Mission over the many years it was a boarding school. And there are many of them.

All of us have gone up to the HRM graveyard at one time or another. Quite often we saw a very heavy tombstone lying on its face on the ground. Newcomers would wonder if vandals did that. The story goes that many years ago Brother Bauer was up at the graveyard shortly after a thunderstorm. He noticed that one of the headstones had fallen off of its base and was lying on the ground.

Brother Bauer was a powerful man who ran the ranch. He picked up the headstone and placed it back on the base and I am told that he jumped back in fear when he saw the face of the devil burned into the top of the stone just above the name of the person lying in the grave. The name on the grave was Young. No relation to my friend John, I hope. Brother Bauer got a chisel and hammered away trying to obliterate the devil’s face, but no matter how much he tried one could still see the outline of the face and the horns.

A couple of weeks later, again after a thunder storm, Brother Bauer was up at the graveyard and the heavy stone was once again lying on the ground beside the base.

The boy’s dormitory was on the third floor of Red Cloud Hall. Sometimes at night we could hear an organ playing and at other times we could hear what sounded like a bowling ball rolling down the steps from the attic above us. The dormitory had tall French windows and whenever there was a full moon the walls would reflect weird shadows all across the dorm. It was on nights like this that a silent figure dressed in the black habit of a nun would float through the aisles between the beds. If one had the courage to look at it, and most of us didn’t, they would say that the nun had no head.

All of this took place on the boy’s side of the Mission. There were spooky things happening on the girl’s side also. One night, just before bedtime, two girls were sitting in front of a mirror combing their hair. Directly behind them was a window. One girl stopped brushing her hair because she felt like someone was watching her. She turned toward the window and saw a horrible face peering in at her. She let out a scream that echoed throughout the girl’s dorm. One of the nuns ran outside immediately to see who this peeping tom was and she had to walk through a foot of snow that had just fallen. When she got to the window she was taken aback because there was not a single footprint in the snow beneath the window where the girls were combing their hair.

Incidentally, there was no organ in any of the rooms at Red Cloud Hall and yet I, and many of the other boys, clearly heard the organ playing late into the night.

One time Wallace Bear Robe went to work in the dairy farm late at night. As he went into the barn he thought he saw someone standing near one of the stalls. He figured it was one of the Brothers and so he thought nothing of it. He grabbed a pitchfork and started to work when he noticed the figure, dressed all in black, was still standing by the stalls with his back to him. He walked over to the figure and tapped him on the shoulder; the figure spun around toward him and started to growl through its hairy face. Wallace took off running and ran all of the way back to the dormitory where he woke everybody up screaming. He told all of us this story that night. We had no reason not to believe him.

Thanks to some of the boarding school survivors for causing me to remember these spooky tales. Holy Rosary Mission Boarding School was founded in 1888 and was renamed Red Cloud Indian School in the 1960s. Native Americans are strong believers in ghosts and spirits.

Contact Tim Giago at