The Red Rocks park and amphitheater in Colorado is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landmarks in the United States, as a simple Google search will explain. What your favorite search engine won’t tell you, however, is that this site isn’t home to just hiking trails and memorable concerts…but also to one of the most terrifying urban legends of the state. One that will keep you up at night and make you think very differently about the gorgeous red rocks that sit below the legendary Colorado sunset. Let us tell you about the story of the Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks.
Urban Legend of the Headless Hatchet Lady
Several ghosts have been rumored to lurk the grounds, but none are more famous than this decapitated damsel. People have reported seeing a headless woman riding horseback through the Red Rocks area, while carrying a bloody hatchet and scaring the life out of teenagers who try to get frisky or cause trouble. What is it with urban legends and their love for taunting young adults? Versions of this tale revolving around the headless woman typically say that she’s a former camper who was murdered, and later decapitated, on the grounds and who stays around in the afterlife to get a few spooks in. And maybe catch a few concerts at the arena, perhaps? While the tales of her being literally without a head are the most commonly told around the campfire, there are also several other versions of the origin of The Headless Hatchet Lady.
Old Mrs. Johnson
Another tale gives the woman a name, Old Mrs. Johnson, and believes that she lived on the premises in a small cave. According to stories, she used to pull a coat over her head and walk around the property swinging a hatchet to scare off her daughter’s suitors. In some cases, she even went as far as to chop off the offending body parts of any man who came near her precious daughter. It was their blood that stained the rocks, and gave them the signature red color! Terrifying, right? Old Mrs. Johnson was a lonely lady who wasn’t too keen about the idea of young love, which explains why her ghost is said to scare off primarily teenagers who are getting busy amid the red rocks.
The idea of blood-soaked rocks and hatchet-wielding old ladies is far-fetched to most of us, but not to those in the Colorado area who believe in the wrath of the Headless Hatchet Lady. The tales say that when her apparition is seen with a head, she looks exactly like you would expect… an older, feral-looking woman with ratty hair and a witchy vibe that would make you want to run the other way. Even so, many flock towards the more deserted parts of this Colorado landmark in hopes of getting a glimpse of the Headless Hatchet Lady. The Red Rocks area of Colorado is undeniably beautiful and has a history of athletes, musicians, and other famous figures that have taken selfies in front of the scenery. However, if you look hard enough, you might just come face-to-face with one of the state’s most terrifying urban legends… the Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks!
I am a lifelong pop culture junkie with immense passion for all forms of art and entertainment. On a typical weekend, I can be found at a concert or musical, chasing ghosts on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, or watching way too many makeup tutorials on YouTube.
A 10 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath 6,661 square foot mansion with intricate wooden details, original windows, doorknobs, and marble fireplaces. Servant quarters with formal maid and butler pantries, a classic Mansard roof and grand staircase showcase the victorian era style of this mansion. With a team of 100 men, it took a year and a half to complete building. You would expect something like this to go up for millions, right? Well this house was sold in 2015 for $315,000, the same price as most three bedroom homes in the town of Gardner, Massachusetts where the SK Pierce mansion resides. This beautiful home was built all the way back in 1875 by a very wealthy owner of a manufacturing business named Sylvester Knowlton Pierce. His business was across the street from the home he built, and was the reasoning behind Gardner, Mass. being known as “Chair City”. It also supposedly housed very prestigious guests such as Calvin Coolidge (the 30th US president), Norman Rockwell (a famous painter), Bette Davis (a popular actress at the time), and P.T. Barnum (a politician and business man). So how exactly did this place turn into a destination for people investigating the paranormal?
The Haunting Lore
Very unexpected and mysterious misfortune struck the Pierce family shortly after moving into the house. Pierce’s first wife died three weeks after moving in. She had somehow picked up a bacterial disease that ate her flesh. Years later, during a downfall in the economy, SK Pierce passed away, and the rivalry between his son Frank and his second wife who was two years older than Frank began. The house ended up being passed to his second wife, Ellen, instead of his eldest son. This was not customary during the time and it angered Frank greatly. Eventually, Ellen died and her three sons fought in court over ownership of the house, ending in her son Edward winning. He utilized the size by turning it into a boarding home. Activities such as prostitution, drinking, and gambling ended up taking place at the boarding home. Among the darker activities was death. Edwards two-year-old daughter he had with his wife Bessie passed away from influenza. There was also a boarder by the name of Eino Saari who passed away from smoke inhalation in his room, though it is widely believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion because the surrounding room had hardly any damage. Bessie also died in 1951 while the family occupied the home. Edward then lost the house in a poker game and a new owner took his place named Jay Stemmerman.
Jay Stemmerman didn’t last long in the Sk Pierce Mansion, he abandoned it somewhere in the 1980s and it sat like that for a near 20 years. It was filled with paintings depicting odd characters and scenes making people question what went on in the house. These paintings were discovered when the house was purchased in 2008 by Edwin Gonzalez and Lillian Otero, they were only able to stand living in the house for two years. They experienced many paranormal incidents including a message from a spirit leading Otero downstairs to a kiln where there were bones identified to be that of a young child. There had been stories in the past of a young boy dying at the home though no such reports were ever filed by the police. Edwin claimed to have seen the apparition of a young boy at his side in his office, many have speculated that it could be the ghost of the mysterious possible death of one. A book came out about the couple’s experience called “Bones in the Basement” by Joni Mayhan.
A Haunted Attraction
After a short two weeks on the market, this haunted home was owned by Rob and Allison Conti. They bought this house because of the title it holds as the second most haunted home in Massachusetts, and they quickly turned it into an attraction. You can now stay overnight at the SK Pierce Mansion or just visit for a paranormal experience of your own. Many guests there have reported a lot of strange activity. People have seen doors slam, full body apparitions accompanied by voices, furniture moving of its own accord, foul odors, and sudden temperature changes. There was even a guest who was said to have been pushed down the stairs by a ghost.
A group of people who investigate the paranormal went to visit the haunted mansion. They claimed to be able to feel the spiritual energy all over the house, which was also measured by multiple psychics using various tools. There were 25 people in the investigation that split into five groups of five people. Rooms such as the Red Room that were linked to some sort of tragedy were looked into. Colleen Costello was one of the psychics that were able to receive entities in many of the rooms. Specifically, in the Red Room, her group heard the spirit of a homicide victim using a spirit box. A spirit box is a device that uses radio frequencies to detect the voices of spirits. They also pinpointed and communicated with a nanny who had died in the house. The nanny would answer yes or no questions using lights but strangely refused to answer the one male in the room. Another room that they experienced strange events was the billiards room where they communicated with the spirit of P.T. Barnum. In the basement, Costello encountered a slightly angry spirit that had unresolved business issues with the Pierce family, from what the group understood it was about a false accusation. They realized the spirit was in the basement when the pendulum, a divination tool to detect said spirits, starting rapidly swinging.
Nicole Costello’s story doesn’t end there with the rest of the group though. She ended up spending the night and had more evidence of the paranormal. In the middle of the night, she reported hearing footsteps on the second floor which she was staying on. She later made sure it wasn’t one of the other guest’s footsteps, none of them had stepped foot out of their room that night aside from people on the first floor who never went up the stairs.
The Mysteries of The SK Pierce Mansion
There are still so many unanswered questions about this spirit-filled mansion such as why is there a tunnel below the house? Also are there more deaths there than have been reported? Did the strange paintings of half-beast half-human figures mean something more? There are many theories for all of these questions including the use of dark magic, child labor, human trafficking, and more. Would you dare to spend a night in this beautiful haunted mansion?
Fouke is a picturesque little city in central Miller County, Arkansas, about 150 miles outside of Little Rock. Boasting its gorgeous Mountain Lake Park Hotel and a spacious festival plaza, Fouke seems ideal for a relaxing getaway amongst the more attractive facets of nature. However, not all of nature’s creations are necessarily friendly, as warned by a legend which has haunted Fouke since the 1840s; The Boggy Creek Monster.
Boggy Creek Variations
Also referred to as the Fouke Monster, or Swamp Stalker, The Boggy Creek Monster is a hulking ape-like creature standing upright between seven and eight feet tall. Long and dense fur covers its arms and legs and it walks or runs with a hunch, swinging its arms like a primate. It has a similar description as the legendary Bigfoot and a strikingly eerie resemblance to the Momo seen in Louisiana, Missouri. This prompts some to believe that these are part of the same genus of elusive ape-men which still live hidden lives in the denser woodland of the earth. The Boggy Creek Monster has been said to kill livestock, chickens and dogs in the area and while it hasn’t been reported to have killed any people, many have claimed of its vicious nature.
Two families in the late 1860s were allegedly terrorised, and one hospitalised, by the beast. Then in May 1971, Bobby and Elizabeth Ford claimed that a great hairy beast with red eyes and rattling breath attacked their home. Bobby claimed that the beast grabbed his shoulder, him only having narrowly escaped its clutches and ploughing himself through his front door. Elizabeth also claimed to see the red eyes and fur-covered arms coming through the window as she slept in the living room one day.
The legend spread like wildfire and made it into a low-budget cult horror film in 1973 entitled The Legend of Boggy Creek. While the film was panned critically, many fans saw it as a chillingly atmospheric dive into their favourite Arkansas urban legend, and the film actually spawned two very odd unofficial sequels, one of which featuring the monster as a disney-esque character who helps a band of lost children. The original was also said to have paved the way for films like The Blair Witch Project, meaning the Boggy Creek Monster could have had more impact on the world of film than once realised.
The people of Fouke used to capitalise on the legend with their Monster Mart featuring a huge screaming Boggy Creek Monster holding up its sign, with the Haunted Texarkana Ghost Walk and with plenty of signs around the town. These are not so much the case any more and it appears the locals have tired of the legend and the outsiders it brings to their quaint place of residence. That being said, 1997 saw over forty sightings of the Swamp Stalker, primarily walking along the dry creek bed just outside of town. While tourism seems to be dying out, the legend of the Boggy Creek Monster is as prevalent as ever.
Joe first knew he wanted to write in year six after plaguing his teacher’s dreams with a harrowing story of World War prisoners and an insidious ‘book of the dead’. Clearly infatuated with horror, and wearing his influences on his sleeve, he dabbled in some smaller pieces before starting work on his condensed sci-fi epic, System Reset in 2013.Once this was published he began work on many smaller horror stories and poems in bid to harness and connect with his own fears and passions and build on his craft. Joe is obsessed with atmosphere and aesthetic, big concepts and even bigger senses of scale, feeding on cosmic horror of the deep sea and vastness of space and the emotions these can invoke. His main fixes within the dark arts include horror films, extreme metal music and the bleakest of poetry and science fiction literature. He holds a deep respect for plot, creative flow and the context of art, and hopes to forge deeper connections between them around filmmakers dabbling in the dark and macabre.
If you ever visit the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, located in a small town of the same name in northern Wisconsin, you’ll come across a large fiberglass statue of a monstrous creature sitting out front. With its red eyes, cheshire grin, and raised paw it looks both fearsome and mischievous – like something from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. This eye-catching monument exists to make one thing clear: you’re in Hodag Country now. As you explore the town of Rhinelander you’ll notice a common word cropping up when you’re eating at the Hodag Store, bowling at the Hodag Lanes, and shopping at the Hodag Farmers Market. Like many urban legends this creature has become the town’s mascot.
But what exactly is a Hodag? And why is it so woven into the fabric of Rhinelander?
According to local legends, the Hodag is a mythical beast that has “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end”. It’s believed to be seven feet long and thirty inches tall, and it’s diet consists mainly of turtles, snakes, and white bulldogs. Modern reports of the Hodag have been few and far between, but there was a time when the creature was gaining national attention.
History of the Hodag Legend
Back in the 1800s, Rhinelander was a lumber town. Loggers working the surrounding forests would tell stories of a monster that stalked the woods, which they thought might be the agitated spirit of a dead lumber oxen. In 1893, a timber cruiser named Eugene Shepard released photographic evidence of the creature’s charred remains. He’s said to have gathered up a group of men to capture the beast, but they failed and ended up destroying it with dynamite.
Then, in 1896, Shepard was back claiming he had captured a live Hodag from its cave with the help of several bear wrestlers and a generous amount of chloroform. He debuted the mythical creature in the back of a dark tent during the first Oneida County Fair, where frightened onlookers caught glimpses of it moving about in the shadows. It became such a hit that Shepard began touring county fairs with his sons, promoting the legend and raking in profits. He kept the beast in a shed behind his house, and people would pay to come see it there as well.
Word was beginning to spread and people would come from far and wide to get a look at the Hodag. It wasn’t until a group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. came to visit that Shepard’s claim was unmasked for what it truly was – a hoax! He’d simply fashioned a puppet of sorts with wood, ox hides, and cattle horns that he could move with hidden wires. And yet Shepard had done such a successful job of advertising the legend that people still came to see it, even after it was declared a gimmick.
The Hodag in Modern Times
Not only is the Hodag the official symbol for Rhinelander, but it has become a part of the town’s very livelihood. Various statues and billboards featuring the legend dot the main streets. Pennants bearing its image fly from flagpoles downtown. It’s the mascot of the local high school and the Hodag Country Festival. Souvenir shops, museums, restaurants, and more all carry the Hodag brand.
But does this local legend, beloved by residents and tourists alike, actually exist? Is it just a mascot, or is it something more? There have been occasional reports in recent decades. Golfers claim it is eating their golf balls, anglers state it is stealing the fish straight from their lines, and so on. But whether or not the legend is true, one thing is clear: the Hodag is alive and well in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
Ben’s love for horror began at a young age when he devoured books like the Goosebumps series and the various scary stories of Alvin Schwartz. Growing up he spent an unholy amount of time binge watching horror films and staying up till the early hours of the morning playing games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Since then his love for the genre has only increased, expanding to include all manner of subgenres and mediums. He firmly believes in the power of horror to create an imaginative space for exploring our connection to each other and the universe, but he also appreciates the pure entertainment of B movies and splatterpunk fiction.
Nowadays you can find Ben hustling his skills as a freelance writer and editor. When he’s not building his portfolio or spending time with his wife and two kids, he’s immersing himself in his reading and writing. Though he loves horror in all forms, he has a particular penchant for indie authors and publishers. He is a proud supporter of the horror community and spends much of his free time reviewing and promoting the books/comics you need to be reading right now!
Cryptozoology is a pseudo-scientific field of study, which undertakes the theories of creatures that are widely unknown to science. The myriad of creatures present within this field owes their origins to the folklore of indigenous American peoples. This includes popular cryptid lore, including Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, and Jersey Devil. Unsurprisingly the state of North Dakota also has an incredibly interesting, albeit bizarre and obscure monster of its own, known as the Miniwashitu!
Known for its harsh winters, North Dakota’s first frost can arrive as early as September, with below-freezing temperatures that stretch all the way into May. An ice sheet regularly forms atop the Missouri River during this part of the year and can extend as far as six feet below the surface. This ice sheet regularly blocks the passage through the waterway near Bismarck for at least three months each year. So, it’s no surprise that life on the plains is no picnic during the coldest months of the year, but even springtime brings its own unique dangers. (White)
Culturally Significant Water Monsters
Within the field of cryptozoology, the implication of water monsters is that they are serpents or other seafaring creatures. The Loch Ness monster, Tizheruk, Chessie, Champy, Ogopogo, and Memphre are all just a few examples of water monsters within cryptozoology. Outside of these more modern legends exists mythical creatures such as Jörmungandr, the Hydra, the Kraken, and the Leviathan. The Miniwashitu is an outlier, however, as it does not fit neatly into the same category as these other well-known cryptids.
The Mandan People
The Mandan people are believed to have settled along the banks of the Missouri River and its tributaries (White). This would have put them just south of what would become Bismarck and the Knife River, between 1100 and 1300. The Mandan people along with other Indigenous communities crafted a flourishing trade hub that stretched the region. It was a system that white fur traders took advantage of centuries later when they arrived. The river provided an easy route for trading goods. It also created an ease of access to goods that were vital for the Mandan people who were traditionally agricultural.
Seasonal Dangers & Stories Told
The trials and tribulations that the Mandan people had to withstand through the winters would have been abundant. Once the ice upon the waterways cracked, it was clear that the weather was warming. This brought much relief to the people of the region (White). That is not to say that seasonal dangers had passed. In fact, a thawing river and the breaking ice shelf upon the river would have still been quite dangerous. It’s likely that these dangers associated with the coming of spring would have been severe enough to warrant the creation of a dangerous monster who might cause the phenomenon.
Much like any other indigenous culture found across the globe, there was a reliance upon oral storytelling traditions. This tradition was the primary means of communicating cultural heritage. Oral storytelling is a less reliable method of communication across generations, but it leaves room for adaptability to change the story.
Being near a river would have been dangerous for all of the children of the tribe and in lieu of simply telling them to “stay away,” an iconic story would drive the point home (White).
Stranger Danger & the Effects of Colonialism
Tragically, by the time Gilmore had recorded the tale within his anthology of folklore, the river had taken on new dangers—ones that were no longer based in mythology (White). The introduction of white colonizers in 1782 ushered in the first wave of diseases such as smallpox and other dangers. By the time the second wave hit in 1837, the delicate nature of their human ecosystem had all but been decimated (White)
Melvin R. Gilmore & His Contributions
Cultural references to the Miniwashitu in North Dakota predate any European settlements in North America. Unfortunately, the first appearance of the Miniwashituo in modern media formats wasn’t recorded until 1921. The story was first introduced in the ethological anthropology of cultural stories as recorded by Melvin Randolph Gilmore in Prairie Smoke. Gilmore was a cultural anthropologist and the former curator for the North Dakota Historical Society (“Monsters”).
His career as a museum curator for a number of institutions spanned from 1916 to 1923 (“Monsters”). His passionate pursuit of unheard stories led him to regularly collaborate with the tribal nations in his area to record their cultural folklore (Rodenberg). Along with contributions to scientific periodicals on the culture and livelihood of the people indigenous to the Missouri River valley, he was also an authority on the Plains Indians (“Monsters”). As a result of his many contributions, Gilmore was an adopted member of the Pawnee tribe. (“Monsters”)
The Myth of the Miniwashitu
People rarely see the Miniwashitu, so there is very little information about it to this day. What does exist, exists primarily as a regurgitation of Gilmore’s original record from Prairie Smoke. Gilmore detailed the story of a beast that was known to exist “in the long ago”. Within the waters of the Missouri River, what Gilmore described was a dreadful sight to behold (Gilmore 26).
Gilmore’s informant was a second-hand witness to the last known sighting. The man witnessed the creature swimming against the current in the middle of the Missouri River. The creature crashed heavily into the ice sheet that sat upon the water. It broke it apart with its enormous body and lethal backbone. The man reported it made a “terrific roaring sound”. It was his description of the creature and what happened shortly after that caused such alarm (Gilmore 26). The informant explained that as soon as the man, “beheld the awful sight,” he lost his vision. His eyes darkened immediately. It was only by luck and a general sense of direction that the man was able to reach his home. However, soon after arriving home, he lost all sense of self and passed away (Gilmore 26).
What we know about the Miniwashitu
To witness the monster at night, one would see a brilliant fiery red streak lighting up the icy waterway. Truly a sight to behold! If one were to see the monster by day they would meet their end. They would lose their vision and hearing. They would soon become restless and begin to writhe in pain. Not until they were thoroughly insane would death kindly relieve them.
Some believe that the Miniwashitu, or water monster, still lives in the Missouri River (Gilmore 26). For those that still hold this belief, they claim that it is responsible for breaking the ice that has formed on the river come springtime (Gilmore 26).
The Appearance of the Creature
The man’s story also took into account the physical description of the monster he witnessed, so we have included it here for reference. According to his report of the creature, it’s the appearance that was most frightful to behold. The Miniwashitu was described as having an extraordinarily strange form, covered from head to toe with hair that resembled a buffalo. The hair was red in color and the creature boasted only a single, cyclopean eye. Above its eye was a single distinctive horn. The bipedal creature stands at over seven feet tall, with humanoid hands and the cloven hooves of an elk. The backbone was described as protruding out, but irregularly notched and jagged like the teeth of an old saw. (Rodenberg)
The True Nature of the Miniwashitu
As one of the creature’s nicknames would imply the Miniwashitu, or Missouri Water Monster, spends much of its time submerged in the Missouri River. This seems to be quite lucky, considering its very appearance is so horrific that it would shatter the mind of anyone who witnessed it. The story has also evolved over the centuries since it was told to assert that direct eye contact would “freeze you in perpetual fear” as you suffered to death from insanity. However, it is also said that even if you were not to directly witness it, but were to simply hear its tremendous bellow, it would still render you unable to hear again.
Of course, none of this takes into account that the creature is actually quite docile despite its grotesque nature. It’s no more a predator than the mundane proven counterpart, the buffalo. The Miniwashitu is a noted pescatarian, subsisting upon fish, plants, and grass. Aside from the supernatural side effects of being in its presence, it is quite similar to a buffalo in being protective of its territory. All of this having been said, we’re delighted to know that this creature does not seek out humans to attack—not that it would need to considering its supernatural ability to harm without confrontation. (Rodenberg)
Fear the Miniwashitu
Regardless of the fear that accompanies the beast’s presence, there is massive respect for the creature that heralds the return of spring. The role it plays in breaking up the ice shelf on the river is a tremendous relief, especially after a difficult winter. The return of open waterways means an increase in the ease of travel, as well as a more available resource of fish. (Rodenberg)
Is it likely that a legitimate creature has managed to go undocumented by zoologists and wildlife biologists for so many centuries? No, it’s not likely, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. The world is still full of undocumented creatures. This water monster has such a bombastic presence, however, that it is unlikely to go undiscovered for this long.
So, if it exists, is the Miniwashitu a beast to be trifled with? Probably not, but if you’re wondering if this creature is dangerous, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know it’s likely not going to be munching on your sullied corpse. It may, however, render you blind, deaf, and so insane that the only relief you’ll find will be in death.
Georgia-based author and artist, Mary has been a horror aficionado since the mid-2000s. Originally a hobby artist and writer, she found her niche in the horror industry in late 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. Mary’s evolution into a horror expert allowed her to express herself truly for the first time in her life. Now, she prides herself on indulging in the stuff of nightmares.
Mary also moonlights as a content creator across multiple social media platforms—breaking down horror tropes on YouTube, as well as playing horror games and broadcasting live digital art sessions on Twitch.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.