The Infamy of Gitchie Manitou Kept Me Away For More Than 40 Years
I’d never been to Gitchie Manitou. That changed on Saturday (Dec. 16).
I was born and raised in Sioux Falls and lived here nearly my entire life, yet had never visited the small Iowa State Preserve, just across the Big Sioux River. It’s so close that, if the powers that be ever decide to drop a bridge over the river at 57th Street, it would run right into the site.
When I was growing up you just didn’t go to Gitchie. It held frightening and powerful past that kept us away. It’s the site of the famous mass murder in 1973, in which three brothers from Sioux Falls slaughtered four teenage boys.
Only 13 year-old Sandra Cheskey survived. In recent years, Cheskey has recounted her story, including in “Gitchie Girl,” a book published in 2016.
I was old enough to remember the event when it happened. But the horrific nature of the murders left a lasting impression, not just on me, but pretty much everybody I knew.
You just didn’t go to Gitchie Manitou. It held a mythical and haunting place in our social circles for decades.
I really had no intention of going until I showed up for a bike ride on Saturday morning. The plan was for 20 to 25 miles of gravel and back-trail adventure with no real plan. But when I showed up, my friend and ride organizer Art said, “I thought we’d head to Gitchie and then figure out where to go after that.”
That’s probably not an exact quote because all I really heard was the word “Gitchie” and my brain hiccupped.
Now, there’s no real reason to be taken aback by the mere mention of the place. But it triggered something from the dim mists of history and for just a moment I had that old feeling. “You don’t got to Gitchie.”
I put that aside and we headed out for what turned into a fantastic morning of bike riding across the border and the back into Sioux Falls.
I’ll admit it was a little weird when we got there. The site has been pretty much lathered in graffiti in recent years, which is really odd. But it’s a nice place and, along with the Blood Run site to the south, worth spending some quality outdoor time.
It only took me 40 years to get there.