There’s a reason Wheelock feels haunted

wheelock-sign-sig-smallA spooky little town as many people know it, and there’s a reason.  At one time, a thriving growing community, at least four murders in its short life mar the history of Wheelock.  It was a town destined for distinction and death.

Wheelock first showed up in Williams County, North Dakota about 1901 and became a formal community a year later.  Compared to the vacant prairie, Wheelock  was so large and affluent, less fortunate people moved down the road a couple of miles and established the town of Epping.  It was said at the time that property was too expensive in Wheelock.  It’s population hovered around 115 in the mid 1930’s and by the 1950’s it reported as many as 400 people in town.

mailboxes-sig-smallWhile there is more than a handful of residents here, it looks as though their property value has declined. The town seems haunted by its past. The solid structures of town dissolved in the last 10 or 15 years, a few old farm shacks and barns remain, but no commercial buildings.


By the 1970’s fewer than 24 people lived in Wheelock. In 1994, the town died and was formally dissolved. (Meanwhile, that poor little town down the road, Epping continues and even has its own webpage.)

wheelockHere’s why it seems haunted — murders: As happens with popular bustling towns, it attracted quite a bit of good and bad attention.  Business was so robust that by the time it celebrated its 25th birthday, it was home to a hotel, general merchandise store, lumber yard, pool hall, drug store and a bank — and that’s where the first murder happened, at the bank.  It’s that brick building in the center of the three buildings in the photo above.

The bank was profitable, and was isolated, miles from any law enforcement. That could be why three armed men took over the bank in 1926. Before they ran off with all the money, they murdered the banker.  They avoided capture, until one man was caught in Kenmare, North Dakota.  He died in prison.

Of course today, Main Street doesn’t look like it would attract a bank robbery.


It does not yet appear what it will be — a hotel? A saloon?  Someone’s brave attempt to bring life to Wheelock?

About 30 years later Guy Hall  jumped off the train on the south edge of town. He wandered around the decaying town. It obviously had seen better days, but he might find a bite to eat here.

He picked a house that he seemed drawn to.  There was no rational reason why this was the house to choose, it was the voices that told him “This one.”

Hall had a rough time in his life ending up in a Washington State Prison. When he was released, he jumped a freight and headed east.  Now in Wheelock, his inner chaos was screaming.

At the house he picked, he banged on the door and the woman told him to go away. She had her own two sons to feed.  Hall got mad, left and returned.

She still would not let him in.  He’d picked up a crowbar at a construction site on main street and swung it to get in to the house.  He killed her.  Her sons tried to protect her, and he bloodied them up mercilessly, hitting them repeatedly. He killed them. No one knows for sure why he attacked her, except for what he later said in his own words..

A few days later, he was found dead. He’d shot himself and left behind a note that said, “Please excuse me for I am insane.”



One of few residences we could find in town.

Wheelock has been on a downhill slide ever since the 1950’s.  A few attempts at cleaning up and building up the town never seem to get very far.


dish-on-wheelock-shack-sig-smallInterestingly, a drive through town, and you’ll see an essential item on the shacks: a satellite dish.

The Bakken boom created a bit of interest in the town, but then when the boom was over, the town became ghostly once again.  It sits in the shade of its much larger neighbor to the west, Williston. Epping, the little town built from those who could not afford Wheelock, is still functioning. To the east, the towns of Ray and Tioga thrive in the new economy of oil.


If you want to invest in a ghost town, property is for sale.

Death has centered on Wheelock. Each time we return, it’s less and less of a residential collection of homes, and more of a ghost town.  People who visit say they feel “creeped out” by the town. Some write of their experiences as being very quick — they have written they felt an evil presence in town.

What is your experience when you visit Wheelock?

Not been there yet?  Drop a comment here after you have visited Wheelock to tell me what you think.

Fort Union unites time, traders, trappers and tribal merchants

Fort Union, from across the Missouri River just yards from the ND/MT state line

Fort Union, from across the Missouri River just yards from the ND/MT state line

A cool wet September morning…and a traveling pair head for the trading post.  Word had reached them in their homes near Bismarck and Fargo that this was the weekend of a good gathering at the Fort Union Trading Post. For nearly 40 years, this fur trading post on the upper Missouri provided peaceful trade between traveling frontiersmen, trappers, traders and Native American merchants. Assiniboine, Crow, Blackfeet, Ojibwa, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Sioux merchants all traded at the post.  From the days of Lewis and Clark until the Civil War, this was a cultural and economic nerve center in the middle of the North American Continent.

Earlier in the season, the couple had spied the trading post from across the Missouri River.  The water was up; the distance was great, so they didn’t try to ford the river or cross at another point.  Instead they vowed to return when they were within range.  That day was the first Saturday in September.

The couple navigated the 25 miles of back roads and watched for signs of the trading post.  “Turn north and follow the river,” she counseled him as she consulted a series of maps. He directed the surefooted horsepower in the direction she indicated.  Bluffs and buttes around, they found the trading post and crossed over the state line in to Montana to enter the compound from the west just feet in to Montana, heading east back in to North Dakota.

The southwest basion was designed for defense. George Catlin used it as a studio in 1832

The southwest bastion was designed for defense. George Catlin used it as a studio in 1832

They crossed the low-lying spaces below the trading post.  There, down below the trading post their time was one hour off.  The low-lying area is in mountain time zone. It changed as they walked the rise up in to the  structure where they entered central time zone. The tall tower and wind vane they had spotted from across the river was now above them as they entered in through the garrisoned walls.  At the entrance a couple discussed their evening plans for socializing, food and sleep at the trading post.

At the main gate and entrance of the trading post

At the main gate and entrance of the trading post

Across the entrance, a young woman navigated her way across the muddy grounds. Frog-drowning rain the night before had left a lake in the compound and more rain was expected.

A boardwalk keeps visitors out of the mud from last night's rain

A boardwalk keeps visitors out of the mud from last night’s rain

At the moment, water slowly seeped in to the ground, leaving behind soft mud bridge by planks.

Different cultures, different ages and different families converge on the trading post

Different cultures, different ages and different families converge on the trading post

Despite the mud and rain, families moved about the post freely, playing and enjoying the social event. fort union boy



As much as the trading post is about commerce and products, it’s also about families and social gatherings.

Hardware is made, then traded and sold in booths and tents along the permiter of the Fort Union Trading Post

Hardware is made, then traded and sold in booths and tents along the perimeter of the Fort Union Trading Post

Since the days of John Jacob Astor and the American Fur Company, this has been the largest trade, shopping and supply post in the western frontier U.S.  Positioned up-stream from the joining point or confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the trading post merges several cultures in to one moment on the northern plains.fort union two young mothers and daughter

Nearby, buckskinners took shelter in the warmth of the trade house at the entrance of post.

Inside the west Indian Trade House, a fire keeps visitors warm and dry.

Inside the west Indian Trade House, a fire keeps visitors warm and dry.

Here is where ledgers, inventories and business records are kept.  It’s also the room where important meetings with visiting tribal merchants could strike a deal. A fire crackled in its work to ward off the damp chill of the day.  “We meet here as often as we can,” the older trader told a visitor while he nursed his precious hot coffee.  “We’re happy to have visitors like you.  We like to swap stories and share our adventures.”


fort union buckskinner sepia vig sigThe old-timer’s words were demonstrated;  a gathering and multiple conversations were housed on the front porch of the Bourgeois House.Fort Union two buckskinners 2 sepia vig sig

This is where the field agent lived in 1851 after a smaller building was enlarged in to this two-story house with a porch.

Fort Union Bourgeois House 2 story sepia vig sig

Just outside the palisades, young marksmen prepared his muzzleloader.

Preparing the flint

Preparing the flint

Fort Union ramrod muzzle loader sepia vig sigHis target, down by the river, was out of sight at the moment.  By the time he got his shot ready, the target would be visible again.  His efforts attracted the attention of friends and strange visitors.  After a couple of misfires, his shot echoed across the valley.

Fort Union Muzzleloader shoots

Fort Union mothers and daughters watachA few spectators watched as the shooter demonstrated his skills.  Some, chose to stay inside, including a small gathering of men who sat and swapped stories.

The trading post provided a chance to not only swap goods and stories, but to kick back and relax.

Fort Union Three buckskinners sepia vig sig The visitors who had come so far to visit the Fort Union Trading Post were warmly received and learned much from this annual gathering. Fort Union Lief and another sepia vig sig The visit extended until nearly sunset when the gathering broke up and headed to their lodging for the evening, some outside the post, and some farther down the river in more civilized settlements. There, they spread the word of the days’ events on Facebook and in the Beautiful Bakken photo gallery.Ft Union Front Porch gathering sepia vig sig