A Mysterious hole on a North Dakota mountaintop has kept people guessing for years. Did the Sioux really escape down its narrow and winding passage, which is currently closed to visitors with the exception of the campground area: The legend began over 100 years ago and has yet to be verified.
The place is called Medicine Hole, a small entrance to a narrow, little explored cave that extends down into one of the high, steep hills known as the Killdeer Mountains. Medicine Hole got its name by emitting a smoky fog on cold mornings.
There are few facts about the Medicine Hole and a whole lot more folklore fiction. Nearly every visitor will ask if anyone has ever been down the narrow passage way. Some knowledgeable locals will say ‘yes,’ many years ago people explored the cave, while others will say no one has ever risked a venture into its narrow shafts.
Little was known about the Medicine Hole until General Alfred Sully led a punitive expedition against the united and warring Sioux in 1864. He found the Indians—6,000 warriors from 110 different bands, with all their women and children—camped at the foot of the Killdeers. In the battle that followed, on July 28, 1864, Sully’s 2,200 soldiers with artillery routed the overconfident Sioux sending the entire camp fleeing in panic up the ravines into the Killdeers. The Indians so fully expected victory they had let Sully’s soldiers get within easy reach of their camps, which were well stocked for the approaching winter.
As the legend goes, the fleeing Indians left everything and lit out for the Badlands. One band of Sioux, surrounded near the top of the hills, disappeared. Where? Down the narrow Medicine Hole?
Little more than a week later Sully’s army was miles west of the Killdeers searching for stragglers and encountered the same band of Indians that allegedly escaped down the hole.
As the story goes, the Indians had traveled through a network of underground caverns underlying western North Dakota. The fact that wind currents can be detected from the hole only lent support to the tale. Early settlers to the area, aware of the many natural springs that come from the Killdeer Mountains, give even more credence to the cavern theories.
The Medicine Hole’s setting is as spectacular as it is fascinating. Weird rock formations, like Signet Rock, Three Old Maids and Eagle Rock add to the natural beauty of the steep, wooded hills.
Medicine Hole can be reached from Highway 22 north of Killdeer. A small campground and picnic area is there with outdoor toilets, a few picnic tables, but no water. Access to the Medicine Hole is currently closed, however, visitor’s have access to the campground area.
Years ago people visiting the Medicine Hole would drop rocks down the shaft to hear their bouncing echoes as the rocks dropped down the deep, twisting passageways. Naturally, over the years the passages became plugged. The cave entrance has been dynamited twice. Once to seal the hole and again to re-open it.
Nearly 50 years ago, a group exploring the hole managed to descend about 175 feet. There they found three openings—all plugged from rocks thrown down from above. From one opening, a strong, steady wind was blowing.
Even today the stories of caverns and passageways continue. The stories lure people to climb the steep slopes but once there, the beauty of the Medicine Hole country rewards the visitor.
For a day trip and a scenic picnic site, the Medicine Hole is worth a visit. And the legend of the mountain? The only thing that’s certain is the Medicine Hole isn’t telling any secrets.