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Devil's Gulch

A cache by room104 Send Message to Owner Message this owner
Hidden : 01/23/2010
2 out of 5
2 out of 5

Size: Size: not chosen (not chosen)

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Geocache Description:

This Earthcache is located in a little park in Garretson, South Dakota. This park is supposedly the place where outlaw Jesse James and his horse made his famous jump across Devil’s Gulch. Along with scenic views, this park also offers hiking trails. The half-mile trail begins near the steel bridge, where James made his famous jump across Split Rock Creek on horseback. The trail leads to high and low observation points, spring-fed waterfalls, the Devil’s Stairway, and Devil’s Kitchen. It ends at the Log Cabin information center. Enjoy!

Devil’s Gulch is a twenty-foot wide chasm lined with quartzite walls. It’s name is derived from the “eerie noises that come from its bowels as the winds blow through” (Richardson 84). A chasm or a rift is a place where the Earth’s crust has been pulled apart. Split Rock Creek also flows through the chasm. Richardson explains that within the gulch, the water lies oily and motionless, except for an occasional gurgle of life. It is said that powerful currents rage below the surface and areas are reported to be bottomless. The part of Split Rock Creek that flows through this canyon (near the site of the famous jump) is known as the Bottomless Pit. According to John Andrews, “locals dropped a 600-foot plumb line into the creek and found no bottom.” Geologists think this deep, bottomless fissure was caused by an ancient earthquake.

An earthquake, also know as a tremor, is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust that creates seismic waves. This energy can be caused by a sudden dislocation of segments of the crust, by a volcanic eruption, or an event by manmade explosions. Most earthquakes occur where tectonic plates meet. Tectonic plates move in relation to each other at one of three types of plate boundaries: spreading zones, transform faults, and subduction zones.

At spreading zones, molten rock rises, pushing the two plates apart and adding new material at there edges. The majority of earth’s spreading zones are found in the oceans. Earthquakes occurring here usually happen at shallow depths (within 19 miles of the surface).

Transform faults are found where plates slide past one another. One example of a transform fault plate boundary is the San Andreas fault, along the coast of California and northwestern Mexico. Here, earthquakes tend to occur at shallow depths and form fairly straight, linear patterns.

Subduction zones are found where one plate overrides another, pushing it down into the mantle where it melts. An example of a subduction zone can be found along the northwest coast of the United States, western Canada, and southern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Subduction zones are characterized by deep-ocean trenches, shallow to deep earthquakes, and mountain ranges containing active volcanoes.

Earthquakes usually begin suddenly and without warning. Usually, an earthquake is caused by a dislocation of the crust. At first, the crust may bend and then, when the stress exceeds the strength of the rocks, break and “snap” into a new position. This causes the Earth’s surface to open in cracks. Vibrations or seismic waves, which quickly become loud roars, accompany the movement of the ground. These waves travel outward from the source of the earthquake along the surface and through the Earth at varying speeds, depending on the material through which they move.

A Native American legend tells another theory of Devil’s Gulch’s origins. John Andrews, in his article “Garretson’s Mysteries,” details the legend: “To the Native Americans, Devil’s Gulch was known as Spirit Canyon and was the home of Ha-Shootch-Ga, an Indian warrior and a troublesome man who often set members of his tribe against each other. One day, Iktomi, a protector from the spirit world who was fond of tricks, jokes, and ‘keeping the pot stirred’ while making other spirits and men look ridiculous, appeared to the tribe as a Yanktonnais brave. Ha-Shootch-Ga became jealous of the much wiser Iktomi and insulted him as he walked along the creek. The two fought with tomahawks, but when Ha-Shootch-Ga saw Iktomi’s eyes flash with fire, he turned and ran. Iktomi threw his tomahawk. When it hit the ground, lightning flashed and the earth split apart, creating the Spirit Canyon.”

There are several other legends surrounding Devil’s Gulch. Andrew’s article explains the story of a homesteading family’s deadly encounter with Native Americans near Garretson. “Nellie Harding, her father, mother, and brother were on their way to Dakota Territory from eastern Wisconsin. They were camped on the Big Sioux River when a band of Indians, led by a white man, came along and killed everyone but Nellie, whom they took prisoner and brought to Devil’s Gulch. Nellie’s lover, Dick Willowby, was still in Wisconsin, but had a vivid dream in which he saw the murders and the kidnapping. The next morning, he set out for Devil’s Gulch. When he arrived, he saw the Indians camped above the gulch. He approached slowly, leveled his pistol and began shooting Indians until all but the white ringleader were dead. The man grabbed Nellie and held her prisoner. Willowby aimed his gun and shot at the man, but killed Nellie instead. The man jumped on his horse and rode away with Willowby in pursuit. During their horseback gunfight, both were mortally wounded. When the man’s horse stumbled, just across the border in Minnesota, he was killed instantly. Willowby managed to drag himself back to where Nellie lay and died with her in Devil’s Gulch.”

According to legend, outlaw Jesse James supposedly jumped twenty feet across Devil’s Gulch, a near-bottomless section of Split Rock Creek. The article “Garretson’s Mysteries” explains the story: “In 1876, Jesse and Frank James, a long with a gang of six, tried to rob a bank in Northfield, MN,” a small town south of Minneapolis. “After an unsuccessful attempt that left a bank teller and two gang members dead, they rode west. The brothers split from the gang at Mankato and headed toward Dakota Territory with a posse in pursuit. Nearing the border, they followed Split Rock Creek, Frank on the west and Jesse on the east. With the posse bearing down on him, Jesse Came to Devil’s Gulch. He is said to have spurred his horse and leapt across the creek, leaving the posse on the other side. He and Frank then hid in caves along the creek near Garretson before making their way home to Missouri.” Today, a steel footbridge marks the spot where James is said to have made his famous jump.

While geology is important to understanding how the area was created, the legends and stories surrounding the area also help make Devil’s Gulch what it is today.


Andrews, John. “Garretson’s Mysteries.” South Dakota Magazine, May/June 2008: 23-28. Print.

Richardson, Jeanne. “The Creek That Thinks It’s a River.” South Dakota Magazine, July/August 1999: 84-88. Print.

In order to count this Earthcache as a find, you must complete the following tasks and email the answers to me.

1. What is the elevation at ground zero?

2. Estimate the height of the waterfall.

3. Describe the quartzite (color, formation, hardness).

4. Go to the site of Jesse James’s famous jump. Estimate the distance across the chasm. How do you think this differs from James’s time? Why?

5. Please post a picture of yourself in the area - either at ground zero or at the jump site.

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