Gitchie Manitou State Preserve

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Say the words “Gitchie Manitou” to folks in central Iowa and you’ll be mostly met with blank stares. Say the words to people in northwest Iowa and they’ll tell you about the grisly murders that took place there in 1973.

Say “Gitchie Manitou” to geologists and they’ll go bonkers with excitement.

It turns out that this small state preserve, located in Lyon County in the way northwest tip of Iowa, is home to Precambrian Sioux Quartzite outcroppings that are about 1.7 BILLION years old – the oldest surface bedrock in Iowa – as well as the scene of a tragic crime.

The state first purchased the land in 1916 for use as a quarry but later transferred the area to the Board of Conservation, which turned it into a state park. In 1969 it was dedicated as a geological, archaeological, historical, and biological preserve to honor the unique pink bedrock and the Oneota people who lived in the area for 8,500 years.

But in 1973, five friends went into the park and only one came out alive. Historians say that nightmare forever transformed Gitchie Manitou from a backwoods setting where people hiked and held underage beer parties to an unholy ground that many insist today is haunted.

Sandra Cheskey was 13 years old in 1973. Three brothers confronted the teenagers, gunned down Cheskey’s four friends, raped her, and later set her free. You can read a story about the quadruple murder here.

I visited the preserve last summer with photographer Jim Heemstra and again a few weeks ago (that’s me in Jim’s photo, above). Jim and I are working on a story for the fall issue of VISIONS magazine about the geological history of Iowa. On our latest visit we took along Jane Dawson, a senior lecturer in geological and atmospheric sciences at Iowa State. Jane was incredibly enthusiastic about seeing the Sioux Quartzite in Gitchie Manitou, and I have to admit I thought it was pretty cool, too.

 

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