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Twisted Trempealeau County

Wisconsin is filled with majestic countryside, gargantuan farms, vast woods that sprawl for miles, and a hint of the strange and mysterious. Alright, maybe there is more than just a “hint” of the strange and unusual here, and that is what keeps me interested in many of the forgotten or hidden areas of this state.

Nestled in Trempealeau County, literally out in the middle of nowhere, is Chimney Rock Township.  I came across a very vague mention about a chimney out in this area, and that it harbors some haunted secrets.  This particular area, like many in the state of Wisconsin, was discovered (as it is recorded) by French explorers.  Nicholas Perrot, a famous explorer, was said to have arrived in Trempealeau County and was the first individual to really have a look around, and eventually set up a post there. I came upon the Trempealeau County Genealogy website, specifically the “History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917” and the chimney was mentioned under the geographical landmarks section which read,

“Chimney Rock is a towering, ragged pile, caused, as other similar formations in Western Wisconsin, by the erosive action of the wind, snow, frost and rain, wearing away the surrounding formations and leaving the rock in its present shape and condition.  The work of erosion is still going on.  The rock is the highest point in the vicinity.  It was originally called Devil’s Chimney and was a landmark to guide the traveler of the early days.  The rock is now obscured by trees.”  

I have also read from various sites that it is a popular place to rock climb.  Upon looking at a map, it is listed and there is the pinpoint, however, it is way off a road so I’m assuming it is quite a hike to get there.  I also found even more information, albeit, not a novel, but still some historical points about this location, on the Trempealeau County Historical Society website,

“According to the 1917 History of Trempealeau County, Chimney Rock , ‘owing to the nature of its surface was not settled until after the other townships in the county. The first permanent settler was Daniel Borst who brought his family here in 1865.’ Settlers in Bennet Valley were Hans Herbjornson, Austin Gunderson, Halvor Austinson, Aslak Torgerson, and Gudmund Knudson. The first settlers were almost all from Norway. Chimney Rock was named after a ‘conspicuous landmark’–a rock formation near the old stagecoach trail. It was the highest point in the vicinity and was originally known as the ‘Devil’s Chimney.’ There is an old story in the county about Jesse James burying his loot from the Northfield Raid at the foot of the Chimney Rock. The little trading center of Russell located in the western portion of the Town at one time had a school, general store and cheese factory. The mail was delivered to the Russell Store three times a week until the establishment of the rural delivery system. A general store, Lutheran church, mill and school were also located at the present day junction of Hwy 93 and CR Y and was known as Chimney Rock.”

It appears as though the lore is just as elusive as the location.  Wisconsinosity questions why this location has the reputation of being haunted.  This site also has an archived page of the former, “Weird Wisconsin” website.  The page is called, “Devils in Wisconsin” and gives some good insight as to why this place seems to be either cursed or haunted.  Early settlers oftentimes thought that certain areas were cursed because they were attached to the Native Americans as spiritual, or sacred/mysterious.  There is also speculation that early settlers were the ones who named the locations with the word “devil” in it due to paranormal events that may have occurred there.  They would either commemorate the place or it was to warn off fellow travelers to keep away from that particular location.

I have yet to see any photos of this exact location and we did not have the time to venture out into the woods and find it. Since this is a vast terrain of hunting area, it could take possibly days or weeks to find this spot.  The area is so steeped in Native American history, early settlers, superstitions, and sometimes mayhem, so it’s no shock at all that there are tons of locations which are talked about or sought after.  The fun part is the mystery surrounding it.  I guess simply put, the mystery of Chimney Rock aka the Devil’s Chimney will continue.

As we were making our way to the Chimney Rock area, we happened upon an old one room schoolhouse that sat out in the countryside.  It was a brick building and actually in good condition, the lawn around it having been recently mowed. My husband peeked through a window and saw the room was devoid of anything and there were a couple rooms which may have served as offices upstairs.  I grabbed my phone and snapped a few photos, because in my opinion, abandoned places are the most alluring whether you think they are lonely or haunted or both!

Another area that we were not able to find (this was getting to be a common theme in this legend tripping adventure) was “Rachel’s Field.”  It is a simple farmer’s field located near Eleva, Wisconsin.  Several years ago, a young girl was brutally murdered in the woods.  Her body parts were found strewn in the area and this grisly murder was never solved.  Now if you walk into the woods and stop for a moment, you may hear a little girl crying and some have reported seeing her run in front of them, then vanish right before their eyes.  Another part of the legend (slightly cliche) is on the 13th of every month, if you visit the area she was killed, the young girl will come out and hold the knife she was killed with, and it still has her fresh blood dripping from it.  Websites have also actually stated, “beware” if you go there so that is a bluntly obvious warning!

The last stop was the Strum Cemetery located in Strum, Wisconsin.  To be honest, I do not know much explicit history on this graveyard, just that this is where the small town has laid it’s loved ones to rest.  With many locations, either there is too much on history or too much regarding ghost lore.  According to Chad Lewis on the Unexplained Research website, the official name(s) for this location are the “Emanuel Cemetery” or “St. Paul’s Cemetery” and it is bordered by Highway 10 on the north, County Road D to the west, and Woodland Drive on the south.  For this case, there seems to be a bit more of the lore.  I found a website called Shadowlands Haunted Places and what they said about this place was chilling,

“It is messed up, especially during the full moon- you can see shadow people running amongst the headstones, children crying, hearing disembodied voices that emanate from a spirit’s mouth, but all you can do is listen and look around quickly to see if you may be able to see a young woman’s appearance before you, but there is none.  I think the most chilling feeling would be to hear a bloodcurdling scream coming from the little girl and not being able to see her; and wondering if she may need help.”

This small cemetery is not just your run of the mill graveyard; it seems to have many secrets.

Venture to any of these locations and you will not only have an adventure, but also mystery locations to find, as well as some sight seeing and taking in the abandoned country school. Trempealeau County is known for it’s scenic views, lush landscape, and serene outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and rock climbing.  Visit this area when the sun goes down and a full moon shines above you, and you just may see this place a bit differently indeed.

Devon Bell currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband Tony. Devon and Tony own a paranormal film company called The Haunting Experiments. She has published five books on the ghostlore of Wisconsin and her latest, Haunted Summerwind: A Ghostly History of a Wisconsin Mansion, will be released by The History Press in Spring 2016.

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