RIVERDALE Not far from this community that sits atop the bluffs overlooking Lake Sakakawea is a bay with a forbidding name Dead Man's Bay.
"I've heard of it, but I really don't know where the name came from," said Todd Lindquist, Riverdale, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake manager.
Brad Sether, supervisor hydrologic technician for the U.S. Geological Survey in Bismarck, had a similar response when asked if he had any idea how Dead Man's Bay got its name.
A fisherman tries his luck from rocks on the north side of the entrance to Dead Man’s Bay on Lake Sakakawea. The name of the bay reflects some intriguing history of the area.
"I really haven't," said Sether, indicating he was now somewhat curious as to the name's origin.
Numerous stories exists about how and why the bay received its name. Some have a link to the possible truth. One lasting tale is that a man hung himself there many years ago. Another is that scuba divers in the area discovered a gruesome skeleton tethered to a chunk of concrete. While both stories could result in such a notable name being given to the bay, neither quite matches up with what is known by long-time residents of the region.
"I honestly don't remember," said Sallie Pochant, Riverdale. "Check with Junior. He's one of the boys who would know."
According to Sallie Pochant, Junior Pochant has worked the family farm that was established in 1923 "for ever and ever." Junior Pochant was born in 1931. The Pochant name is attached to a well-known bay immediately south of Dead Man's Bay.
"You mean Dead Man's Coulee," said Junior Pochant when asked how Dead Man's Bay received its name. "They hung some rustlers down there. My dad had a clipping about that. It was before I was born, probably in the '20s or before."
In this case the rustlers, two of them according to Junior Pochant's recollection, were horse thieves. It was well known, even after 1900, that the penalty for stealing horses in North Dakota was a rapid encounter with a noose, sometimes by vigilante justice. The law wasn't always consulted or even considered necessary. That horse thieves would be hung in a coulee leading to the Missouri River would be news, but certainly not exclusive to the region for that time period.
Junior Pochant's father died on Christmas Day, 1999, just a few months short of his 102nd birthday. The farm house he lived in is about one and a half miles from what is known as Dead Man's Bay today.
"Dead Man's Coulee actually runs up to within about a half-mile of my land," said Junior Pochant. "When we were kids we went swimming there all the time. There was a creek up there and the river."
The river was the Missouri River, which was damned to form Lake Sakakawea in the early 1950s. The flooding backed water up into what was known locally as Dead Man's Coulee, hence Dead Man's Bay today.
Dead Man's Bay is easily located by boats launching from the Government Bay boat ramp at Riverdale. When exiting Government Bay, the first bay to the north is Pochant Bay. The next bay to the north is Dead Man's Bay, followed by the entrance to Wolf Creek Bay.
While Dead Man's Bay is certainly an attention getting name, the Lake Sakakawea location shares its odd moniker with some of the most famous locations in mariner history. Deadman's Bay, Newfoundland, was founded prior to 1845.
Perhaps the most famous of all locations carrying a similarly sinister name is Deadman's Bay of Peter Island, British Virgin Islands. That Deadman's Bay is home to what is considered one of the world's most romantic beaches and is located a short distance from Dead Chest Island. Dead Chest Island is believed to be the location where the infamous Blackbeard marooned 15 mutineers and therefore the birthplace of the pirate ditty "15 men on a dead man's chest."
While Dead Man's Bay on Lake Sakakawea may not have any lasting ballad attached to it, the fate of those who gave the coulee and bay its ghastly name is eerily similar.