First Fifty Years - Monument Established
Ray H. Mattison, Historian
Support grew for the idea of preserving the Tower as a national or state park. In February 1892, Senator Francis E, Warren (1844-1929) of Wyoming wrote the Commissioner of the General Land office asking him for assistance in preventing the spoliation of Devils Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes, located several miles to the northeast. Several weeks later, the Land office issued an order setting asides under the Forest Reserve Act of March 31, 1891, some 60.5 square miles, which included both the Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes, as a temporary forest reserve. This reserve was reduced in June 1892 to 1875 square miles and the unreserved portion in 1898 was restored to settlement.
In the same year, Senator Warren introduced a bill (S. 3364) in the United States Senate for the establishment of "Devils Tower National Park." Acting on the advice of the General Land Office, the Senator requested in his proposal that 18.75 square miles or 11,974.24 acres, which include both Devils Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes, be set aside for the park. The bill, which was introduced on July 1, 1892, was read twice by its title and referred to the Committee on Territories. It appears that Congress took no further action on the proposal.
It was not until fourteen years later that Devils Tower became a national monument. Although the proposal to make the area a national park apparently did not receive much public support, the proponents were sufficiently influential to keep it in timber reserve status. Following the passage of the Antiquities Act in June 1906, Frank W. Mondell (1860-1939), Representative-at-Large from Wyoming and resident of Newcastle, lent his support to the plan to have the area preserved as a national monument. Mondell was a member and later chairman of the important House Committee on Public Lands. It was apparently as the result of his influences more than that of any other individual, that President Theodore Roosevelt, on September 24, 1906, proclaimed Devils Tower as a national monument. Upon the recommendation of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the acreage set aside was only 1,152.91 acres, believed by him to "be sufficiently large to provide for the proper care and management of the monument" under the terms of the Antiquities Act. The Little Missouri Buttes were not included in the monument area. The remainder of the reserve was opened to settlement in 1908.
The question whether President Theodore Roosevelt ever visited Devils Tower is a matter of conjecture. Some elderly residents of the region claim that he visited the place on one of his hunting trips through the Black Hills; others, that he dedicated the monument when it was established. The writer has been unable to find any contemporary letters or newspaper accounts which show that he visited the Tower at any time. On April 25, 1903, while on an extended tour through the West, Roosevelt made train stops at Gillette, Moorcroft and Sundance, Wyoming; and at Edgemont and Ardmore, South Dakota. It is highly probable that he saw the Tower at a distance at that time. The several Wyoming newspapers published in September 1906, which were consulted by the writer, made no mention whatever of the Tower receiving national monument status.
Did You Know?
One of the fastest climbs of Devils Tower was done in 18 minutes by Todd Skinner in the 1980s. A typical climb usually takes 4-6 hours.