• America's First

    Devils Tower

    National Monument Wyoming

First Stories

Tower shrouded in fog

In the 1930's, the importance of Devils Tower to many Plains Indians was recorded in first person narratives.

Arapaho Legend
An Arapaho lodge was camped at Bears Tipi. The father of this lodge was a head lodge and had seven children, five boys and two girls. The two girls had made an arrangement between themselves that the one who found the end bond (end rib) of a buffalo should receive the most favors from the brothers. The boys often made trips to other tribes. After a long search one of the girls found an end bone of a buffalo and on picking it up she turned into a bear and made some big scratches on her sister's back. The bear-girl told her sister, "if you tell the dogs will howl and this will be a signal so I will know that you have told." The sister did tell her brothers and when they heard the dogs howl and give the signal they were scared and started to run.
The bear-girl heard the signal and ran after them. The girl who had told was carrying a ball in her hand which she dropped and accidentally kicked. The ball bounded up on the big, high rock. The bear-girl reached over her sister's shoulder to grab the ball, slipped and made very big scratches on the big rock and fell on her sister and broke the sister's chest. The bear-girl climbed to the top of the big, high rock and told her family that there would be seven stars in the shape of a diamond appear in the east and the first star out would be off to one side and would be brighter than the other stars. This first star would be called Broken Chest Star. From this time on the Arapaho called this big, high rock "Bears Tipi".
This legend was told to Dick Stone by Sherman Sage, 81 years old. Otto Hungary, Interpreter.

Cheyenne Legend
A band of Cheyenne Indians went on one of their visits to Bears Tipi to worship the Great Spirit; as did many other tribes before the white man came. The Cheyenne braves took their families with them as they felt that would be safe as Bears Tipi was a holy place.
After having camped there for several days, one of the Cheyenne braves noticed that his wife was often gone from camp, staying away for a short time. As time went on he noticed that she was gone longer than before. This brave could not understand why his wife should be gone from their lodge so much as he had always been devoted to her and being a good hunter, as well as a brave warrior, she always had much buffalo, antelope, and deer meat. He furnished her fine skins to make nice clothes.
Becoming suspicious that some other brave in his band might be courting his wife, he watched to see what man was missing when his wife left camp. He found that no man was missing when his wife was gone. This man also saw that his wife had a skin over her shoulders now that she did not wear before coming to this camp.
One day when she had been gone longer than usual, he laid in wait for her, on her return he asked her where she had been and what drew her from camp so much of the time. She would not answer any of his questions. Then the man became mad and tore the skin from her shoulders and saw that she was covered with scratches.
He demanded that she tell him which man had abused her. Becoming frightened at the way her husband was acting she told him that she had been charmed by a very big bear that lived in the big rock. The bear had no mate and had become infatuated with her while she was out gathering fruit. Fearing for the safety of the camp, she had submitted to the bear's embraces, which accounted for the scratches on her shoulders.
Then the warrior told his wife to lead him to the bear so he could kill it. When they found the bear, the man had great fear because the bear was big, very big. The bear slapped the woman with his paw and changed her into a bear. The man ran to the camp to get the rest of the braves to help him kill the big bear.
They found the bear had crawled into a cave, leaving his hind feet in the door. The bear's feet were so big that nobody could get past them. They could not get close enough to the bear to kill him so they shot at his feet to make him come out. When the bear came out he was so big that all the warriors were scared and climbed up on a big rock.
The men were so scared that they prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the rock began to grow up out of the ground and when it stopped it was very high. The bear jumped at the men and on the fourth jump his claws were on the top. The Great Spirit had helped the men and now they had great courage and they shot the bear and killed him. When the bear fell, he fell backwards and pushed the big rock which made it lean.
After that, the bear-woman made this big rock her home, so the Cheyennes called it Bears Tipi.
This legend was told to Dick Stone by Young Bird. Samuel Weasel Bear, Interpreter.

Crow Legend


Kiowa Legend
Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, "Rock take pity on us, rock save us!" The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.
The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears' claws, turned to stone, all around the base.No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it - it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears' claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock "Tso-aa", a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree.
Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.

Lakota Legend
In the Sioux tribe long ago was a brave warrior who often went alone into the wilderness where he would fast and worship the Great Spirit in solitude. Being alone helped him to strengthen his courage so that in the future he could carry out his plans.
One day this warrior took his buffalo skull and went along into the wilderness to worship. Standing at the base of Mato Tipila after he had worshipped for two days he suddenly found himself on top of this high rock. He was very much frightened as he did not know how he would get down. After appealing to the Great Spirit he went to sleep. When he awoke he was very glad to find that he was again at the base of this high rock.
He saw that he was standing at the door of a big bear's lodge as there was foot prints of a very big bear there. He could tell that the cracks in the big rock were made by the big bear's claws. So he knew that all the time he had been on top of this big rock he had been standing on a big bear's lodge.
From this time on his nation called this big high rock Mato Tipila and they went there often to worship. The buffalo skull is still on top of this big high rock and can be seen on the highest point.
This legend told to Dick Stone by Short Bull, who lived a short distance west of Oglala, South Dakota, on July 31, 1932. Mark Running Eagle, Interpreter.

Did You Know?

News Clips of George Hopkins stranded on Devils Tower

As a publicity stunt, George Hopkins parachuted onto Devils Tower on October 1, 1941. He was stranded for six days before he could be rescued.