The First Fifty Years - Early Exploration

Ray H. Mattison, Historian
National Park Service

The Tower also was an object of curiosity to the early white explorers. Although early fur traders and others probably saw the gigantic formation at a distance none ever mentioned it in their journals. Lt. G. K. Warren’s Expedition of 1855 passed through the Black Hills en route from Fort Laramie to Fort Pierre but probably never was within sight of it. In 1857, Warren, accompanied by Dr. F. V. Hayden and others, started from Fort Laramie to explore the Black Hills and then, returned to the Missouri via the Niobrara River. At Inyan Kara, they met a large party of Sioux who threatened to attack if they attempted to advance farther. While there Warren reported seeing the "Bear's Lodge" and "Little Missouri Buttes" to the north through a powerful spy-glass. It is not known if he was referring to the Bear Lodge Mountains or to the Tower itself. The explorers retraced their route 40 miles and took another route eastward instead of the one originally planned, originally planned. Capt. W. F. Raynolds' Yellowstone Expedition passed through the Black Hills region two years later. J. T. Hutton, topographer, and the Sioux interpreter, Zephyr Recontre, on July 20 reached the Tower and returned to the Expedition's camp on the Little Missouri River. Neither Warren nor Raynolds, however, left descriptions of the formation.

Richard Irving Dodge

Colonel Richard Irving Dodge

It remained for the U. S. Geological Survey party, who made a reconnaissance of the Black Hills in 1875, to call attention to the uniqueness of the Tower. Col. Richard I. Dodge, commander of the military escort, described it in the following year as "one of the most remarkable peaks in this or any country."

Henry Newton (1845-1877), geological assistant to the expedition, wrote:
"Its [the Tower’s] remarkable structure, its symmetry, and its prominence made it an unfailing object of wonder. . . It is a great remarkable obelisk of trachyte, with a columnar structure, giving it a vertically striated appearance, and it rises 625 feet almost perpendicular, from its base. Its summit is so entirely inaccessible that the energetic explorer, to whom the ascent of an ordinarily difficult crag is but a pleasant pastime, standing at its base could only look upward in despair of ever planting his feet on the top. . . "

Colonel Dodge is generally credited with giving the formation its present name. In his book, entitled The Black Hills, published in 1876, he called it "Devils Tower," explaining "The Indians call this shaft The Bad God’s Tower, a name adopted with proper modification, by our surveyors." Newton, whose published work on the survey appeared in 1880, explained that the name Bear Lodge (Mateo Teepee) "appears on the earliest map of the region, and though more recently it is said to be known among the Indians as "the bad god's tower," or in better English, "the devil’s tower," the former name, well applied, is still retained." However, since that time, the name Devils Tower has been generally used. Geologists, on the other hand, have in some instances continued to use the original name.

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