History & Culture

Devils Tower: Proposals to Change the Name

On November 20, 2014, a proposal was submitted to the United States Board on Geographic Names on behalf of a spiritual leader of the Lakota Nation to change the names of the geologic feature “Devils Tower” and the populated place “Devils Tower, Wyoming.” On December 1, 2014, the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe wrote to the Secretary of the Interior and others requesting the name “Devils Tower National Monument” be changed. In each instance the request is to change “Devils Tower” to “Bear Lodge.” More than twenty Tribes with close association to the Tower hold it sacred, and find the application of the name “Devils” to be offensive.

History of the Name

According to research conducted by the National Park Service, several historic documents recount the names “Bear Lodge,” “Bears Lodge,” and “Mato Teepee” were the names assigned to the Tower on most maps, with few exceptions, between 1874 and 1901. In 1875 Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dodge escorted the scientific expedition of geologist Walter P. Jenney though the Black Hills to determine the truth of rumors of gold initiated by General George Armstrong Custer the previous year. Dodge wrote in his 1875 journal, “The Indians call this shaft ‘The Bad God’s Tower,’ a name adopted, with proper modifications, by our surveyors.” It is speculated that a guide for Lt. Dodge was the source of this translation, and “Bear Lodge” may have been mistakenly interpreted as “Bad God’s.” As a result, “Bad God’s Tower” then became “Devils Tower.” The name “Devils Tower” was applied to maps of that era, and subsequently was used in the name of the national monument when it was proclaimed in 1906.

Who has the Authority to Change the Name

The National Park Service has no authority to change the names of the geologic feature, the populated place, or the national monument. The name of the geologic feature and the populated place may be changed by the United States Board on Geographic Names, the Congress, or the President. The name of the national monument may be changed by an act of Congress or by a Presidential Proclamation.

Update on Recent Developments

On September 16, 2015, Sen. Mike Enzi (WY) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (WY-At Large) introduced
S. 2039 and H.R. 3527, respectively, in the United States Congress. The purpose of both bills is to retain the name Devils Tower for both the geologic feature and the populated place. Even if these bills do not become law during the 114th Congress, as a result of their introduction, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names –in accordance with its Policy I –cannot consider any proposed name change until at least 90 days after the beginning of the next session of Congress, i.e., April 4, 2017, at the earliest. The Wyoming Board on Geographic Names also adheres to Policy I. Accordingly, neither the United States Board nor the Wyoming Board are currently accepting comments on the November 20, 2014 proposal.

Avenue for Commenting on the Proposal to Change the Name of the National Monument

Comments regarding the proposal to change the name of “Devils Tower National Monument” to “Bear Lodge National Monument” may be sent to the respective congressional representative or the White House.



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