Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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1783 — Revolutionary War ends
1825 — Erie Canal opens
1830 — Indian Removal Act
1848 — Gold found at Sutter's Mill in California
1861 — American Civil War begins
1872 — Yellowstone National Park created
1880 — Dust Bowl begins

BY THE TIME PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT ESTABLISHED the Tower as the first national monument in 1906, pioneers had been living in what would become Wyoming for over 100 years. Other peoples had been surviving throughout the West for much, much longer—10,000 plus years, according to archeological records.

Clovis points, stone blades dating from 11,500 to 10,600 years ago, have been found in the Black Hills region. The Jim Pitts site, near Newcastle, Wyoming, about 100 miles south of Devils Tower National Monument (DTNM), is an area where Clovis points have been excavated, along with evidence of a hunter gatherer lifestyle. People hunted mega-fauna, large animals such as the mammoth, and later the Bison antiqua, an animal with a tip-to-tip horn span of 21-feet and predecessor to modern day buffalo.

The Black Hills area has Folsom sites, with stone blades from 10,900-10,000 years ago. The Agate Basin site in eastern Wyoming is one such site, with a layered occupation sequence, each layer associated with a discrete bed of bison (commonly called buffalo) bones.

During the Paleo-Indian period, generally accepted as being approximately 10,000-6,000 years ago, different point styles were used, along with new traditions and hunting methods. Some of the tribes used buffalo jumps and corrals to harvest the now smaller bison, which ran in bigger herds. The Vore Buffalo Jump, about 40 miles east of the Tower, near Sundance, Wyoming, continues to provide solid historical documentation of such harvests.

The Early Plains Archaic period covered 7,500-5,000 ago and, during this time, people began to use small game and plant resources better. These same factors influenced the Middle and Late Plains Archaic periods, which lasted until about 2,000 years ago.

From the Late Prehistoric and Plains Village era to the 1700s, Navajos and Apaches moved into the area from the north, adding to the population growth of the west. Bow and arrow technology was embraced and refined, allowing successful hunting of smaller animals, and less need to follow the migrations of large animals.

Historically, trade goods often preceded direct contact between peoples, and European trade goods began to appear throughout the west. From the Arctic to Mexico and from coast to coast, a vast trade network was evidence of a connection to many different cultures. Otters trapped in the American west became furs worn by Chinese nobles. Beaver pelts from western trappers became European felt hats. By 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase was finalized between the United States and France, the whole western frontier was being integrated into global history.

AS TRIBES MOVED west and south they continued to build relationships with the landscape, to live within the new areas. The Shoshones came out of the Great Basin area with knowledge of how to obtain and use horses. They arrived in the Black Hills in the early 1700s and mixed with the Kiowas and the Crows. The Kiowas lived along the Yellowstone River and forged a long-lasting alliance with the Crows. The Crows eventually reestablished their culture centered around the Big Horn Mountains, including the Black Hills area.

The Arapahos moved out of their agricultural villages in the east, pushed west by European expansion and aggressive Ojibwe tribes with European guns. After the British traded guns to the Dakota tribes, the Cheyenne, caught in the middle, migrated west, gathering at Bear Butte in western South Dakota to recreate their Plains society.

Early in the 1800s the Cheyenne tribe started to divide, and 30 years later, one tribe became two—the Northern Cheyenne and the Southern Cheyenne. The Northern Cheyenne allied with the Teton Dakotas as the Ojibwe pushed the Dakota people onto the plains, and the Teton Dakotas pushed other peoples out of the Black Hills.

Tribes competed for favored hunting areas, but territorial boundaries were ill-defined and overlapping. The introduction of the horse and gun in the 1700s, the onset of infectious diseases of European origin, the European intrusion into the Americas, and the loss of land and resources, all caused havoc among the pre-existing populations. The European concepts of colonization of land and annihilation were foreign to those whose social, religious, and ideological well-being depended on their landscape.

Imperial rivalries continued to shape the political and cultural future of North America as England, France, Spain, Russia, and the United States all sought the power and place of the West. William Clark, Meriwether Lewis, and their 1804 Corps of Discovery became the latest in a line of travelers and adventurers to explore west of the Mississippi—Spanish, French, Russian, and British expeditions had been moving throughout North America for decades.

Whether these men were travelers, entrepreneurs, or agents of imperialism, most were visionaries and tough-minded dreamers—men who drew maps, took notes, envisioned a world much larger than most people of that time expected. Yet, everywhere these adventurers moved, people were already there, living in tribes, clans, villages, and small communities: trappers, mountain men, American Indians. And not far behind were the white settlers with their own dreams about the West.

IN 1785 THE new Federal government adopted the rectangular system of surveying and dividing lands, and officials began to partition the land into one-mile square sections, and six-mile square township plats. In an effort to encourage land ownership, Congress passed the Land Ordinance Act of 1785, which allowed citizens to buy a section (640 acres) for a minimum price of one dollar an acre. However, this $640.00 purchase price was much more than most people could afford. The Land Act of 1796, which raised the purchase price to two dollars an acre, effectively pushed land ownership out of reach for the common family.

Congress tried to rectify the land ownership issue by passing the Harrison Land Law in 1800, changing the minimum purchase to one-half of a section (320 acres); the purchaser could use a small down payment and have a four-year payoff period. In 1804 the minimum land buy was a quarter-section (160 acres), further reduced to 80 acres in 1820.

After the Louisiana Purchase was completed in 1803, nearly doubling the landmass of the United States, more trading posts were founded throughout the West to take advantage of established trade networks. As news from the Lewis and Clark expedition spread, many more trapping parties and companies moved into the west, creating rivalries and competition for the game supply. More people and commerce meant more conflict and, as the years passed, differing factions—American Indians, trappers, emigrants, homesteaders, cattlemen, the military—drew increasingly stubborn limits in the compromises they made.

The Office of Indian Affairs, established as a division of the War Department, was assigned a commissioner in May of 1832 to manage American Indian business. (This agency would be renamed Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1947.) In 1849 the division and its responsibilities transferred to the Department of Interior, newly-created to manage land issues.

The Pre-emption Act, crafted in 1841 to solve the problems of lands that were claimed by "squatters" ahead of the government surveys, gave the "squatter" the right to buy up to 160 acres for $1.25 an acre when the land was offered for public sale. This act required proof of a dwelling or other improvements made to the property.

Gold was found at Sutter's Mill in California in 1848, and that event necessitated the establishment of immigrant trails through the western landscape. Thousands of people traveled these paths west, some making it to the California gold fields—many died during the journey, and others chose to claim a residence somewhere along their route due to illness, lack of funds, or a change of heart.

Beginning in 1851, a series of Fort Laramie treaties were signed by the United States and the Lakotas, Cheyenne, and Arapahos, describing the extent of tribal territories, which included the Black Hills, and allowing payments to the tribes in exchange for passage across their lands. The treaties marked the beginning of territorial establishment of tribal lands by delineating boundaries. Miners and settlers with their wagon trains traveled over the Oregon and later the Bozeman trails; this influx further eroded the delicate accord between American Indians and settlers.

THE BLACK HILLS of South Dakota and Wyoming are considered an "ecological island"—the Hills have unique resources that continue to attract people. To American Indians there are significant social, religious, and ideological events based in this region, tied specifically to natural entities like the Tower, Bear Butte and Harney Peak.

The Warren Expedition, authorized by the U.S. Secretary of War and led by Lieutenant G. K. Warren in 1857, received orders to locate a way to connect the Fort Snelling Military Road with Fort Laramie and South Pass. After exploring the North Fork of the Platte and the Niobrara River, Warren's remaining time was to be spent in the Black Hills, with orders to examine them in detail, "ascertaining everything relating to the agricultural and mineralogical resources of the country, its climatology, its topographical features, and the facilities or obstacles which these latter offer to the construction of rail or common roads." [1]

Traveling north into the Black Hills, the expedition confronted a Sioux hunting party at Inyan Kara. The hunters feared that if Warren proceeded further into the Hills the buffalo on the plains nearby would scatter and their hunt would be ruined. Before turning back to the south, Warren climbed Inyan Kara, spotting the Tower and Little Missouri Buttes using a spyglass. A sketch map from this expedition calls the Tower Mato Teepee; Warren's official map refers to it as Bears Lodge.

A letter written by Warren to William F. Raynolds included the sketch of the Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes showing latitude and longitude:

I have been very much engaged since my return in matters unconnected with my Nebraska report and have been prevented from sooner sending you the sketches of Mato Teepee to which I promised you. My sketch was taken by looking thru a large Fraunhoefer Telescope and my bearings with a small pocket compass but with great care. I was on top of [Inyan Kara]. [2]

In 1859 The Raynolds Expedition, also called the Yellowstone Expedition, set out under the leadership of William Raynolds to explore the area beyond the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, and also the Upper Yellowstone and Powder River regions. Geologist Ferdinand Hayden (who had also accompanied the Warren survey) summarized the geological structure of the Black Hills in an 1869 report and spoke of finding flecks of gold. His geology map called the Tower Bear Lodge, as did the official expedition map, which was not published until 1868 because of the Civil War.

The Homestead Act of 1862 offered 160 acres, free (except for a small filing fee) to any citizen, or any person who had filed an intent to become a citizen of the United States. Homesteaders were required to reside on the land for five years and improve it within that time. This allowed settlement of lands previously unattainable because of cost, creating an exodus of people from the East. The Act originally applied only to surveyed land (it was expanded in 1880 to include lands not yet surveyed). At the end of the Civil War in 1865, there was a new onslaught of migration: those seeking a new beginning far from the horrors of a bloody war were now crowding the trails that led west.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 reconfigured tribal boundaries, creating what was called the "Great Sioux Reservation," including all the land in what is now South Dakota west of the Missouri River, which included the Black Hills and more. In a rider to an appropriations bill passed in 1871, Congress prohibited further treaties with Indian nations, and by 1880 all Indians were to be confined to reservations—under threat of death.

The Black Hills Expedition, commonly referred to as the Custer Expedition of 1874, served as a reconnaissance mission to locate an appropriate place to establish a fort near the Black Hills. By entering Indian lands they were in direct violation of the Treaty of 1868, but sporadic raids by the Indians were given as justification. The very size of the military contingent—approximately 1,000 men, with 110 wagons (each drawn by six mules), 1000 cavalry horses, and 300 head of cattle—plus numerous herders, blacksmiths, wranglers and civilian teamsters with wagons, led to some debate about the true nature of the expedition. The military gave the public explanation that the large size was not to cause trouble with the Indians, but to prevent it.

Topographer Colonel William Ludlow's map of the 1874 trip, commercially published in 1876, as the Colton Map of Wyoming and the Dakotas, identified the Tower as Bear Lodge. Several members of the group climbed Inyan Kara, with expectations of an expansive view of the prairie and prominent landmarks such as the Tower, Warren Peak, Cement Ridge, and Terry Peak. However, the air was hazy and didn't clear; it instead grew worse—Indians had set fire to the prairie to the southwest, effectively obscuring any long-distance view.

An official announcement was made on August 12, 1874, regarding the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. The Army issued orders to commanders of frontier posts to take action against all trespassers in the region, thereby upholding their responsibilities to adhere to treaty agreements.

The Great Sioux Reservation remained off-limits to any kind of activity by settlers and miners, but the report spread that the Black Hills was a gold-bearing region and, though the military tried to maintain the Reservation boundaries and sustain their part of the treaty, some men and women were determined to try to find their pot of gold at any cost.

One man stated, "I have been captured and sent out from the Hills four times, besides coming out voluntarily under Crook's proclamation. I give the troops more trouble in catching me each time, and I guess I can stand it as long as they can." [3]

Many of the miners, however, wanted the government to clear the way for them to mine in the Hills legally, either by purchasing the area, or obtaining a concession from the Indians that would allow them to prospect and mine for gold.

The federal government began to negotiate the purchase of the Black Hills. The need for accurate and reliable information regarding the nature and value of mineral deposits predicated the establishment of an expedition organized in 1875. Walter P. Jenney was appointed to do the geological work, assisted by Henry Newton. The personnel for the Jenney expedition included a topographer and an astronomer, along with a corps of miners and laborers. They joined their military escort at Fort Laramie—400 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Richard I. Dodge—and, moving north, entered the Hills by the east fork of Beaver Creek.

Dodge's orders were to support the geologists in their survey of the Hills. Relying on Newton's geological notes, and his own experiences during the expedition, Dodge wrote a book published in 1876, called The Black Hills, in which he refers to Bear Butte as Bare Peak and the Tower as Devils Tower.

His explanation:

On preceding maps this mountain has been called Bear Butte, and the creek which flows by its base Bear Butte Creek. This is so evidently a misnomer that our surveyors changed the name to what the original namer evidently intended. The elevation is one of solid granite rock, entirely devoid of all vegetation. 'Butte' means an elevation too high to be called a hill, too low to be called a mountain. This peak rises to the height of five thousand two hundred feet above tide-water, and, standing on the plain several miles from the nearest mountains, appears yet higher. It is not a 'butte.' 'Bare Peak' expresses exactly what it is, and that name was accordingly bestowed upon it by our surveyors.

About the Tower he wrote: "Its summit is inaccessible to anything without wings. The sides are fluted and scored by the action of the elements, and immense blocks of granite, split off from the column by frost, are piled in huge irregular mounds about its base.

"The Indians call this shaft 'The Bad God's Tower', a name adopted, with proper modification by our surveyors." [4]

Almost all American Indian names for the Tower relate to a bear. In a Lakota dictionary translation, devil/bad god/dangerous spirit is wakansica (pronounced wak-KON-she-cha); black bear is wahanksica (pronounced wah-ON-ksee-cha), which gives rise to the possibility that Dodge, or someone with him, mistranslated what he heard.

The surveyors Dodge mentions, Jenney and Newton, wrote their preliminary report in 1876, and in it used the name Bear Lodge for the Tower. Their official government report of the expeditions was published in 1880—on the map and accompanying drawing the Tower is also labeled Bear Lodge. As a direct product of one of the "Great Surveys," this map was the official source for place name purposes at that time.

Jenney said of the Tower in the 1880 report, "The Bear Lodge (Mato Teepee)—this name 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." [5] He refers to the Tower as Bear Lodge throughout his report.

He also commented about the Tower's structure: "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. At a distance it resembles not a little the unfinished Washington national monument in Washington City, with the difference, however, that Nature has completed her work." [6] (In 1880 the Washington Monument would still have been under construction, which began in 1848; the building finally opened to the public in 1888.)

Updated reprints of the Raynolds map produced in 1877, 1891, and 1910 refer to the Tower primarily as Bear Lodge, and as Devils Tower in smaller print. Dodge's book, however, became a bestseller of sorts. Popular with gold miners, settlers, and visitors to the region, the book was used as a travel guide by those moving west, and many of those travelers began using the term Devils Tower.

Not everyone agreed with Dodge. In 1920 Major General H. L. Scott wrote a letter to the Historical Society of Wyoming:

I used to hunt in the Bear Lodge or upper Belle Fourche... I felt outraged that Colonel Dodge should so violate precedent or explorer's ethics so as to change the name in 1876 to Devil's Tower, a name without taste, meaning or historical precident [sic] — which received its vogue because there were no white people in the country when Warren and Raynolds made their reports but were coming in when Dodge wrote his work, which was much sought after by the newcomers. I had the name "Bear Lodge" put back on the maps of the Department of Dakota with headquarters in St. Paul in those days and I am writing now . . . in the hope that good taste and historical precident [sic] will appeal to the people of Wyoming to give its most remarkable rock its own aboriginal name. [7]

CROOK COUNTY, WYOMING, created from parts of Laramie and Albany counties in 1875, became an official incorporated county in 1885 when the population requirement was met. Wyoming statehood would follow in 1890; that same year Weston County was carved from the southern half of Crook County to create their present-day boundaries.

At the same time that small towns, ranches, and work camps were being established throughout northeast Wyoming, two more agreements effectively ended the nomadic existence of the Plains Indians. The Dawes Severalty Act, also known as the General Allotment Act, in 1887 gave the President power to reduce the landholdings of the Indian nations by allotting one hundred and sixty acres to heads of Indian families and eighty acres to individuals. The remaining lands of the reservations were then opened up to settlement.

In 1889 the Sioux signed an agreement with the U.S. government to break up the Great Sioux Reservation. Instead of one great mass of land allotted to the Indians, there would be six smaller and separate reservations, and again, the remainder of the land was opened to settlement.

Manifest Destiny—an implied divine sanction for the United States to spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of the Pacific—has always seemed a concept of "scientific racism", the idea of superior and inferior cultures based on science, a social engineering that espoused the theory that American Indians were savages needing civilization. Indian schools opened in 1879 to house and educate Indian children. By 1887 more than 10,000 Indian children were in boarding schools designed not only to educate, but to "rehabilitate" and "change" them. Their language and religious culture were suppressed, not only by the isolation of the children from their families, but also by threat of punishment.

To a people whose life had been rooted in the landscape, this break in right of entry to sites of cultural, religious, and historical importance was spiritually devastating and physically debilitating, for both the person and the tribe. The continuity of cultural tradition had been broken. Tribal ways were considered "contrary to civilization" and tribes were to eliminate any aboriginal practices. They were also expected to live on "homesteads" within the reservation boundaries, and after generations of supporting themselves by hunting and following the herds and moving freely about the country, this proved a near impossible task.

The buffalo were an integral part of the Plains tribal lifecycle. Hunted not just for food, but also for clothing, tools, and shelter, the buffalo was honored as a spiritually important animal. The destruction of the buffalo herds culminated in a mass slaughter of millions of the animals during the 1870s and 1880s.

Many factors contributed to the decline of the bison, but two of the earliest were the introduction of the horse, and later the gun, into Plains Indian cultures. Many more bison could be killed by mounted and armed hunters, but the overall bison population was even more at risk once trading organizations, such as the American Fur Company, began to purchase bison skins, following a dwindling supply of beaver pelts. More and more bison, or American buffalo, were killed, so that their skins could be traded for firearms, gunpowder, textiles, and other manufactured goods.

New railroad lines not only carried large numbers of people to the West in search of gold and inexpensive land, they also carried buffalo hides back to the east. Many of the animals were killed to feed the railroad workers; many were killed purely for sport, or for their tongues alone, which were considered a delicacy. Hunting the buffalo was also justified by some as an aid in the government's struggle against the Plains Indians—by destroying their primary food supply, the U. S. government was almost certainly assured control over the Indians. By the turn of the 20th century only one wild herd of bison remained, the Indian nations were confined to government-maintained reservations, and western settlement continued to expand.

Such was the remote and rugged Wyoming country in which the Tower stands, in witness to the history of this western landscape, and witness to stories unfolding.

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009