Learn why Devils Tower is also called names like Bear Lodge, Grizzly Bear's Lodge, and Bear's House.
Devils Tower, the centerpiece of Devils Tower National Monument, rises high above the surrounding prairie in northeast Wyoming. This striking geologic feature is composed of phonolite porphyry, an uncommon igneous rock. The site is sacred to dozens of Native American tribes throughout the region, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone. Ancestors of these modern tribes developed origin stories in the form of sacred narratives, which have been passed down through oral traditions.
Different groups of indigenous people have different oral histories about the site. One Kiowa story tells of seven girls attacked by bears who were pushed into the sky by the rising Tower to become stars. A Cheyenne history speaks of seven brothers who rescue the oldest's wife from a giant bear. Arapaho oral traditions tell of a girl who morphed into a bear and attacked her family, leaving scratches on a giant rock.
The park website shares many of these traditional stories, compiled by a local historian in the 1930s. Common threads linking them together are the bear or bears which feature prominently in each, as well as the Tower being created by some supernatural force. Most indigenous names for the Tower reference a bear:
- Arapaho - Bear's Tipi
- Cheyenne - Bear's Lodge, Bear's House, Bear's Tipi, Bear Peak
- Crow - Bear's House, Bear's Lair
- Lakota - Bear Lodge, Grizzly Bear's Lodge
The name "Devils Tower" evokes strong emotions today. Indigenous groups agree that "Bear Lodge" is a more acceptable name which reflects their reverence for and connection with the site. Other stakeholders resist this movement to revert back to an original name. The origins of the name "Devils Tower" trace to an 1875 military expedition, although the reasons for the new name remain mired in controversy and uncertainty.
Regardless of what one may call it, the significance of the Tower to modern Native American tribes, and its links to bear culture in the Great Plains, remain strong in present day.
Last updated: December 13, 2019