Wyoming: Devil's Tower National Monument

Devil's Tower

Image courtesy of National Park Service

According to one sacred narrative,
Long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost on the great prairie. They had played together one afternoon and had wandered far out of the village. Then they had shot their bows still farther out into the sagebrush. Then they had heard a small animal make a noise and had gone to investigate. They had come to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. They had come to a hill and wanted to see what was on the other side. On the other side they saw a herd of antelope and, of course, had to track them for a while. When they got hungry and thought it was time to go home, the two boys found that they didn't know where they were. They started off in the direction where they thought their village was, but only got farther and farther away from it. At last they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep.They got up the next morning and walked some more, still traveling the wrong way. They ate some wild berries and dug up wild turnips, found some chokecherries, and drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived. How they wished that their parents, or elder brothers and sisters or tribe members would find them as they walked on what is now the plains of Wyoming. But nobody did.On the fourth day the boys suddenly had a feeling that they were being followed. They looked around and in the distance saw Mato, the bear. This was no ordinary bear, but a giant bear, so huge that the boys would make only a small mouthful for him. He had smelled the boys and came in search of that mouthful. He came so close that the earth trembled with each step he took. The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, they found none. The grizzly was much, much faster than they. They stumbled, and the bear was almost upon them. They could see his red, wide-open jaws full of enormous teeth. They could smell his hot breath. The boys were old enough to have learned to pray, and the called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: "Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us." All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up, up until it rose more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it. Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds. This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock when he stood on his hind legs. Almost, but not quite. His claws were as large as a tipi's lodge poles. Frantically Mato dug his claws into the side of the rock, trying to get up, trying to eat those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches in the sides of the towering rock. He tried every spot, every side. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. They boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tired, giving up. They finally saw him going away, a huge, growling, grunting mountain disappearing over the horizon. The boys were saved by Wanblee, the eagle, who has always been a friend to our people. It was the great eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and carried them safely back to their village.

Though there are many origin stories about what is now Devil’s Tower, they all demonstrate the importance of the landscape in their tribe’s history. The loccolithic butte has many names. Among them, are Mato Tipila, Grey Horn Butte, He Hota Paha, Bear Rock or Bear Mountain, Tree Rock, and Grizzly Bear Lodge. The name, Devil’s Tower, originates from a 1875 expedition. An interpreter under Colonel Richard Irving Dodge misinterpreted a native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower”. Though tribes have submitted proposals to rename the feature, the name Devil’S Tower has remained.
The geological feature was declared a National Monument on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was the nation’s first national monument.The monument’s boundary encompasses an area of 1,347 acres. The landscape is composed mostly of sedimentary rocks. The oldest rocks date to 225 to 195 million years ago. Following the release of the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there was a large increase in visitors and climbers to the monument.

Modern connections to these oral histories are maintained through personal and group ceremonies. Sweat lodges, sun dances, and others are still practiced at the monument today.The most common ritual that takes place at the Tower are prayer offerings. Colorful cloths or bundles are placed near the Tower - commonly seen along the park's trails - and represent a personal connection to the site. They are similar to ceremonial objects from other religions, and may represent a person making an offering, a request, or simply in remembrance of a person or place. As with many religious ceremonies, they are a private to the individual or group. Please do not touch, disturb or remove prayer cloths or other religious artifacts at the park.

For more information about visiting the park, please call: (307) 467-5283 x635 or visit their website for more information about fees and passes. The park is located at: 149 State Highway 110 Devils Tower, WY 82714. The monument is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, except Christmas and New Year's Day.

Last updated: September 6, 2017