Proposals to Change the Name

Geological map of the Black Hills of Dakota by Henry Newton
Geological map of the Black Hills of Dakota by Henry Newton, E.M. Dept. of the Interior, U.S.G. and G. Survey, J.W. Powell, in charge. Geology of the Black Hills by Henry Newton, E.M. (Julius Bien, Lith. New York, 1879)

This historical cartographic image is part of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, www.davidrumsey.com

On November 20, 2014, a proposal was submitted to the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) 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, the names "Bear Lodge," "Bears Lodge," and "Mato Teepee" were ascribed to the Tower on most maps 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 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 Col. 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 used as 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 January 9, 2017, Sen. Mike Enzi (WY) introduced S.70 in the United States Congress; Rep. Liz Cheney (WY-At Large) introduced similar legislation, H.R.401, on the following day. The purpose of both bills is to retain the name Devils Tower for both the geologic feature and the populated place. H.R.401 has been referred out of subcommittee to the full House (on April 11, 2018). Even if these bills do not become law during the 115th Congress, as a result of their introduction, BGN policies prevent consideration of any proposed name change until at least 90 days after the beginning of the next session of Congress (January 3, 2019).The Wyoming Board on Geographic Names adheres to the same BGN policy. 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 your respective congressional representative or the White House.

Last updated: August 3, 2018

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