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Devils Tower

Devils Tower


Devils Tower is a remnant of a volcanic extrusion that occurred 60-70 million years ago. Rising some 1,200 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River, Devils Tower was first seen by white explorers during a US. Geological Survey in 1875.

The surveyors called the rock 'Devils Tower' after an old Indian name, 'The Bad God's Tower'. Devils Tower was first climbed, using a long wooden ladder attached to the rock face, on July 4th, 1893.

President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower as the first US National Park in 1906.

Devils Tower was a greatly honoured vision quest site of the Indians, which has continued to the present time, for both Indians and non-Indians.

Devils Tower has been a sacred place of Native Americans since prehistoric times. Various legends are told about the origin of the tower.

  A Common Legend

Seven young Indian girls were one day playing in the forest. A great bear came upon them and gave chase. The girls fled swiftly through the trees but the bear slowly gained on them.

Recognizing the hopelessness of their situation, the girls jumped upon a low rock and prayed loudly to the Great Spirit to save them. Immediately the small rock began to grow upwards, lifting the seven girls higher and higher into the sky.

The angry bear jumped up against the sides of the growing tower and left deep claw marks, which may be seen to this day upon the rock walls. The tower continued to soar towards the sky until the girls were pushed up into the heavens, where they became the seven stars of the Pleiades. Known to Native Americans as Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge.

  Arapaho Legend

An Arapaho lodge was camped at Bears Tipi. The father of this lodge was a head lodge and had seven children, five boys and two girls.

The two girls had made an arrangement between themselves that the one who found the end bond (end rib) of a buffalo should receive the most favours from the brothers.

The boys often made trips to other tribes. After a long search one of the girls found an end bone of a buffalo and on picking it up she turned into a bear and made some big scratches on her sister 's back.

The bear-girl told her sister, "if you tell the dogs will howl and this will be a signal so I will know that you have told."

The sister did tell her brothers and when they heard the dogs howl and give the signal they were scared and started to run.

The bear-girl heard the signal and ran after them. The girl who had told was carrying a ball in her hand which she dropped and accidentally kicked. The ball bounded up on the big, high rock.

The bear-girl reached over her sister's shoulder to grab the ball, slipped and made very big scratches on the big rock and fell on her sister and broke the sister's chest.

The bear-girl climbed to the top of the big, high rock and told her family that there would be seven stars in the shape of a diamond appear in the east and the first star out would be off to one side and would be brighter than the other stars.

The first star is called Broken Chest Star, and the Arapaho call the big, high rock 'Bears Tipi'.

Told to Dick Stone by Sherman Sage, 81 years old.
Otto Hungary, Interpreter.

  Cheyenne Legend

A band of Cheyenne Indians visited Bears Tipi to worship the Great Spirit; as did many other tribes before the white man came. The Cheyenne braves took their families with them as they felt that would be safe, because Bears Tipi was a holy place.

After having camped there for several days, one of the Cheyenne braves noticed that his wife was often gone from camp, staying away for a short time. As time went on he noticed that she was gone longer than before.

The brave could not understand why his wife should be gone from their lodge so much as he had always been devoted to her and being a good hunter, as well as a brave warrior, she always had much buffalo, antelope, and deer meat. He furnished her fine skins to make nice clothes.

Becoming suspicious that some other brave in his band might be courting his wife, he watched to see what man was missing when his wife left camp. He found that no man was missing when his wife was gone. The man also saw that his wife had a skin over her shoulders now that she did not wear before coming to the camp.

One day when she had been gone longer than usual, he laid in wait for her, on her return he asked her where she had been and what drew her from camp so much of the time. She would not answer any of his questions. Then the man became mad and tore the skin from her shoulders and saw that she was covered with scratches.

He demanded that she tell him which man had abused her. Becoming frightened at the way her husband was acting she told him that she had been charmed by a very big bear that lived in the big rock. The bear had no mate and had become infatuated with her while she was out gathering fruit. Fearing for the safety of the camp, she had submitted to the bear's embraces, which accounted for the scratches on her shoulders.

The warrior told his wife to lead him to the bear so he could kill it. When they found the bear, the man had great fear because the bear was big, very big. The bear slapped the woman with his paw and changed her into a bear. The man ran to the camp to get the rest of the braves to help him kill the big bear.

They found the bear had crawled into a cave, leaving his hind feet in the door. The bear's feet were so big that nobody could get past them. They could not get close enough to the bear to kill him so they shot at his feet to make him come out. When the bear came out he was so big that all the warriors were scared and climbed up on a big rock.

The men were so scared that they prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the rock began to grow up out of the ground and when it stopped it was very high. The bear jumped at the men and on the fourth jump his claws were on the top. The Great Spirit had helped the men and now they had great courage and they shot the bear and killed him.

When the bear fell, he fell backwards and pushed the big rock which made it lean. After that, the bear-woman made this big rock her home, so the Cheyennes called it Bears Tipi.

Told to Dick Stone by Young Bird.
Samuel Weasel Bear, Interpreter.

  Crow Legend

Once when some Crows were camped at Bears House, two little girls were playing around some big rocks there. There were lots of bears living around that big rock and one big bear seeing the girls alone was going to eat them.

The big bear was just about to catch the girls when they saw him. The girls were scared and the only place they could get was on top of one of the rocks around which they had been playing.

The girls climbed the rock but still the bear could catch them. The Great Spirit, seeing the bear was about to catch the girls, caused the rock to grow up out of the ground. The bear kept trying to jump to the top of the rock, but he just scratched the rock and fell down on the ground. The claw marks are on the rock now.

The rock kept growing until it was so high that the bear could not get the girls.

The two girls are still on top of the rock.

Told to Dick Stone by Rides the White Hip Horse.
Goes to Magpie, Interpreter.

  Kiowa Legend

Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears.

One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high.

One of the girls prayed to the rock, "Rock take pity on us, rock save us." The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock.

When the people came to look, they found the bears' claws, turned to stone, all around the base. No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it; it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live.

It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears' claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock 'Tso-aa', a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree.

Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places,
Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.

  Sioux Legend

In the Sioux tribe long ago was a brave warrior who often went alone into the wilderness where he would fast and worship the Great Spirit in solitude. Being alone helped him to strengthen his courage so that in the future he could carry out his plans.

One day this warrior took his buffalo skull and went along into the wilderness to worship. Standing at the base of Mato Tipila after he had worshipped for two days he suddenly found himself on top of this high rock. He was very much frightened as he did not know how he would get down. After appealing to the Great Spirit he went to sleep. When he awoke he was very glad to find that he was again at the base of this high rock.

He saw that he was standing at the door of a big bear's lodge as there was foot prints of a very big bear there. He could tell that the cracks in the big rock were made by the big bear's claws. So he knew that all the time he had been on top of this big rock he had been standing on a big bear's lodge.

From this time on his nation called this big high rock Mato Tipila and they went there often to worship. The buffalo skull is still on top of this big high rock and can be seen on the highest point.

Told to Dick Stone by Short Bull,
who lived a short distance west of Ogalala, South Dakota,
on July 31, 1932.
Mark Running Eagle, Interpreter.


The Lakota call Devils Tower 'Bear Lodge', 'Bear Lodge Butte', 'Grizzly Bear's Lodge', 'Penis Mountain', 'Mythic-owl Mountain', 'Grey Horn Butte', and 'Ghost Mountain'. The Lakota people have a sacred narrative or legend on the origin of Bear Lodge.

The Lakota often had winter camps at Devils Tower. The Lakota have an ancient and sacred relationship with the Black Hills of South Dakota and with Devils Tower and Inyan Kara in the Black Hills of Wyoming. The Black Hills are the Lakota's place of creation.

A Lakota band camped in the forest at the foot of Bear Lodge. They were attacked by a band of Crow. With the supernatural assistance of a huge bear, the Lakota were able to defeat the Crow.

At Devils Tower, they fasted, prayed, left offerings, worshipped the 'Great Mystery' (the essence of Lakota spiritual and religious life), and performed sweat lodge ceremonies. Lakota pray for health, welfare, and personal direction.

The healing ceremony is known to have been performed at Bear Lodge, conducted by a healing shaman. The Great Bear Hu Nump imparted the sacred language and ceremonies of healing to Lakota shamans at Bear Lodge. In this way, Devils Tower is considered the birthplace of wisdom.

White Bull told of 'honour men' among the people who went up close to Devils Tower for four-day periods, fasting and praying. There they slept on beds of sagebrush, taking no food or water during this time. Once, five great Sioux leaders-Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Gall, and Spotted Tail-went there together to worship. "We did not worship the butte, but worshipped our God."

The Lakota traditionally held their sacred Sun Dance at Devils Tower around the summer solstice. The Belle Fourche River was known to the Lakota as the Sun Dance River. Bear Lodge is considered a sacred place of renewal. The Sun Dance is a group ceremony of fasting and sacrifice that leads to the renewal of the individual and the group as a whole. The Sun Dance takes away the pain of the universe or damage to Nature.

The participant suffers so that Nature stops suffering. The Sun Dance is '...the supreme rite of intensification for the society as a whole...' and '...a declaration of individual bravery and fortitude...'

'Young men went through the Sun Dance annually to demonstrate their bravery as though they themselves had been captured and tortured, finally struggling to obtain their freedom.' The tearing of the pierced flesh is symbolic of obtaining freedom and renewal. Modern Sun Dance ceremonies have been held at Devils Tower since 1983.

  How Devils Tower Came to Be

Many winters ago in the land of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, there lived two small boys.

One day when no one was watching them, the two boys decided to go on a hunting trip of their own. They wanted to find out what the rest of the world was like.

All day they walked, looking at the country and eating much wild fruit along the way. The shadows began to lengthen, and the two boys found that they were far from home. They had never been away from the tipi before.

Night was coming, and the boys were afraid. Their fear was increased when they saw that they were being followed by Mato, the Bear. The two boys, not knowing what to do, turned and ran fast.

The bear snarled and also ran fast. The bear drew close. The boys knew he would soon be upon them.

In one last effort, the boys cried out to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, to help them. They fell to the ground, hoping the bear might pass over them.

Then they felt a trembling beneath them. They raised their heads to see if the bear was shaking them. No, the ground around them was rising toward the sky. They were on top of a mountain of solid rock.

The boys were safe from the jaws of the great bear below, who in his efforts to reach them was tearing great jagged gashes in the sides of the rock with his claws.

To this day Devil's Tower in Wyoming, with its scarred sides and flat top, remains as a token of the Great Spirit's kindness to, and watchfulness over little children.

From the Archives of Tiger Lilli Sakima.