Legend of Devil’s Tower

Devils Tower
courtesy wyomingtourism. org

As with many places, there is usually a story behind the mystery behind the fact. Devil’s Tower is no different.

Like many people in their home states, they travel out of state to visit unusual or scenic places, but never explore the interesting points of interests close to home., I have done the same. And it took me til over 40 years to take the time to travel to northern Wyoming and explore Devil’s Tower. That’s a fact!

It’s truly an incredible and unique place, very unusual, and specific interest was focused on in in the 1977 movie,” Close encounters of the Third Kind.” And probably on any given warm day in the summer, you will find people climbing or repelling down the face of the Tower itself. Since I don’t like heights, I can’t imagine the fascination of this sport, but it doesn’t stop me from watching in awe those who do it :)

The legends surrounding it are many, and each one of equal interest. Many of these stories are older Indian legends told and retold around a campfire to help explain the mystery of an odd rock that springs up out of the middle of nowhere.

Considered sacred by many tribes all over the United States, the name Devil’s Tower was not actually an original name, but instead, was a name a white man gave the formation after misunderstanding the Indian name given, which was actually Bad God’s Tower. It is easy to see how ‘Bad God’ was translated to Devil. The Lakota, from the Pine Ridge, SD area, near where my husband is originally from, have another name for it and call it Mato Tipila, which translated is called Bear Lodge. It has also been called Grey Horn Butte, Bear Rock or Bear Mountain, Tree Rock and even Grizzly Bear Lodge.

One of the legends I had heard centers around and explains the overall general bear themes you hear concerning Devil’s Tower.

One of the legends goes something like this…..

Two young Indian boys, out playing and hunting, got themselves lost on the wide open spaces of the prairie. They had wandered most of the afternoon and were far, far from the safety of their homes. As boys will do, they kept wandering, not really considering the danger. On hearing a small noise, they went to investigate and, on finding a small, beautiful stream, they decided to follow it, see where it led. Coming to a hill, like all children (and some adults alike) they wanted to see what was on the other side and proceeded to climb it. Seeing the wild antelope on the other side, they pretended to sneak up on these wily animals to see how close they could get. As boys do, when they got hungry, then and only then did they think of home, but unfortunately, they had wandered so far from home they didn’t know exactly where they were or how to find their way back.

Guessing where the trail back home might be, they set out for the village, but got even further confused and further away from home until dark fell and they stopped at the base of a tree to get some sleep for the night.

When they awoke in the morning, their situation had not improved, nor would it as they continued to guess where home was but only traveled in the wrong direction. On the way to wherever, they found the odd berry and root to eat to calm their hungry stomachs.

This difficult situation continued for days, trying to find their way home, finding small tings to eat, sleeping out in the open only to start over in the morning. After several days of this, the boys had the strange feeling that something was watching them, stalking them. Turning, in the far distance they saw Mato, the bear, only this one was huge! Not like a normal bear at all! The boys would only make a snack for this monster.

As he came closer, the earth trembled beneath the formidable steps of this enormous bear. Though the boys ran, searching for a place to hide, there was nowhere for them to escape. One of the boys stumbled, slowing them down and allowing Monster Bear to get even closer; so close they could see his dripping fangs, his hungry mouth!

In prayer, the boys begged the creator, Wakan Tanka to save them. “Tunkahila, Grandfather, please save us, please protect us from Monster Bear!” Immediately the ground growled, shook and roared, and began to rise, with the young boys on the top of it. It continued to roar, and groan as it rose to over 1,000 feet tall. Monster Bear, Mato, was furious that his easy meal had disappeared, but Tunkahila had kept them save.

But the monster bear was not done! Unwilling to give up his ‘food’, he reared up toward the tower. Almost as tall the tower, but not quite, he scratched, he gouged, he roared with rage, then dug into the tower, scoring the stone and dirty with his might claws; claws so huge they were almost as large as tree poles.

Unable to gain purchase to his meal, Mato tried every different angle, every different side of the tower until the entire rock had been deeply scored by his furious claws. The boys continued to watch while Mato wore himself out, until he finally gave up and wandering away, growling and roaring, the earth trembling as he left. Thanks to the old Grandfather, the boys were safe.

Wanblee, a friend to ‘the people’, saved the frightened and hungry boys, by letting them grab his feet and feathers, and carried them safely back home to their village.

Legends like this started as a way to explain the explainable. And it is hard to understand how a rock burst up out of nowhere with no other formations around it.

Today however, geologists who have studied Devil’s tower and the surrounding terrain, tell us that it was actually formed by an extrusion of molten rock, igneous, pushing up through other formations deep in the earth. (Kind of like a pimple!) There are other geologic explanations out there as well, but I rather like the facial story of the Native American version of Devils Tower…don’t you?

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