Indigenous American Awareness-Devils Tower National Monument

Friday, October 21, 2022 

Welcome back tourists, to my Travel Friday’s B.R.E.A.T.H.S. blog where I share my traveling experiences from driving to National Parks from September 2020 to June 2022 for educational research. This month of October on the 10th recognizes Indigenous People’s Day, so I have dedicated four Friday’s to discussing some of the Indigenous American National Parks I visited in the last couple years. A few of the sites are admired for their majestic beauty, while others honor lives lost in the area, and I am sharing them to provide a glimpse into our Indigenous American history. 

Wasta Rest Area Information Center, SD by Me

Indigenous American Awareness

The first week in October, I wrote a spotlight on Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota. The second week, I retold the story behind Whitman Mission National Historic Site in Washington state. This week, I will share what I just recently learned about Devil’s Tower National Monument located in Wyoming, USA. 

Devils Tower, with added filter (right) by Me

Visiting Devils Tower National Monument

On September 3, 2020, just a few days in on my national tour, I stopped at Devils Tower National Monument. After driving for days along mostly flat land, it was very odd to see this massive rock protruding out of the ground. I was in complete awe. The sight/site gave me shivers up my spine, and I could sense something very special about this place.

Devils Tower, September 3, 2020 by Me

After Visiting Devils Tower 

After visiting, I stopped at the Devils Tower Trading Post to find really neat puzzle postcards, and a pin for my car roof lining as a trail token. Then I went to research the science and history behind this unique piece of land online since I was not allowed in the visitor’s center during Covid restrictions, but I could take some pictures outside (see above). 

Hexagonal columnar jointing pic (NPS, 2022)

Science Behind the Formation of Devils Tower

The massive rock formation of Devils Tower is the result of magma (underground lava) cooling creating columnar jointing (hexagonal columns) igneous rock, then emerging through years of erosion (water and wind) (NPS, 2022). Researchers like myself have many theories on how Devils Tower got its spectacular geological shape. My theory is a mix of science and spiritual beliefs, specifically pertaining to the hexagonal shape of liquid turned solid, but I am not ready to dive that deep here in this post. However, I will shift to the ancient indigenous theories and spiritual history of the area. 

“How The Tower Formed” pics (NPS, 2022)

History of Devils Tower, or Whatever It’s Name Is

Before Devils Tower became a National Monument, it was protected by over two dozen Great Plains Tribes as sacred grounds of the Black Hills (NPS, 2022). The natives passed down the history of the area through oral tradition each giving their unique perspective of what the giant rock formation should be named (NPS, 2022). 

Cheyenne Legend of Bear Lodge (NPS, 2022)

Documented Names for Devils Tower 

Indigenous American Names

For centuries, Ancient Indigenous American Tribes described the Devils Tower as bear rock because of the number of large bears that were said to have roamed around the base of the big rock (NPS, 2022). The oral traditions about the name of bear rock were passed down as legends or myths. While searching for information regarding the name, there were a couple that had the name with bear in the story, and others with names of horns or trees, but no devils or gods (NPS, 2022):

  • Arapahoe say that a young girl turned into a bear and sits atop: “Bears Tipi” (Wyoming Magazine, 2015)
  • Cheyenne believe a group 7 of warriors were rescued by The Great Spirit lifting them to safety as the giant bear clawed up the rock called: “Bear’s Tipi” (ShawlLady, 2022)
  • Crow describe two girls are still trapped atop of: “Bear Lodge” (Singleton, 2022)
  • Dakota explain that the ancient tree stump is called: “Grey Horn Butte” (Chief Golden Light Eagle, 2017)
  • Kiowa legend of Tso-aa or “Tree Rock” or “Aloft on a Rock” pushed seven sisters into the sky away from harm creating the constellation: Pleiades (Beem, 2019)
  • Lakota tells of a giant grizzly bear chased two boys up the bear rock called Mato Tipila or “Bear Lodge,” “Bear Lodge Butte,” and “Grizzly Bear’s Lodge,” then freed from the top by a great eagle. They call black bear, wahanksica, and evil spirit, wakansica, which is said to have been misinterpreted by colonists (Hitchcock, 2022)
Warren’s 1857 Map showing Bear’s Lodge (NPS, 2022)
American Colonists Names

Once the colonists arrived, they were very curious about the geological formation of the giant rock, so explorers were sent out with groups of geologists to research the site (NPS, 2022). There was little documentation about the name, however, many versions of Indigenous oral tradition have used the name, Bear Lodge for centuries (NPS, 2022). One explorer, Warren, created a map of his 1857 expedition that shows an area in the NW corner of the Black Hills labeled Bear’s Lodge. Unfortunately, through a combination of miscommunication, misinterpretation, and misrepresentation, the name Devils Tower was inappropriately named by the White settlers (NPS, 2022). 

  • 1855-57 – Explorer Lieutenant G. K. Warren might have seen an area called: Little Missouri Buttes or Bear’s Lodge” as he indicates on a map from his expedition (NPS, 2022)
  • 1876 – Explorer Colonel Richard Irving Dodge translated native words to call this area: “Bad Gods Tower” (perhaps derived from mixing up the two Lakota terms above) (NPS, 2022)
  • 1880 Geological assistant, Henry Newton cited early maps of the area calling it: “Bear’s Lodge” (NPS, 2022)
  • 1890 Wyoming becomes state dedicating the name to be: “Devils Tower” (NPS, 2022)
  • 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt declared Devils Tower the first National Monument (NPS, 2022)
Bear Lodge National Monument (pic taken & named by Me)

Conclusion on Devils Tower National Monument

From what I have come to understand, the sacred area known today as Devils Tower National Monument, should have never been named that. The past mistakes can be remedied by the present. The name all current tribes agreed on, Bear Lodge, shall take its place. This is just one small gesture as a part of the reconciliation, reparation, and restitution known as the Land Back movement (Belfi & Sandiford, 2021). 

Thank you for reading,

PS: My Motivation for a Two-year Tour of the United States

In March 2020, I completed my doctorate in education with a specialization in alternative education. Of my 45 years on this planet, I can count on one hand how many years I was not inside a classroom, and this gave me the motivation to find different ways we can learn outside the box. September 2020, was the beginning of my educational research tour of the National Parks Service to broaden my knowledge of the United states: geography (maps/atlas/gps), natural sciences (biology/geology/ecology), history (ancient/colonization/last decade), math skills (distance/time/money), culture, art, language, and so much more than I ever learned spending majority of my life inside institutionalized schools as a student, teacher, or professor. 

References on Devils Tower National Monument:

About the Author

Dr. Brainerd

Hello, I am Dr. Jaime Brainerd Ed.D., a lifelong learner, beauty consultant, author, financial specialist, artist, traveler, health enthusiast, and self care advocate. Please follow my website for my B.R.E.A.T.H.S. blogs.

3 thoughts on “Indigenous American Awareness-Devils Tower National Monument

  1. What gorgeous photos and a great history lesson. That what I like to do when visiting parks, whether national or state, read up on the history. Sending hugs and love for a wonderful weekend!

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