Devils Tower is located in beautiful Wyoming’s northeast corner. This spectacular landmark is a monolith that towers over the Belle Fourche River. The Tower stands 1267 feet above the surrounding terrain and 5112 feet above sea level. Although located in Wyoming, the closest city is Rapid City, South Dakota. Geologists all agree that the Tower was formed by the intrusion of igneous material, and that is about the only thing they agree on. This basic explanation occupied the minds of some of the greatest thinkers through the early 1900’s. Later, it was theorized that Devils Tower was actually a volcanic plug or the neck of an extinct volcano. Some insist it surfaced from the earth, others believe it is what was left by a large ancient explosive volcano. There is even a dispute over the name. Although proper grammar dictates that it is “Devil’s Tower”, it has always been and always will be, “Devils Tower”.
The first documented visitors to Devils Tower were members of the Yellowstone Expedition lead by Captain W. F. Reynolds in 1859. Sixteen years later, Colonel Richard Dodge led a U.S. Geological Survey party to the Tower and officially named it Devils Tower. On July 4th, 1893, William Rogers became the first person to complete a climb of the Tower, by driving wooden pegs into the cracks and climbing up along the rock face. On September 24, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt declared Devils Tower as the first United States National Monument. This of course included nearly 1347 acres of land that surrounds the Tower.
Long before America was stumbled upon by the rest of the world, Devils Tower had many different names and was a place of worship for the Native Americans. Some of the greatest tribes laid claim and myth to the Tower. The Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone tribes all maintained a very close relationship with the Tower and they all told their own stories about this wondrous fixture on the western landscape. During this time the Tower had as many myths told about it as it had names. Bear’s House, Bear’s Lair, and Grizzly Bear Lodge are just a few names bestowed upon the Tower by Native Americans. The most popular of these Indian Legends tells a story of 7 Indian girls that were playing when they were approached by a ferocious bear. The girls climbed onto a flat rock, realizing that the bear could easily reach them, they began to pray to Wakan Tanka for help. Their prayers were answered because they were so pure of heart and the flat rock began to rise toward the sky like a tower. As the tower rose into the air, the bear clawed at the rock in hopes of reaching the girls. The tower rose far beyond the reach of the bear and continued to rise until it reached its heavenly point. The girls were transformed into stars and they launched from the tower and became the Big Dipper. The deep horizontal gouges in the rock left behind by the bear and the brilliant Big Dipper that shines in the night, are proof to the Indians that the legend is indisputable.
To this day, Devils Tower is considered a Holy Place of Worship for the Indians and also a very popular location for amateur and professional rock climbers. This clash of cultures and interest in the Tower has seen the inside of Federal Courtroom more than once.