The tower rises majestically some 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in Northwest Wyoming and is 867 feet from base to summit, with a base circumference of one mile. It is a spectacular sight, rugged, picturesque, and often used for weddings, filming, and commercial photography (permits required).
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is the movie that made the tower famous in 1977. It’s more than a movie to the Indians – to them it is sacred and they ask that people voluntarily refrain from climbing it during the month of June in order to show respect for the culture of the American Indians since June is a month when many of their ceremonies traditionally occur.
Mis-translation of a word back in 1800 gives it the name, “Bad God’s Tower” which morphed into “Devils Tower,” the apostrophe being lost due to a clerical error. Various tribes had many different names for it: Bear Rock, Tree Rock, He Hota Paha, Grizzly Bear Lodge, to name a few.
How it was created gives way to many legends. The Kiowa say that there were seven sisters who ran into a giant bear. They ran away and jumped on a small stump that quickly grew into the enormous stump we see today in order for the girls to escape. The girls were whisked up into the sky and became the stars that form our Big Dipper.
Cheyenne legend states that while some of them were traveling to worship the Great Spirit, one of their wives became enamored with a mate-less bear, the men chased the giant bear, it chased them up a huge tree, they killed the bear, the woman turned into a bear and made the huge rock her home. It became known at the Bear’s Tipi.
My favorite is the story of two young Indian boys who, as young boys will do, got lost. They walked for days trying to find their way home, to no avail. Eventually, coming face to face with Mato, a giant bear who shook the very earth with every step he took, they knew they were doomed. In their struggles to get away, they fell and the earth rose with them on it. Up, up, up it went to the height the tower is today. The bear could almost touch the top, but not quite. It clawed viciously all the way around the towering chunk of earth but finally left in frustration. Wanblee, a great eagle, extended his enormous talons for the boys to grab hold of and he delivered them back to their village, thus giving the boys quite a story to tell their grandchildren.
Geologist tells us that molten rock was forced up between other rock formations, some say it is the tip of an extinct volcano. Others feel the tower was formed underground, uplifted, and erosion formed what we see today. More recently I’ve heard that it is a petrified tree going back to the time of giants.
Now, I’ll tell you what – I would hate to meet up with a bear the size of which was as tall as the Tower, and I shudder to contemplate the size the people would have been to match their surroundings. Think how hard it would be to buy clothing!
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