I went to Devils Tower in 2011. I was on an escorted tour but we were not scheduled to visit Devils Tower. We were supposed to be going to the site of the battle of Custer's Last Stand but due to landslides, we couldn't get through to it.
The previous day I had been asking our tour guide if we went anywhere near the monument & had been told we didn't. When she announced we couldn't get through to the battleground but would be going to Devils Tower instead I couldn't help smiling to myself.
When we arrived at the base of Devils Tower we were told we had an hour to look round before we had to climb back on the coach. I decided to try & walk some of the way around the base of the monument. It was such a quiet tranquil place, it was like time stood still. I managed to walk all the way around the tower but expected the coach to have either gone or everyone to be going mad for holding them all up when I got back. As it happened I was the first person back at the coach, I couldn't believe I had walked the entire base of Devils Tower whilst most of the coach had not even managed a lap of the souvenir shop.
This place was deeply moving for me & I can see why the Indians hold it in such awe. I noticed on my walk round that many of the trees had cloth hanging in them & when I asked why I was told that to the Indians it represents the spirits of there dead ancestors. It was almost as if the Indian spirits had helped me on my walk around the Tower.
I hope one day that I will be able to come back here & spend some time camping & enjoying the calmness of this beautiful monument.
About Devils Tower.
An astounding geologic feature that protrudes out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills, this site is considered sacred to the Northern Plains Indians and other tribes. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. Devils Tower entices us to explore & define our place in the natural & spiritual world.
Devils Tower was the setting for the 1977 Steven Spielberg film 'Close Encounters of The Third Kind'. A film where the lead character, Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, has his life changed after an encounter with a UFO.
Indian beliefs & legends.
Many tribes from all over America consider the site of Devils Tower to be sacred. 'Devils Tower' is a name the white man gave the formation. It was named in 1875 when a misinterpretation from Colonel Richard Irving Dodge's expedition somehow translated the native name as 'Bad God's Tower' & this eventually led to the name Devils Tower. It has many tribal names. The Lakota Indians have their own names for it such as Mato Tipila, which means 'Bear Lodge'. Other names from other American Indian tribes are Grey Horn Butte, He Hota Paha, Bear Rock or Bear Mountain, Tree Rock & Grizzly Bear Lodge. The bear theme comes from a common story about Devils Tower. The Legend of its creation goes something like this:
Long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost on the great prairie. They had played together one afternoon and had wandered far out of the village. They had shot their bows still farther out into the sagebrush when they had heard a small animal make a noise and had gone to investigate. They came to a stream with many colourful pebbles & followed that for a while. Then they came to a hill & wanted to see what was on the other side. On the other side, they saw a herd of antelope & of course, had to track them for a while. When they got hungry & thought it was time to go home, the two boys found that they didn't know where they were. They started off in the direction where they thought their village was, but only got farther and farther away from it. At last, they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep. They got up the next morning and walked some more, still travelling the wrong way. They ate some wild berries, dug up wild turnips, found some chokecherries & drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived. How they wished that their parents, or elder brothers & sisters or tribe members would find them as they walked on what is now the plains of Wyoming. But nobody did. On the fourth day, the boys suddenly had a feeling that they were being followed. They looked around & in the distance saw Mato, the bear. This was no ordinary bear, but a giant bear, so huge that the boys would make only a small mouthful for him. He had smelled the boys & came in search of that mouthful. He came so close that the earth trembled with each step he took. The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, they found none. The grizzly was much, much faster than they. They stumbled & the bear was almost upon them. They could see his red, wide-open jaws full of enormous teeth. They could smell his hot breath The boys were old enough to have learned to pray & they called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator, 'Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us'.All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up, up until it rose more than a thousand feet high with the boys on top of it. Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds. This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock when he stood on his hind legs. Almost, but not quite. His claws were as large as a tipi's lodge poles. Frantically Mato dug his claws into the side of the rock, trying to get up, trying to eat those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches in the sides of the towering rock. He tried every spot, every side. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. The boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tired, giving up. They finally saw him going away, a huge, growling, grunting mountain disappearing over the horizon. The boys were saved by Wanblee, the eagle, who has always been a friend to their people. It was the great eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and carried them safely back to their village.
Photos from my trip to Devils Tower.
- Written by Alan Morris
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