The Great Myths of Devils Tower - Wyoming Magazine


The Great Myths of Devils Tower


Located in Wyoming, Devils Tower is not like any other place on earth. The location was first made famous by the 1977 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” However, for generations before, the tribal people of the area considered it to be a sacred site. There are numerous legends surrounding the tower, most of which were passed down through the generations while sitting around a fire. Tribes from across the United States consider Devils Tower to be sacred, not just local tribes.

Devil's Tower Wy

Photo Courtesy of JasonBechtel

“Devils Tower” was a name given to the location by the white many in 1875 when Colonel Richard Irving Dodge incorrectly translated the native name to “Bad God’s Tower.” This eventually developed into the name “Devils Tower.” There are many tribal names associated with the sacred site. The Lakota Indians named it Mato Tipila or “Bear Lodge.” Other names include, Bear Rock, Tree Rock, Grizzly Bear Lodge and Bear Mountain.

Extraordinary Devils Tower Myths

There are a number of myths and legends that surround this Native American sacred site. Throughout the generations, such stories have been told around fires and at ceremonial events. These myths are as follows:

1. Lakota Legend

Lakota Legends
Notice that many of the names given to Devils Tower translate to bears? There is an important reason for this. Long ago, young Indian boys were lost on the prairie after playing together one afternoon and wandering off. After they shot their bows into the brush, they heard an animal make a noise so they investigated. They fell upon a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed it. They came to a hill and found an antelope which they followed. The boys continued to travel and walked three days to the west. On the fourth day, they felt like they were being following. The boys turned around and saw Mato the giant bear who chased the boys. The two prayed to Wakan Tanka, the Creator. Next, the earth shook and began to rise with the boys. A rock went up into the air with the boys on top, almost one thousand feet high. The grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach the top of the mountain. Mato dug his claws into the side of the mountain trying to get to the top with no luck. The bear gave up and left then the boys were saved by Wanblee the eagle who carried them back to the village.

2. Arapaho Myth

Devil's Tower

Photo Courtesy of Robin Zebrowski

There once was an Arapaho lodge that sat at Bears Tipi. The head of the lodge had seven
children; five boys and two girls who agree d that the one who found the end rib of a buffalo will receive the most favors from their brothers. Eventually, one of the girls found the end bone and after picking it up, turned into a bear. The bear-girl then left many scratches on her sister’s back and told her that if she told, the dogs will howl so the bear-girl will know. The sister told her brothers causing the dogs to howl. The bear-girl chased them. The sister accidentally dropped a ball as she was running and it ended up on a high rock. The bear-girl went to grab the ball, slipped and made big scratches on the rock while falling on her sister and breaking her chest. The bear-girl climbed to the top of the rock and told the family that seven diamond-shaped starts would appear in the east and the first star would be brighter than the others. The first star would be known as Broken Chest Star. Since that time, the Arapaho’s called the rock “Bears Tipi.”

3. Cheyenne Legend

Devil's Tower Roadside Sign

Photo Courtesy of Paul Weimer

A long time ago, a group of the Cheyenne Indians visited Bears Tipi to worship the Great Spirit. The group included warriors and their families because it was a safe place. After being camped in front of the mountain for several days, one of the braves noticed that his wife kept leaving the camp, longer each time. He did not understand why she left as he was a good provider. The brave became suspicious that one of the others was courting his wife so he investigated to determine which man was missing when she left. One day, he waiting until she returned and asked why she was gone so long. She refused to answer any questions thus angering the man. He pulled an animal skin off her shoulder to find scratches. He asked who abused her and she told him that she was charmed by a large bear that lived in the rock. The bear did not have a mate and he was angry. To protect the game, she submitted to his advances. The warrior told his wife to bring him to the bear. Once they found the bear, it slapped the woman and changed her into a bear. He ran back to camp to gather the group and the bear went into a cave, blocking the entrance with his foot. The bear exited the cave and was so large that the men climbed onto a huge rock and prayed to the Great Spirit. The bear jumped to the top of the mountain and dug in his claws to climb up. The Great Spirit gave the men courage and they shot the bear. The bear-woman made the rock her home so the Cheyennes named it Bears Tipi.

4. Kiowa Legend

Devil's Tower National Monument

Photo Courtesy of Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Seven maidens were being chased by bears. The Great Spirit came to their rescue by placing them on top of Mateo Tepe, the Devils Tower rock formation. However, the bears continue to hunt them by climbing the cliffs. The vertical striations found on the Tower today were the result of marks from the bear’s claws which gouged the rock as they climbed. As the bears closed in their prey, the Great Spirit placed them securely in the sky in the Pleiades star cluster where the bears could never reach them.

5. Beneath the Tower

Devil's Tower WyomingPhoto Courtesy of guiliaduepuntozero

There is legend about what is located beneath the giant rock. Many years back, a resident of northeast Wyoming was visiting Yankton, South Dakota where he showed a photograph of Devils Tower to six elderly Sioux Indians. One asked if he had found the transition into the base of the tower. Of course the resident said that he had not but this sparked his curiosity further. The resident was then told the Indian legend of the tower. Three warriors were hunting hear the tower and one found a passage that led below. The three built flashlights using pine branches and proceeded into the tunnel. The floor had numerous bones. The tunnel led to an underground lake with endless gold deposits. At this time, the warriors could not carry the gold so they hid the tunnel to return at a later time. Unfortunately they never made it back to collect the gold and one of the warriors told the story to his tribe while on his deathbed.

Devil's Tower - Wyoming

Photo Courtesy of ccarlstead

All Native America myths about the Devils Tower relate to bears and the Great Spirit helping their warriors from being hunted. Although the Devil’s Tower has been there for millions of years, the Native Americans believed this to be a holy site with magical powers. Even today, tourists flock to the site to experience this unique and mysterious rock formation in Wyoming.



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