Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Devils Tower National Monument
Produced by the
Division of Publications
National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 1984
The National Park Handbook Series
National Park Handbooks, compact introductionsto the great natural and historic places administeredby the National Park Service, are designedto promote understanding and enjoyment of theparks. Each is intended to be informative readingand a useful guide before, during, and after a parkvisit. More than 100 titles are in print. This isHandbook 111. You may purchase the handbooksthrough the mail by writing to Superintendent ofDocuments, U.S. Government Printing Office,Washington DC 20402.
About This Book
Devils Tower National Monument is in the BlackHills of northeastern Wyoming. The major attractionsare the volcanic rock Tower and protectedprairie dog communities. This handbook is publishedin support of the National Park Service’smanagement policies and interpretive programs atthe park. Part 1 of the handbook gives a brief introductionto the park and its history; Part 2 takesa close look at the area’s natural history and, inparticular, prairie dogs; and Part 3 presents concisetravel guide and reference materials.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Main entry under title:
- Devils Tower
- (National park handbook: 111)
- Bibliography: p.
- Includes index.
- Supt. of docs. no.: I 29.9/5:111
- 1. Devils Tower National Monument (Wyo.)
- I. United States. National Park Service. Division of Publications.
- II. Series: Handbook (United States. National Park Service. Division of Publications); 111.
- F767.D47D48 978.7′13 81-607961
- Part 1 Welcome to Devils Tower 4
- Mateo Tepee 9
- Part 2 Taking a Closer Look 20
- By Greg Beaumont
- A Day at Devils Tower 22
- Prairie Dogs: A Tight-Knit Society 48
- Part 3 Guide and Adviser 66
- Regional Map 68
- Visiting the Park 69
- Park Regulations 71
- Climbing the Tower 72
- Nearby National Parks 74
- Not So Nearby National Parks 76
- Armchair Explorations 78
- Index 79
1 Welcome to Devils Tower
Rising nearly straight up fromthe plains, Devils Tower accentuatesthe differences in thescale of life. The snow-dusted,volcanic sentineldwarfs the forest at its base.
Smaller still, and requiring ourcloser look in different seasons,are butterflies, flowers,and, below, pine seedlings.
Devils Tower rises dramatically and abruptly outof the Black Hills above the Belle Fourche Riverin northeastern Wyoming. These Black Hills arean island in the Great Plains, the heart of theAmerican West. The aura of this West and of itshistory, folklore, and legend is a fondly nurturedAmerican treasure. Never just The West, it israther the Scenic West, or the Old West, or theTrue West, and of course the Wild West. Eachepithet suggests that no one can pay homage tothe region without resorting to its curious mixtureof the known and the unknown, of truth andmyth. Here is a land of blue skies, magnificentrock formations, and a clear, dry atmosphere thateasily confuses and distorts your sense of distance.It is a land of mountain views, long probing rivers,deserts, and high plains and space—greatunfathomable oceans of space. The West is thearchetypal outdoors whose recreation possibilitiesforever grip the modern imagination.
A trip to Devils Tower National Monument is atrip to Wyoming, a state fully proud of its Westerntraditions. Car license plates display the buckingbronco to advertise “the land of the cowboy,” amotif repeated in many public places and widelyobserved in the casual manner of its people.
A trip to Devils Tower is also a trip to the BlackHills, an island of life rising out of the more aridGreat Plains. Devils Tower sits on the Black Hills’western fringe and is in fact the area’s mostremarkable landmark. The Tower still evokes themystery of this land where whites feared to traveluntil as late as 1876, the year General GeorgeArmstrong Custer and his cavalry fought—andwere annihilated—in the battle of the Little BigHorn River in Montana. This last great victory ofthe Sioux and Cheyenne who refused reservationlife made them hunted outlaws among whites.Their relatives on reservations soon gave away thetribal lands and with this went the Indians’ lasthope of remaining free to travel and hunt fromtheir revered Black Hills base.
To speak of history in Wyoming is to speak of amere hundred years. Events in the settlement areso recent that many residents can recite them aspart of their family history. Before that are the10oral histories of the Sioux, Cheyenne, Shoshone,Crow, and other tribes whose dates of occupationare but vaguely known.
Gold discoveries in today’s South Dakotaportion of the Black Hills forced the final clashwith the plains tribes. Custer had confirmed goldreports and the pressure of the excited rush thatfollowed broke the government’s earlier treatyresolve to preserve forever the Indians’ sovereigntyover the Black Hills.
Settlers carrying American civilization to theWest by the overland route to California, OregonTerritory, and Mormon Utah then quickly flowedinto this backwater area. As the frenzied furorover Black Hills gold diminished and mines andcreeks played out, homesteaders settled on landsparceled out for ranches. Along the Belle FourcheRiver, where the plains Indian tribes hadsometimes spent winters, a new era opened underthis brooding tower of rock called Mateo Tepee.
Place names in the West can be powerfullysuggestive of history, but they can also be veryunreliable; Devils Tower for instance. To theIndians this singular occurrence of dramaticallyupthrust rock marked the dwelling place of bears,hence Mateo Tepee or “Bear Lodge.” Theirstories told of lost youngsters who were chased bya giant bear and climbed on top of a rock in a lastdesperate effort to save themselves. The childrenappealed to the spirits and the rock grew up out ofthe ground to lift the children out of the giantbear’s reach. Versions of this story belong todifferent tribes, but most have in common thebear’s futile attempt to claw its way to the top.This clawing left permanent grooves on the Tower.
Colonel Richard I. Dodge apparently had notheard these stories when he entered the BlackHills in 1875. In charge of a large military escortto a scientific team, he came in violation of Indiantreaty rights after Custer’s 1874 expedition which hadreported gold. Dodge noted that his questions to theIndians about this “terra incognita” known asthe Black Hills were met with “studied silence.”This only heightened a true explorer’s curiosity.Perhaps the Indian scouts affected a calculatedsilence, hoping the whites would leave. When thegreat rock tower first loomed in sight, they told11Dodge it was named, “with proper modification byour surveyors,” the Devils Tower. In later yearsfew could recall why this name was used.
If it was meant to scare off these white explorersand those to follow, it did not. The new wave ofAmerican settlers did not believe that naturalobjects held supernatural powers. No matter howawesome or unusual, science had an explanationfor everything in nature, or would eventually.Devils Tower was determined to be the core of anancient volcano, an obelisk of volcanic trachyte,with sides so straight that one “could only lookupward in despair of ever planting his feet on thetop,” as one geologist in Dodge’s expedition put it.
The desire to conquer and tame nature, the viewthat men could use up natural things and discardthem without asking the spirits, differed greatly fromIndian concepts. While the tools and equipment ofan advanced civilization could not be resisted, theexplanation white men gave for their world couldnever satisfy the Indians. How uncomfortable it musthave been for them when they were asked to relatetheir tribal stories of places such as Mateo Tepee,about which there could be no “proof!” One day aman would find a way to plant his feet on top ofDevils Tower, and it would be hailed as a personalfeat of strength and daring having nothing to do withthe spirit of the bear that dwelt within his lodge.
In the 20-year period after the opening of the BlackHills, cowmen and sheepherders discovered the hillyprairies and spacious grasslands that spread from theBelle Fourche River as far west as the Big HornMountains. Cattle trailed up from Texas flourishedinto great herds that freely roamed the open range.The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad extendedits line from Nebraska northwestward to Gillette,which quickly became the system’s largest shippingpoint. As many as 12,000 beef cattle and 40,000head of sheep at a time waited at the railroad to besent to eastern meatpackers. Wyoming became astate in 1890, its history already indelibly colored bythe cowboy lifestyle and territorial range feuds.
Cowboy songs and stories of Western Americanfolklore often mentioned the Belle Fourche River.The first ranchers to settle along it established small-scalecattle outfits centered about Hulett within sightof Devils Tower. These early-day settlers may not12have revered the Tower as the Indians did, but neitherwere they disposed to see it exploited for privategain. There was enough feeling to cause Wyoming’sSenator Francis E. Warren to introduce into the U.S.Senate in July of 1892 a bill to establish Devils TowerNational Park. Congressional support for the bill fizzled,but the General Land Office in Washingtonhad already withdrawn from settlement several sectionsof land adjoining the Tower and the LittleMissouri Buttes to the northwest. Protection of DevilsTower was at least temporarily assured.
The same year the park bill failed, two men nowfamous in the history of the West traveled to DevilsTower hoping against hope like any other touriststhat it would match their own expectations. PhotographerWilliam H. Jackson had been commissionedby the State of Wyoming to photograph the State’sscenic attractions for the World’s Columbian Expositionthe next year in Chicago. With him traveled afriend, the landscape painter Thomas Moran. Theirround trip from the railhead at Gillette, by horse-drawnwagon lasted four days. Moran described theadventure in a magazine article illustrated by hisdrawings, and a Jackson photo of the Tower endedup in Chicago. In their one afternoon there, theyhad produced the first widely known visual recordsof Devils Tower.
Jackson and Moran’s unceremonious visit to theTower in 1892 was undoubtedly forgotten in the rushof excitement the next year. Homesteaders, ranchers,and cowhands and their families flocked in unusualnumbers to celebrate Independence Day atDevils Tower. Handbills called the Tower one of thegreatest natural wonders in the United States andannounced that “the rarest sight of a lifetime” wouldbe observed at the festivities. The news obviouslyspread far, for more than 1,000 people made the trip.
The ballyhoo surrounded William Rogers. A localcowboy, he became, as far as anybody knew, thefirst human being to set foot on top of the Tower.He and a climbing partner, Willard Ripley, made theascent by way of a wooden ladder they had workedon all that spring for the first 107 meters (350 feet)of the Tower. Those who knew the tall and raw-bonedRogers said he was never afraid of man ordevil. After ceremonies on the ground, he and Ripleyscrambled over the boulder field and started up theladder with the cheers of the crowd presumably ringingin their ears. The climb took only an hour, theriskiest part of the business having been accomplishedin the days preceding the event.
While the Tower draws our eyes upward, playful prairiedogs invite us to look downward—to their burrows on thelevel grassland between the Tower and the Belle Fourche River.
These communal animals are forever on thealert against such predators as the screech owl.
William Rogers, above right, relaxes at the Tower with hiswife, stepdaughter, and dog. Rogers and Willard Ripley,the first persons to climb to the summit, had drivenwooden pegs into a vertical crack between two columns onthe southeast side and connected the outer edge of thepegs with a wooden strip. Mrs. Rogers used the ladderexactly two years later to become the first woman to reachthe top. The last to use it, in 1927, was Babe White, whowas known for his exploits climbing city skyscrapers.Remnants of the ladder can still be seen today.
The handbillfor the first ascent, on July 4, 1893, touted the event asbetter than the World’s Fair.
ONE OF THE GREATEST NATURAL WONDERS of the UNITED STATES
CROOK COUNTY, WYOMING.
The Devil’s Tower is a perpendicular column ofrock and no human being has ever stepped onits top.