Returning a Sacred Rock’s Name — Bear Lodge, Mythic-Owl Mountain, Tree Rock, Mato Tipila . . . Just Not Devils Tower

Last month my husband, son and I traveled north to Bear Lodge (aka Devils Tower), the first National Monument in the country.

Approaching from the south the land sweeps up — like a lifting cloud into rolling round hills dotted then filled with pines.

Solemnity of place abounds.

Before Europeans

Long before Europeans took this beautiful land as their own, the rock was sacred to those who lived in the Black Hills.

Pilgrimages were part of Native American rituals.

Arapaho • Crow • Cheyenne • Eastern Shoshone • Lakota • Kiowa

The National Park Service’s website states that these tribes were gradually extirpated.

Definition: “Extirpate . . . to root out and destroy completely.”

In the context of American history, this word takes my breath away.

.  .  .

Translated to English, the tribes’ names for Devils Tower include:

Bear’s Tipi • Bear’s Lodge • Bear’s House • Bear’s Peak • Mato Tipila (aka Bear Lodge) • Bear Lodge Butte • Grizzly Bear’s Lodge • Mythic-owl Mountain • Grey Horn Butte • Ghost Mountain • Aloft on a Rock • Tree Rock (associated with astrological knowledge).

And clearly none of these relate even remotely to “devil.”

Yet this unfortunate and disrespectful mistranslation stuck.

“Extirpate: . . . to root out and destroy completely.”

Returning the Name to Bear Lodge

In 2015, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations, petitioned President Obama to reunite the place with its native name, Bear Lodge.

But it didn’t happen.

Then in 2017 to permanently end present or future Native American appeals, Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) introduced H.R.401 to block the name Devils Tower from ever changing.

And she justifies it with commerce.

“. . . Devils Tower attracts crucial tourism and revenue to our communities,” she said.

So Devils Tower is now a brand.

Yet Liz Cheney has the power to introduce a bill that restores the name, Bear Lodge, and secures funding to rebrand the name over the next five years.

Commerce would be sustained and the offensive mistake corrected.

But it would take great courage and deep regard for Native Americans to do this.

It would be the right thing to do while removing none of the magnificence from the site.

Representative Liz Cheney has the power to introduce a bill that restores the name, Bear Lodge, and secures funding to rebrand the name over the next five years.

Native American Stories

No geological explanation can definitively account for this towering stone’s formation.

Yet each tribe has creation stories that ascribe meaning to it.

There is nothing but beauty and safety in the stories of this tower that reaches nearly 900 feet from ground to summit.

I am most drawn to the one from Kiowa.

In it, seven little girls playing together are chased by bears.

The friends jump on a low rock and one prays, “Rock take pity on us, rock save us!”

And in response to their pleas, the rock lifts from the ground.

The bears try to reach them, but fall backwards leaving vertical claw marks on the ascending tower.

Still higher the rock rises until the girls are pushed up and into the sky where even today they safely remain as the star formation, the Pleiades.

There is nothing but beauty and safety in the stories of this tower that reaches nearly 900 feet from ground to summit.

Certainly my own treks there have just begun.

And the only thing better than standing quietly in awe at the base of this rock would be to see its name returned.

Restore Bear Lodge, Tree Rock or any other Native American moniker that honors the reverence and history of this place, please.

Take Action!

•  Email Liz Cheney and ask her to:  1) change the name Devils Tower to Bear Lodge; 2) seek funding for a 5-year rebranding plan

•  Devils Tower National Monumenthttps://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/americanindians.htm

•  National Park Service, Devils Tower: A Sacred Site to American Indianshttps://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/sacredsite.htm

•  Who File, Rep. Liz Chenyhttps://www.wyofile.com/tribes-meet-wyoming-resistance-to-yellowstone-name-changes/

•  Devils Tower: First Stories: https://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/first-stories.htm

•  Reuters:  Native Americans want name change for Wyoming’s Devils Tower, by Laura Zuckerman, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wyoming-monument/native-americans-want-name-change-for-wyomings-devils-tower-idUSKCN0RM2TA20150922

•  The Spaniards brought horses to The United States. Read about Deerwood Eco Ranch that is caring for some in that now populate (over populate) the state.

•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

One thought on “Returning a Sacred Rock’s Name — Bear Lodge, Mythic-Owl Mountain, Tree Rock, Mato Tipila . . . Just Not Devils Tower”

  1. Wow. Amazing work. I always notice and repeat the First nation’s names on signs as I’m driving through the country. And I adore this battle to reclaim the sacred names of the past. More power to you, magnificent one!

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