Lummis introduces bill to protect name of Devils Tower

Photo by Floyd Whiting

In a press release, Senator Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming has announced she has introduced a bill to protect the name of the Devils Tower National Monument located in the northeast corner of Wyoming. Sen. John Barrasso is co-sponsoring the bill.

“Devils Tower is one of the most iconic sights In Wyoming,” Lummis said in her statement. “It’s the first national monument in the United States, and a place of significance for everyone who sees it, from the tourists who visit to the native peoples and Wyoming residents who live nearby. Devils Tower is well known across the country and around the world as a historical and cultural landmark, and it is critical that we maintain its legacy and its name.”

According to the release, since 2005, petitioners have asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to rename Devils Tower. The bureaucratic board has been unable to do so, however, due to the Devils Tower protection bill. Since the bill is under consideration by Congress, the board cannot make a decision on the issue. As a result, whether the bill becomes law or not, the name cannot be changed.

While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, then-Rep. Lummis served as sponsor for the House’s companion legislation.

Where did the name Devil’s Tower come from?

According To The National Park Service, the Nation’s first national monument known as Devils Tower was not always called by this name. Native American tribes living in the region have their own names for the formation. The most common and widely used during the time of United States exploration of the Black Hills (1855-75) was Bear Lodge. Other English translations of names used by Native Americans include Grey Horn Butte, Tree Rock, and The Place Where Bears Live.

In 1875 Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dodge escorted the scientific expedition of geologist Walter P. Jenney to explore the Black Hills and determine the truth of rumors of gold initiated by General George A. Custer the previous year. 

That same year, Dodge wrote in his journal, “The Indians call this shaft ‘The Bad God’s Tower,’ a name adopted, with proper modifications, by our surveyors.” It is speculated that a guide for Dodge was the source of this translation, and “Bear Lodge” may have been mistakenly interpreted as “Bad God’s.” As a result, “Bad God’s Tower” then became “Devils Tower.” The name “Devils Tower” was applied to maps of that era, and used as the name when in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower as the first national monument in the United States. 

According to NPS statistics, as of 2017, the park sees close to 500,000 visitors per year. The bulk of that visitation comes between the end of May and the beginning of September. Close to 5,000 rock climbers visit the park each year to climb the Tower.

According to the National Park Service, on Nov. 20, 2014, a proposal was submitted to the United States Board on Geographic Names on behalf of a spiritual leader of the Lakota Nation to change the names of the geologic feature “Devils Tower” and the populated place “Devils Tower, Wyoming.” On Dec. 1, 2014, the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe wrote to the Secretary of the Interior and others requesting the name “Devils Tower National Monument” be changed. In each instance the request is to change “Devils Tower” to “Bear Lodge.” More than twenty Tribes with close association to the Tower hold it sacred, and find the application of the name “Devils” to be offensive.

The NPS has stated the name of the geologic feature and the populated place may be changed by the United States Board on Geographic Names, whereas the name of the national monument may be changed by an act of Congress or by a Presidential Proclamation.
To read the bill, click here.

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Shaun Orris
1 month ago

I disagree with the Senator. As we remove Confederate monuments nationwide due to the stigma associated with slavery and a Civil War the South fought as insurrectionists to preserve the unChristian enslavement and ownership of Africans for their pleasure, we must equally do the same for the various tribes too. Continuing to promote “Devil’s” does not reflect the good character of the residents of Wyoming. Just as using 666 as a number by VA to identify Wyoming Veteran’s Healthcare facilities is equally offensive to the good character of All veterans using VA for services. For those thinking otherwise, that number violates separation of church and State in our Constitution. As a cross on a govt issued document or pill bottle reflects Christianity, so does the use of 666 reflect Satanism. The tower should be named what the tribes agree to, not what it is now. That would provide a precedence for better relations with our Native American reservations and go a long ways for peace and reconciliation. Thank you for considering these words reflecting my thoughtful opinions.