This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
This rock formation was named “Devil’s Tower” in 1875 by the white man, because of a misinterpretation from Colonel Richard Irving Dodge’s expedition translated the Native name “Bad God’s Tower” into… Devil’s Tower. The Lakota tribe named his beautiful place “Mato Tipila” (Bear Lodge), and also many other tribes went for the bear theme.
The reason is simple, there’s a quite famous legend surrounding this butte, the legend of Mato and Wanblee.
Long ago, two Native kids got lost on the prairie. They didn’t realize they had walked too far away from the village. At first they kept on playing, shooting arrows with their little bows farther out into the sagebrush. When they heard a noise that sounded like an animal, they went to investigate, arriving to a beautiful stream. It was filled with colored pebbles, the sight of it was so nice that they followed it for a while. Only when their stomachs started to grumble they realized they didn’t know how to get back home. They tried to walk back following the stream but soon realized they were lost. Night came and they spent it beneath a tree, alone and scared. In the morning they walked some more, eating berries and wild turnips. They took for the West and kept this routine for four days. Walking, sleeping and eating what the prairie was good enough to give them. On the fourth day, they realized they were being followed. They looked around and saw Mato. He was a huge grizzly, so big that the Earth trembled when he walked. Terrified, they tried to hide, but Mato was too fast for them. When they finally stumbled, falling down, they could see the jaws of this huge grizzly about to close on them. Together they called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: “Tunkashila, Granfather, have pity, save us.” The Earth started to shook then and began to rise. The boys were elevated onto this butte that went up to the clouds. But Mato wouldn’t leave them alone. The Grizzly got onto his hind legs and started to scratch the rock, hoping to climb up to get them. He tried every spot, every side, to no avail. In the end, worn out, he gave up. The two kids were then saved by Wanblee, the big eagle, who brought them back to their village.
The legend is meaningful and still (to me) a bit scary. Maybe I did watch too many horror movies, but the idea of a huge grizzly trying to eat two defensless kids… gosh! Yet for the Natives who lived around the monolith it was the only way to explain the long “scratches” on the rock. The huge butte rises to 1267 feet (386m) above the Belle Fourche river, standing 867 feet (265m) from summit to base. It was the first United States National Monument, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Why the “scratches”, then? According to geologists, the butte was formed by the intrusion of igneous material, but even today, they don’t know what process took place. See? Aliens! Some believe that the Devil’s Tower is the remainder of a large volcano. Rain and snow eroded the sedimentary rocks exposing the tower’s base and creating the cracks. Erosion due to the expansion of ice along the cracks is common in colder climates: portions of rock at the Devil’s Tower are continually breaking off and falling. In the past it was wider than it is today.
It is, sadly, another amazing natural wonder that one day might vanish.