Wyoming lawmakers push to protect Devils Tower name

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 11:42 AM MDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Devils Tower, America’s first national monument, has a different meaning depending on who you ask. To many, it is a world-renowned tourist attraction in northeast Wyoming—to at least 15 tribal nations, it is sacred, hallowed ground.

Native American Chase Iron Eyes, attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project, says the name does not represent its history.

“Native people didn’t have any hand in naming Devils Tower,” he said. “I don’t know why settlers named it so evil.”

Tribes hold spiritual ceremonies there annually.

“It’s only right and proper that we would have a role in educating people,” he said.

Native Americans have been petitioning to change the name to Bear’s Lodge for years.

Historians like Sarah Weicksel from the American Historical Association say maps from the 1800s call the formation Bear’s Lodge or some variation based on tribal stories.

“In one of those narratives, a bear is chasing people and clawing at the geologic formation to create the really interesting striations,” said Weicksel.

But explorers in the late 1800s gave it the name “Devils Tower” based off of an incorrect translation. Then the name was set in stone by the U.S. government. Historians say it is unclear if this was a case of mistaken translation or an intentional renaming.

Wyoming lawmakers are making it a mission to protect the name Devils Tower. Republican Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) is leading the charge. The proposed bill as it stands now blocks any effort to change the name.

“It’s iconic, it’s name is known all around the United States, not to mention the world,” said Lummis.

Lummis’ bill does not have the support to pass Congress currently. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names cannot change the name for at least two years as it sits under consideration. Since Devils Tower was established by presidential proclamation under Theodore Roosevelt, the name can also be changed by presidential proclamation.

Lummis’ bill to keep the name is currently sitting in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for review. Senator John Barrasso is a co-sponsor.

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