Devil's Tower - The Nation's First National Monument

Wyoming is a land of contrasts, driven in a large part by its northern, inland location and the huge range in elevation. Where the Belle Fourche River flows out of the state near the Black Hills, the land lies only 3,125 feet above sea level. Yet several mountain ranges top 13,000 feet, peaking at 13,804-foot Gannet Peak in the Wind River area of Western Wyoming. Overall, Wyoming is a very high state; only Colorado to our south has a higher average elevation in the United States. A good example of Wyoming's arresting contrasts is Devil's Tower National Monument in the beautiful Black Hills of Northeastern Wyoming. The visitors center located at the base of the tower is at an elevation of 4,250 feet above sea level. The tower itself rises 865 feet above this point, literally towering above peaceful pines and a boulder field created over thousands of years by columns that have fallen and broken into pieces.

The name Devils Tower was first affixed to the Tower in 1875 by a scientific team escorted by Colonel Richard I. Dodge sent to this area to look for gold, even though their presence was a violation of Indian treaty rights. General George Armstrong Custer had recently confirmed gold reports to the east (in the Black Hills of today's South Dakota and Wyoming), and unfortunately gold fever seemed to be a common rationalization for breaking treaties. Dodge took the name Devils Tower as a literal translation of "Bad God's Tower," which was one name which Indians used for the area. This name reflected the fear which many Native Americans felt for the area. Mateo Tepee, or "Bear Lodge," is the common Native American name used for the Tower today, although it is by no means the only name. Different tribes, utilizing different languages, have different names for this unique geologic formation.

In 1892 Wyoming Senator Francis E. Warren persuaded the US General Land Office to create a timber reserve surrounding the tower. Senator Warren also launched an unsuccessful effort to declare the entire area a national park.

On July 4, 1893, amid fanfare and more than 1,000 spectators, William Rogers and Willard Ripley became the first recognized climbers to make it to the top of Devils Tower, using a home-made wooden ladder for a portion of the ascent. The timing of the climb (Independence Day) and the fact that there was a flag pole at the top of the Tower already, awaiting the climbers, suggested that perhaps someone had actually scaled the tower a few days earlier. Meeting at the Tower for Independence Day became an annual event for area ranchers and their families. At the third annual picnic (in 1895) Mrs. Rogers used her husband's ladder to become the first woman to scale the Tower.

In 1906 Congress passed the Antiquities Act which empowered the President to bestow national monument status upon federally owned lands that contain historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other significant historic or scientific objects. President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt quickly invoked the Antiquities Act, designating Devils Tower the nation's first national monument on September 24, 1906.

In 1916, the National Park Service was created and eventually assumed administrative control of all national monuments, including Devils Tower.

Devils Tower and the surrounding countryside is home to a countless number of plants and wildlife which attracts visitors from around the world to see this magnificent rock formation that scientists believe is the core of a volcano exposed after millions of years of erosion caused by weather and the Belle Fourche River which.meanders around the base of the tower, 1,267 feet below the summit. While the name of Devils Tower may not be a household word, millions will recognize the shape of the Tower from the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which featured the Tower as the landing spot for the awesome Mother Ship.