Legend of Devils Tower

This poster was a copy of a piece of history that was hung in the visitor center of Devils Tower National Monument.  The text is copied below.

As told to Dick Stone by the Cheyenne warrior,  Medicine Top, who had learned it long ago from his father

Before beginning the story in the large council tipi on July 21, 1933, Medicine Top prayed to the Great Spirit to look down upon him so that he would speak straight and true.  In telling this sacred legend the Indians were very cautious since punishment might result from any mistakes; therefor two other Dakota warrior, Spotted Blackbird and Pine, served as “prompters.”  Willis Rowland was the interperter.

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The legend has been considerably condensed.

There were seven brothers.  One day when the wife of the oldest brother went out to fix the smoke wings of her tipi, a big bear carried her off to his cave.  The man mourned her loss greatly, and would go out and cry defiantly to the bear.

The youngest brother, who had great power, then told the oldest one to make a bow and four blunt arrows.  Two arrows were to be painted red and set with eagle feathers;  the other two were to be painted black and set to buzzard feathers.  The youngest brother then took the bow and the four arrows, told the other brothers to fill their quivers with arrows, and they all set out after the big bear.

At the cave the youngest brother told his brothers to sit down and wait.  Then he turned himself into a gopher and dug a big hole into the bear’s den.  He crawled in, and found the bear lying with its head in the woman’s lap.  The young Indian put the bear to sleep, and changed himself back into an Indian.  He then told the woman that her man was mourning and that he had come to take her back.  He told her to make a pillow of her blanket and put it under the bear’s head.  Then he had her crawl backwards through the hole he had dug.  So he got her out to where the six brothers were waiting.  Then the hole closed up.

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The woman now told the brothers they should hurry away as arrows would not go into this bear.  After they had all gone the bear woke up, went out of his den, and walked around it.  He found the trail of the Indians.  He started after them, taking with him all the bears of which he was the leader.

The youngest brother, with the four arrows, kept looking back.  Son they came to the place where Bear Lodge now stands.  The youngest boy always carried a little rock in his hand.  He told the six brothers and the woman to close their eyes.  He sang a song and finished it.  When the others opened their eyes the rock had grown.   He sang four times, and when he had finished the rock was just as high as it is today.  This the younger brother could do because he was a holy man.

When the bears reached Bear Lodge they all sat down in a line, but the leader stood out in front.  He called, “let my wife come down!”  The young Indian mocked the bear, saying that he might be a holy being but that he couldn’t get her.

Then the brothers killed all of the bears except the leader.  It growled and kept jumping high up against the rock.  His claws made the marks that are on the rock today.

While he was doing this the youngest brother shot the black arrows at him.

They did not hurt him, and by taking a run the bear went further with every jump.  The third time he jumped the young Indian shot a red arrow at him but it did not enter the bear.  At the fourth jump the bear almost got up on the Tower.  The young Indian then shot his last arrow.  It went into the top of the bear’s head and came out below his jaw, and the bear fell dead.  The youngest brother then made a noise like a bald eagle and four eagles came.  They took hold of the eagles legs and were carried down  to the ground.

Now the young Indian told his brothers to pack in wood and pile it up on top of the body of the bear leader.  This was set on fire.  When the bear got hot it burst, and small pieces, like beads of different colors, flew off.  The younger brother told the rest to put these back in the fire with a stick.  (if they had picked up these pieces with their hands the bear would have come to life again.)  Finally the bear was burned to ashes.

After this where were a great many young bears running around.  The Indians killed all but two.  The younger brother told these two not to bother the people any more, and he cut off their ears and tails.  That is why bears have short ears and no tails to this day. 

The painting over the fireplace is an interpretation of this legend.

To learn more about the legends and stores surrounding Devils Tower, CLICK HERE

Art from poster

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