Warning… this post requires a bit of reading, but I believe it’s worth the read, so I trust that you will make it to the end!
Ken and I have been at Devils Tower National Monument for a month. We have weathered much rain, a couple of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings, along with the residual mud that Ken has had to traverse in order to maintain the coach, with only a few pair of shoes having paid the price… all part of volunteering at Devils Tower!
Our volunteer position here entails answering questions of all kinds since some days we work at the desk inside the Visitor Center (VC) and some days we lead guided walks on the Tower Trail. The schedule also has each of us roving and talking with visitors at Prairie Dog Town about once a week. We spend time outside of the VC at the Kiosk where we do a Ranger Talk to an audience that we have gathered to listen to the story of “Devils Tower George,” and about once a week I rove the Belle Fourche campground here to gather an Evening Program audience to once again hear the story of George Hopkins, the 30-year old parachutist and daredevil who was stranded on the Tower for six days in 1941.
If you haven’t noticed, we only have the one prepared program talk, which is because our assignment here is just two months. The other volunteers, staff, and interns working in Interpretation are longer term and, as such, they have developed multiple and more detailed programs. For example, the Evening Program (EP) should be about 45 minutes in length, whereas our program is designed for a 20-minute talk. Last week my EP audience was very engaged and we had a lot of fun, which stretched it out to almost the full length.
So, that’s what we do here, except that we are always willing to do whatever needs doing, such as sharpening over a thousand Jr. Ranger Program pencils and taking on additional Tower Walks when others are sick. Next week Ken is scheduled to hand out Visitor Survey Cards and I have driven over to the Wyoming Welcome Center in Aladdin, WY and shared Devils Tower information with everyone who was interested in visiting. The days are mostly busy, but then there are those times when we are scheduled on “Projects” where the time runs a bit slower.
At this halfway point of our time here at Devils Tower, which is located in the northern part of the Black Hills, I thought it appropriate to share information that answers some of the questions we get from visitors. So, sit back, relax, and prepare to be informed…
According to Wikipedia, the “Black Hills… are a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, United States… The [Black] hills were so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees.
Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture. In 1868, the U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation west of the Missouri River, and exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when settlers discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer‘s Black Hills Expedition, miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government took back the Black Hills and in 1889 reassigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to five smaller reservations in western South Dakota, selling off 9 million acres of their former land.”
The Lakota and others of the 26 Native American tribes associated with Devils Tower believe the Tower and the land around it to be a sacred place. “The most common ritual that takes place at the Tower are prayer offerings. Colorful cloths or bundles are placed near the Tower – commonly seen along the park’s trails – and represent a personal connection to the site. They are similar to ceremonial objects from other religions, and may represent a person making an offering, a request, or simply in remembrance of a person or place.”
As also stated on the NPS website, “Oral histories and sacred narratives explain not only the creation of the Tower, but also its significance to American Indians. They detail peoples’ relationships with the natural world, and establish those relationships through literal and symbolic language.”
The Lakota oral history story says that the Tower was created because a group of girls went out to play one day and were chased by several giant bears. To escape the bears, the girls climbed a rock, “fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls.” In trying to climb the rock, the bears left deep claw marks in the sides, which are today the vertical cracks on Devils Tower. “When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the stars of the Pleiades.”
As you might have gleaned from the information here, there is so much more to Devils Tower than just the Tower itself, and we are enjoying the challenge of learning about it all and sharing what we’ve learned with visitors. After all, this is just one of the reasons why we volunteer.
While still fully immersed here, it’s impossible to stop time and the days are clicking away causing our sights to turn toward North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But, that’s a story for another post.
Thanks for reading to this point where I will add that despite another round of threatening storms yesterday, we are refreshed and ready to take on another week of talking with thousands of visitors because Ken now has mud boots and I managed to get a pedicure after a short, but fun getaway to Deadwood, South Dakota.
We hope that you are filling your summer with lots of outdoor fun while staying cool!
Dorothy and Ken