By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis introduced legislation, co-sponsored by colleague U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, that would block a potential name change of Devils Tower National Park.
Lummis submitted the bill on Jan. 22. It has been read twice and sent to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for further discussion.
“Devils Tower is one of the most iconic sights In Wyoming,” Lummis said in a statement. “It’s the first national monument in the United States, and a place of significance for everyone who sees it, from the tourists who visit to the native peoples and Wyoming residents who live nearby.”
The legislation comes almost seven years after an attempt to change the name of the monument. In 2014, a proposal was submitted to the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) on behalf of a spiritual leader of the Lakota Nation to change the names of the geologic feature “Devils Tower” and the community of “Devils Tower, Wyoming.”
A few weeks later, the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe wrote to the Secretary of the Interior and others requesting the name “Devils Tower National Monument” be changed. In each instance the request is to change “Devils Tower” to “Bear Lodge.”
More than 20 tribes with close association to the tower hold it sacred, and find the application of the name “Devils” to be offensive.
However, Lummis said the monument’s name has been in place too long to be changed now.
“Devils Tower is well known across the country and around the world as a historical and cultural landmark, and it is critical that we maintain its legacy and its name,” Lummis said.
The names “Bear Lodge,” “Bears Lodge” and “Mato Teepee” were ascribed to the Tower on most maps between 1874 and 1901.
In 1875, Lt. Col. Richard Dodge escorted the scientific expedition of geologist Walter P. Jenney though the Black Hills to determine the truth of rumors of gold. Dodge wrote in his 1875 journal, “The Indians call this shaft ‘The Bad God’s Tower,’ a name adopted, with proper modifications, by our surveyors.”
It’s speculated that a guide for Dodge was the source of this translation, and “Bear Lodge” may have been mistakenly interpreted as “Bad God’s.” As a result, “Bad God’s Tower” then became “Devils Tower.”
The name “Devils Tower” was applied to maps of that era, and subsequently used as the name of the national monument when it was proclaimed in 1906.
The National Park Service has no authority to change the names of the geologic feature, the populated place or the national monument.
The name of the national monument may be changed by an act of Congress or by a presidential proclamation.
In 2019, former U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney introduced similar legislation at Lummis and Barrasso’s, which would retain the name “Devils Tower” for both the feature and populated place.