Native American Legends
A legend of Devil's Tower
A Brule Sioux Legend
Out of the plains of Wyoming rises Devil's Tower. It is really
a rock, visible for hundreds of miles around, an immense cone of
basalt which seems to touch the clouds. It sticks out of the flat
prairie as if someone had pushed it up from underground.
Of course, Devil's Tower is a white man's name. We have no devil
in our beliefs and got along well all these many centuries without
him. You people invented the devil and, as far as I'm concerned,
you can keep him. But everybody these days knows that towering rock
by this name, so Devil's Tower it is.
No use telling you its Indian name. Most tribes call it bear rock.
There is a reason for that - if you see it, you will notice on its
sheer sides many, many streaks and gashes running straight up and
down, like scratches made by giant claws.
Well, long, long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost
in the prairie. You know how it is. They had played shinny ball
and whacked it a few hundred yards out of the village. And then
they had shot their toy bows still farther out into the sagebrush.
And then they had heard a small animal make a noise and had gone
They had come to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed
that for a while. They had come to a hill and wanted to see what
was on the other side. On the other side they saw a herd of antelope
and, of course, had to track them for a while.
When they got hungry and thought it was time to go home, the two
boys found that they didn't know where they were. They started off
in the direction where they thought their village was, but only
got farther and farther away from it. At last they curled up beneath
a tree and went to sleep.
They got up the next morning and walked some more, still headed
the wrong way. They ate some wild berries and dug up wild turnips,
found some choke-cherries, and drank water from streams. For three
days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived.
Oh, how they wished that their parents, or aunts or uncles, or
elder brothers and sisters would find them. But nobody did.
On the fourth day the boys suddenly had a feeling that they were
being followed. They looked around and in the distance saw Mato,
the bear. This was no ordinary bear, but a giant grizzly so huge
that the two boys would only make a small mouthful for him, but
he had smelled the boys and wanted that mouthful. He kept coming
close, and the earth trembled as he gathered speed.
The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, but there
was no such place and the grizzly was much, much faster than they.
They stumbled, and the bear was almost upon them. They could see
his red, wide-open jaws full of enormous, wicked teeth. They could
smell his hot, evil breath. The boys were old enough to have learned
to pray, and they called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: "Tunkashila,
Grandfather, have pity, save us."
All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with
it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up until it was
more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it.
Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into
Have I said he was a giant bear? This grizzly was so huge that
he could almost reach to the top of the rock, trying to get up,
trying to get those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches in
the sides of the towering rock. But the stone was too slippery;
Mato could not get up. He tried every spot, every side. He scratched
up the rock all around, but it was no use. The boys watched him
wearing himself out, getting tired, giving up. They finally saw
him going away, a huge, growling, grunting mountain of fur disappearing
over the horizon.
The boys were saved. Or were they? How were they to get down? They
were humans, not birds who could fly.
Some ten years ago, mountain climbers tried to conquer Devil's
Tower. They had ropes, and iron hooks called pitons to nail themselves
to the rockface, and they managed to get up. But they couldn't get
down. They were marooned on that giant basalt cone, and they had
to be taken off in a helicopter. In the long-ago days the Indians
had no helicopters.
So how did the two boys get down? The legend does not tell us,
but we can be sure that the Great Spirit didn't save those boys
only to let them perish of hunger and thirst on the top of the rock.
Well, Wanblee, the eagle, has always been a friend to our people.
So it must have been the eagle that let the boys grab hold of him
and carried them safely back to their village.
Or do you know another way?
- Told by Lame Deer in Winner, Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation,
South Dakota, 1969.
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