The Teton Lakota were great travelers, their journeys covering much of North America. They knew the location of salt deposits. They knew where to find pigments for their paints. They made journeys to the northern woods to gather the sweet juices of the maple tree. They lived by the hunt, so they followed the grazing herds of Buffalo, and from early springtime to autumn, they gathered fruit and edible vegetation.
Thus, it is told, one time, a caravan of Teton Lakota was slowly moving toward the Black Hills to harvest the many varieties of fruit abounding there. Such journeys were always leisurely, well-ordered and pleasurable. Everyone, young and old, was in an anticipatory mood. The excitement of new country, new experiences and the prospect of what lay beyond yonder hill held a thrill of expectation for all.
The vanguard scouts went far ahead. Their task was to blaze a trail for the others to travel while scouting for water facilities, hunting prospects, natural protective fortifications, and good camping sites.
The flanking scouts moved up and down each side of the moving caravan, keeping a sharp eye for possible enemy movements, also watching for animals to supply fresh meat for the caravan.
Within this cordon of alert scouts, the marchers were safe from surprise attacks. The leaders of the march kept the long column informed of travel orders by heralds who shuttled back and forth as the caravan moved along. Dignitaries, pack carriers and the Petilegha Yuhá (carriers of the perpetual fire) brought up the rear. The sick and weak rode on a travois.
Socializing was an enjoyable aspect of the march. Matrons moved in groups and exchanged news while caring for the children. New babies arrived without trouble as the caravan moved along. Braves not assigned to duty paired off with young maids. Youths hunted. Young children romped and played as they moved along.
When the sun was directly overhead, the caravan halted. All along the column, there were hurried preparations for the noon meal. The leaders sat in council and studied the reports of the scouts. Accordingly, further orders were heralded all along the line.
After many days of marching, the Lakota caravan encountered rugged terrain. To the southeast, the Black Hills appeared, hazily black. Bears were numerous in the rough piney hills, but no one feared them as they rarely attacked human beings unless wounded, sick or hungry.
Then one day, as the travelers moved cautiously through the rough pine-studded hills, an alarm was hastily relayed through the column. Several little girls had wandered off and now were presumed to be lost. Search parties were hurriedly formed and dispatched in all directions. Finally, the little girls were spotted, but alas, they were surrounded by a pack of hungry bears. The frightened children screamed for help. No one was near enough to save them. The rescuers, still too far away, looked on in horror as the growling bears closed in on the girls.
Suddenly a voice from the blue sky spoke to the little girls, saying Pahá akíli (climb the hill.) It had a strange effect on the attacking bears. For a time, they stood paralyzed, giving the little girls a chance to clamber up a small knoll.
The girls huddled together on the hill and hid their faces from the angry bears, as once again, the animals, recovering from their surprise, began climbing after them. The situation appeared hopeless, but like the wrath of thunder, the earth shook and groaned as the little knoll, commanded by the strange voice, began to rise out of the ground, carrying the children high into the air. Higher and higher, the mound rose as the frustrated bears growled and clawed at its sides. Sharp pieces of rock broke away from the rising spire and crashed down upon the angry bears.
The children were now safe from the snarling bears, but other dangers loomed. How were they to get down? Appearing like tiny specks on top of a high, sharp mound, they kept their eyes tightly closed, not daring to look down. But the strange voice spoke again, saying, “Do not cry; you will not fall. I have many pretty birds with me. Make friends with them, for soon you will ride upon a pretty bird, away and away down to the ground.” And so it was. A covey of birds appeared. The kindly voice belonged to none other than Fallen Star.
Molten rocks poured down the sides of the mound, burying the hungry bears. Each little girl now chose a pretty bird upon whose back she flew into the anxious arms of her frantic mother.
That was how Devils Tower came to be, say Lakota legends. To prove it, the Indians point to the deep crevices along the tower’s walls and the claw marks made by the huge bears of long ago.
Indeed it was so, the Lakota say.
LaPointe, James. Legends of the Lakota. San Francisco: Indian Historian Press, 1976. pp. 65-67.