Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

Legends of Devil's Tower

Grey Horn Butte

Lakota and Cheyenne Stories



"He Hota Paha" - Lakota


This is another characteristically tongue-in-cheek tale from Lame Deer.

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, "Grey Horn Butte" ["He Hota Paha"],  Most tribes call it Bear Rock or Bear Mountain. 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 to investigate. They came to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. They came 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 chokecherries, and drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived. Oh, how they wished that there 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: "Tunkashil a, 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 the clouds. 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 rock face, 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.  From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.

Cheyenne Legend of Devil's Tower Bear's Tipi

A band of Cheyenne Indians went on one of their visits to Bears Tipi to worship the Great Spirit; as did many other tribes before the white man came. The Cheyenne warriors took their families with them as they felt that would be safe as Bears Tipi was a holy place.

After having camped there for several days, one of the Cheyenne warriors noticed that his wife was often gone from camp, staying away for a short time. As time went on he noticed that she was gone longer than before. This brave could not understand why his wife should be gone from their lodge so much as he had always been devoted to her and being a good hunter as well as a brave warrior, she always had much buffalo, antelope, and deer meat. He furnished her fine skins to make nice clothes.

Becoming suspicious that some other warrior in his band might be courting his wife, he watched to see what man was missing when his wife left camp. He found that no man was missing when his wife was gone. This man also saw that his wife had a skin over her shoulders now that she did not wear before coming to this camp.

One day when she had been gone longer than usual, he lay in wait for her, and on her return he asked her where she had been and what drew her from camp so much of the time. She would not answer any of his questions. Then the man became very upset, and he tore the skin from her shoulders and saw that she was covered with scratches.

He demanded that she tell him which man had abused her. Becoming frightened at the way her husband was acting she told him that she had been charmed by a very big bear that lived in the big rock. The bear had no mate and had become infatuated with her while she was out gathering fruit. Fearing for the safety of the camp, she had submitted to the bear's embraces, which accounted for the scratches on her shoulders.

Then the warrior told his wife to lead him to the bear so he could kill it. When they found the bear, the man had great fear because the bear was big, very big. The bear slapped the woman with his paw and changed her into a bear. The man ran to the camp to get the rest of the warriors to help him kill the big bear.

They found the bear had crawled into a cave, leaving his hind feet in the door. The bear's feet were so big that nobody could get past them. They could not get close enough to the bear to kill him so they shot at his feet to make him come out. When the bear came out he was so big that all the warriors were scared and climbed up on a big rock.

There men were so scared that they prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the rock began to grow up out of the ground and when it stopped it was very high. The bear jumped at the men and on the fourth jump his claws were on the top. The Great Spirit had helped the men and now they had great courage and they shot the bear and killed him. When the bear fell, he fell backwards and pushed the big rock which made it lean.

After that, the bear-woman made this big rock her home, so the Cheyenne called it Bears Tipi.

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Young Bird. Samuel Weasel Bear, Interpreter. From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories. blue_panther@mindspring.com

 

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