Devils Tower Becomes First American National Monument
On September 24, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt declared Devils Tower in Wyoming to be the first National Monument under the Antiquities Act.
Devils Tower is a nearly vertical monolith of volcanic rock which rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, which meanders below it. This rock formation is believed to be about 40 million years old. Once buried, erosion slowly stripped away the softer soils that once covered this impressive landmark.
The tower is of great significance to several Native American tribes, who know it as Mateo Tepee, or Grizzly Bear Lodge – this name comes from an old legend. According to that legend, seven young girls were out playing when a grizzly bear began to chase them. They jumped on a small rock and prayed to the Great Spirit for help. As the rock grew, the bear tried to climb it but slid down, leaving giant claw marks. The girls then went to the sky and became the seven stars of the Pleiades.
It got its current name in 1875 when Colonel Richard Irving Dodge led an expedition through the area. One of his men misinterpreted the name as Bad God’s Tower, which soon became Devil’s Tower.
In 1892, Senator Francis Warren proposed setting the tower and surrounding lands aside for conservation. He succeeded and it was made into a forest reserve, though it was quickly reduced from 60 to 18 square miles. Later that year, he introduced a bill to establish the area as a national park, but no action was taken for over a decade.
In June 1906, Congress passed, and President Roosevelt signed, the Antiquities Act, which gave the President the authority to establish national monuments from public lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features.
Wyoming Representative Frank W. Mondell was among Devils Tower’s greatest supporters and urged President Roosevelt to make it a monument. As such, Devils Tower became the first national monument just three months after the act was passed.
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