Sleeping in the Shadow of Bear Lodge

This is one of the legends of the Bear Lodge/Devils Tower.

Long ago, three Native American boys were playing. They shot their arrows far into the sagebrush and ran after them. Then they heard a small animal making noise and went to investigate. They came to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while.

Next they encountered 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 traveling 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.

How they wished that their parents, or someone from their tribe 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 bear, so huge that the boys would make only a small mouthful for him. He had smelled the boys and came in search of that mouthful. He came so close that the earth trembled as he walked.


The boys ran, searching for a place to hide. They found none. 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 teeth. They could smell his hot breath.


The boys called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: “Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us.” 


All at once the earth rumbled. The ground rose to the heavens bringing  a cone of rock going up, up, up until it rose more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it.


The bear clawed at the sides making big scratches in the sides of the towering rock. He tried every spot. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use.

Finally the bear gave up.  The eagle, Wanblee, who has always been a friend to the Lakota people, rescued the boys from the top. He let the boys grab hold of him and carried them safely back to their village.

Bear LodgeFor thousands of years, many Native American tribes have called his place sacred. They have come here to pray, fast, engage in Vision Quests, and perform ceremonies. When Americans pushed west, they came through this land and met conflict with the indigenous people.

The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty gave the Great Sioux Nation all of the Black Hills, including Bear Lodge, into perpetuity. Perpetuity lasted six years when gold was found in the Black Hills. In 1906, before the creation of the U.S. Parks Service, President Theodore Roosevelt made Bear Lodge the first national monument.

Many hills and sites of geographical anomalies (such as Glastonbury Tor, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Mount Shasta) around the world have sacred energy. Bear Lodge has many stories of mystery and magic. For example, it is the birthplace of Lakota wisdom as the Great Bear Hu Numpa imparted the sacred language and ceremonies of healing to Lakota medicine men here. It was here that the Lakota also received their most sacred object, the White Buffalo Calf Pipe. The sacred pipe’s sanctuary was located within a secret cave on the north side of Bear Lodge.

The Cheyenne cultural hero, Sweet Medicine, made a prophesy here. As Sweet Medicine lay dying in a hut by Bears Lodge, he foretold the coming of the horse; the disappearance of the old ways and the buffalo, to be replaced by slick animals with split hoofs the people must learn to eat (cattle). He told of the coming of white men, strangers called Earth Men who could fly above the earth, take thunder from light, and dig up the earth and drain it until it was dead.

Visions at Bear Lodge are not exclusive to Native Americans. Many modern people claim to see extraterrestrials and UFOs here. A Kiowa story of Bear Lodge says that the girls who were chased atop the peak by a bear were either killed or rescued and became the stars of the Pleiades, so the association with star people is also ancient and well established.

Vortex Hunters reports that Bear Lodge is a site of a vortex. This may also add to its powerful energy.

What might you expect to notice here? Well, it’s definitely peaceful and quiet. There tends to be a handful of tourists in the parking lot when you arrive, but as there are two walking trails around the monument, the people pretty quickly thin out. As you walk along the paths, you see many animals- squirrels, deer, chipmunks – going about their day without a care for you.

It’s quiet. Really quiet. Although lots of birds sing, it’s as if the pine needles soak it all in so that the sound doesn’t reverberate. It’s not a noisy forest at all, but one that invites you to go into silence to hear the inner message of your soul.

I always try to tune in wherever I am, so I leaned in to feel a rock. Oh, my! Sometimes I get stories, sometimes feelings. When there is energy, I try to sit with it and allow it to flow until it stops. This was energy, sorrowful energy. It flowed like a river and didn’t stop. Others could feel it too.

I had to pull away. It was just too much.

Funny, no other rock, tree, or soil resonated. Nothing else had anything to say. No matter where I looked, it was peaceful and silent.

That night we slept in the shadow of Bear Lodge in a tipi. A vicious storm came that I later learned dropped rivers of rain and brought wind that scared away our neighbors in the night. I slept through the whole thing, still deeply enraptured in peace.

That is the energy of Bear Lodge for me. Like many places, it has its share of lightness and dark, but don’t we all? The peace that lies at the center is easy to find here. The darkness wants to be acknowledged, and well it should, but the tranquility and hope are far stronger.

If you come, bring a tent. You will want to sleep outside on the ground surrounded by all the air, night noises, and stars. Let yourself dream here. Bring an open heart. The energy here can soften you. If you have cares, bring them too. Give them to the rocks. They are stronger than you and can hold them for you.

Author’s note: Although this place is more commonly known as the Devils Tower, I call it by one of the names used by Native Americans. “Devils Tower” is  western mistranslation of “bad God’s tower.” Clearly it is not, and never was, that.

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