An important landmark for Plains Indian tribes long before Europeans reached Wyoming, Devils Tower was called Mateo Tepee, or Grizzly Bear Lodge, by the Sioux. A number of Indian legends describe the origin of Devils Tower. One legend tells about seven little girls being chased onto a low rock to escape attacking bears. Their prayers for help were heeded. The rock carried them upward to safety as the claws of the leaping bears left furrowed columns in the sides of the ascending tower. Ultimately, the rock grew so high that the girls reached the sky where they were transformed into the constellation known as the Pleiades.
Fur trappers may have visited Devils Tower, but they left no written evidence of having done so. The first documented visitors were several members of Captain W. F. Raynold's Yellowstone Expedition who arrived in 1859. Sixteen years later, Colonel Richard I. Dodge led a U.S. Geological Survey party to the massive rock formation and coined the name Devils Tower. Recognizing its unique characteristics, Congress designated the area a U.S. forest reserve in 1892 and in 1906 Devils Tower became the nations first national monument.
Rising dramatically to a height of 1,280 feet above the Belle Fourche River, Devils Tower has become a rock climbing mecca. On July 4, 1893, local rancher William Rogers became the first person to complete the climb after constructing a ladder of wooden pegs driven into cracks in the rock face. Technical rock climbing techniques were first used to ascend the Tower in 1937 when Fritz Wiessner conquered the summit with a small party from the American Alpine Club. Today hundreds of climbers scale the sheer rock walls each summer; each lava column defines its own climbing routes, whose difficulties range from easy to some of the hardest in the world. On some routes the gap between columns is just narrow enough to bridge with stretched-out legs, so the climber ascends doing "the splits" all the way. All climbers must register with a park ranger before and after attempting a climb.