Devils Tower, an important landmark for Plains Indian tribes long before the white man reached Wyoming, 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 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 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 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 nation's 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. All climbers must register with a park ranger before and after attempting a climb.