Arvol Looking Horse, who needs no introduction in these pages, filed a petition in November 2014 to change the name of Devils Tower back to the traditional name translated to English, Bear Lodge. The Oglalas and approximately 20 other tribes have expressed that they hold Bear Lodge to be sacred and they find naming it for the Adversary to the Abrahamic God to be highly offensive.
The National Park Service agrees that Bear Lodge was the name in common use until Lt. Col. Richard Dodge came to the Black Hills in 1875 to investigate rumors of gold started by George Armstrong Custer as perhaps his last effective blow against the Great Sioux Nation on his way to losing his military reputation and his life at the Greasy Grass.
Gold in the Black Hills would result in the kind of rush to cash in that doomed Cherokee land titles in Georgia and kicked off a genocide in California that stands out among many Indian genocides. Even the colonial courts would find that the gold seekers took the Black Hills in violation of treaty rights and the U.S. would put an inadequate amount of cash in the registry of the federal court to compensate the Sioux, cash that remains untouched to his day because “the Black Hills are not for sale.”
Some speculate that Dodge misheard “Bear Lodge” as “Bad God’s.” I have speculated that someone mistranslated “spirit” as “God.”
However the Devil got the Tower, the tribes want it back.
There are actually three naming issues. The names of the mountain and what the National Park Service calls the “populated place” (population 95 on the 2010 Census) are controlled by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The name of Devils Tower National Monument can be changed by Congress or (like Denali in Alaska) by presidential proclamation.
Organizations and individuals have less than a month left to express opinions on taking the mountain away from the Devil and giving it back to Bear. Comments on the Tower and the “populated area,” perhaps pointing out that the Board on Geographic names has a written policy that “supports and promotes the official use of geographic names derived from Native American languages” can be sent to:
Executive Director Wyoming Board on Geographic Names
4-E 125 W 25th St
Cheyenne, WY 82002?
Executive Secretary United States Board on Geographic Names
U.S. Geological Survey
523 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Those who believe that names matter can point out that plenty of indigenous names remain in North America. It’s beyond ironic that the name Arvol Looking Horse wants discarded is based on a mistaken belief that Devils Tower was the indigenous name. It’s never too late to correct an error.