Devils Tower National Monument

Published on

Recently a postcard club asked its members to submit a favorite postcard to be shown and talked about at an upcoming meeting. This card featuring Devil’s Tower, a monolith rising from the foothills of Wyoming, is a favorite of mine.

Although I have visited this site and have seen many postcards of it, this card truly captures the overwhelming size, beauty, and uniqueness of the place. It stands out from the surrounding area like a sore thumb. One that can be seen while driving toward it from miles away.

Devils Tower National Monument is in the northeastern corner of the state of Wyoming, and on September 24, 1906, it was designated the first “National Monument” in America by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Today the monument grounds cover 2.1 square miles of protected land.

There are several scientific theories as to what the Devil’s Tower is and how it formed. Geologists have presented their theorems through the years, but the simplest explanation is that the tower was formed by magma (molten rock) being forced up through a crack in the Earth’s surface at about the same time the Rocky Mountains and Black Hills were forming. The result, after millions of years of erosion from water and wind, is the tower as we see it today.

The columnar structure of the tower is its most striking feature. Each one formed as magma cooled from its liquid to its solid form. As rock cools it begins to contract causing stress points that tend to crack into hexagonal formations. While there are other areas that have similar structures, i.e., the Devils Postpile National Monument, in California, [and the Giants Causeway in Scotland;] the Devil’s Tower is the world’s largest and most spectacular example of this formation.

Long before the Devil’s Tower became a National Monument, certainly well before white men observed it, Native Americans considered it a special place and used it for winter camps, vision quests, and summer ceremonies. Tribes including Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Shoshone, Lakota, and others to this day consider the area sacred and still use the park for traditional ceremonies. Visitors may often observe prayer cloths and prayer bundles attached to trees around the park, especially along the Tower Trail. These objects represent a tangible connection with native American people still maintained within this area.

In the 1890s this part of Wyoming became a popular tourist area and as it became familiar men the likes of Bill Rogers, a local rancher, decided that he wanted to be the first person to climb to the top of the tower. Rogers formed a partnership with Willard Ripley and the two proceeded with a plan to climb it.

At first they built a large kite thinking it a good idea that it could be flown to the top of the tower carrying a climbing rope that would be dropped and secured. Their attempts failed because the rope became wedged in the cracks of the columns. Not to be detoured they devised a second plan using the cracks in the tower’s southeastern columns to build a ladder.

While Ripley and his father cut wooden pegs about three inches in diameter and 24- to 30-inches long, Rogers began inserting and hammering them into the cracks and connecting the outside edge with boards. Continuing one piece at a time, Rogers was eventually able to reach a point where he was able to scramble the rest of the way to the top. Construction of the ladder was completed in June 1893.

With the ladder successfully built, Willard Ripley quickly began spreading the word about a special July 4th event at Devil’s Tower. Bill Rogers would ascend the ladder to the top of the tower and plant a large American flag at its summit.

Hearing and reading about the events, spectators from as far away as Rapid City, South Dakota, made their way to witness the previously thought to be impossible feat. With over 800 spectators in attendance, Bill Rogers, wearing an Uncle Sam suit, climbed the ladder to the top. By noon Rogers was at the top of the tower with his flag snapping in the stiff Wyoming wind.

These antics were so popular that they became a yearly event that became known as “Old Settlers’ Picnic.”

On July 4, 1895, Rogers’s wife, Linnie, became the first woman to climb the tower.

Sadly, parts of the ladder were removed or destroyed to prevent people from attempting the dangerous climb. The last known use of the ladder was when daredevil, Babe “The Fly” White, used what was left to ascend the tower in 1927. In 1972, the park service removed what was left of the bottom section but restored the top 140 feet of the ladder to remain as part of the cultural history of Devils Tower National Monument.

The user of this postcard mailed it on August 14, 1939, to Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Bovee of Sterling, Illinois, from Buffalo, Wyoming. The message read, “Save this card for my book. It was about 110 degrees in the shade yesterday. Saw Badlands, Dinosaur Park and Black Hills. Will try to make Yellowstone today. The western trip is better than the eastern one. This country sure is grand – Not as crowded as the east.”

* * *

[Concerning the Apostrophe … for a full explanation of place names that should, but don’t have apostrophes, you need to read Postcard History’s article concerning Apostrophe Eradication. It was published on November 8, 2020. The article can be accessed through the Article Archives search box on the right side of the homepage.

In brief you will learn that in 1890 President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation creating the U. S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) to be part of the Department of the Interior. The saga continued in 1904 when President Teddy Roosevelt instructed the BGN to begin standardizing place names.

Under Roosevelt’s direction the board determined “that a word or words that form a geographic name(s)” needed to be changed by official government policy. That policy was “the need to imply possession or association no longer exists.”]

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Shav – Thanks for a very interesting article. We visited this area a few years ago. The tower and the surrounding countryside are quite impressive – not as crowded as the East.

Cheryl: I assume the writer was referring to the Eastern third of the country. According to Wikipedia, the West is 13 states that comprise the 2/3rds of the country west of the Mississippi River. The West has double the land but about half the population of the Eastern states. Western states are much larger and although CA is the most populated state in the union the West has 42% of the population to 58% in the East.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rosanne Goodwin

I visited it last year and it is indeed impressive from every angle. I also visited the Giants Causeway in Ireland…a beautiful hike down to the ocean.

I’ve been to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, but didn’t get to Devils Tower during my trip to Wyoming.

My 12- year old sone was starting to get really bored and cranky on our trip west from Virginia. Until we got here and he spent most of the day trying to climb it!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x