The two men sat their horses facing west. One was a white man who came from Sweden to the western states to hunt beaver pelts many years ago when beaver hats were all the rage in Europe. The other an Indian, an old Lakota Sioux warrior whose people had hunted the land for many years, ever since the Anishinabe, the First People, forced them from the Minnesota Territory. The two had been friends a long time. They met a few moons after the great victory of ’73, when the Sioux along with their brothers the Cheyenne, defeated Yellow Hair Custer and his men at the Little Big Horn. Neither man had liked General Custer. The white man had worked as a scout out of Fort Laramie under the command of General Crook when Custer was under Crooks command as well. He rode with Custer a few times and considered him incompetent as well as arrogant. He felt Custer got his due. The years since then had passed quickly and they saw many people arrive and a change come over the land. They knew people like them would soon be forced to flee or die.
They were watching the sun fade in the west behind a tall rock jutting out over the Wyoming plains.
“Do you see that rock?” The old warrior asked his friend.
“Of course I see that rock. I ain’t blind. It’s Devil’s Tower.”
“That is the white man’s name. We have no devil in our beliefs. We got along well all these many centuries without him. You people invented the devil and, as far as I am concerned, you can keep him. But everybody these days knows that towering rock by this name, so Devil’s Tower it is.”
“So, what about it?”
“My people have another name for it. We know it as Bear Rock and there is a story to that.”
“Ain’t there always with you Indians?”
“I suppose. When you get close you will see on its sides there are many, many streaks and gashes running straight up and down, like scratches made by giant claws, bear claws.
Well, long, long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost in the prairie. You know how it is. You Wasichas get lost all the time. The boys shot their toy bows out into the sagebrush and went to retrieve them. They heard a small animal make a noise and went to investigate.
They came to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. Then they came to a hill and wanted to see what was on the other side. You know how that is, you Wasichus are always curious. Well, on the other side they saw a herd of antelope and, of course, they had to track them for a while.”
“Is there a purpose to this story, or are you just having fun at my expense?”
“That too. When the boys got hungry they knew it was time to go home but found they did not know where they were. They started off in the direction they thought their village was but ended up farther away from it. At last, being very tired from all that walking, they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep.
The next morning they rose and walked some more, still headed 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.
On the fourth day, the boys 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 grizzly so huge that the two boys would only make a small mouthful for him, but he had smelled the boys and wanted that mouthful. The earth trembled as he gathered speed and got closer to the boys.
The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, but there was no such place and Mato was much faster than they were. They stumbled, and the bear was about to pounce upon them. They could see his enormous, wicked teeth. They could smell his hot, evil breath. The boys were old enough to have learned to pray, and they called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator:
“Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us,” they prayed.
“All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up until it was more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it. Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds.
Have I said he was a giant bear? This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock, trying to get up, trying to get those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches on the sides of the towering rock. But the stone was too slippery; Mato could not get up. He tried every side. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. The boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tired and finally giving up. Soon Mato left, growling, and grunting as he disappeared over the horizon.
The boys were saved.”
“How did they get down, old man? They were not birds. They could not fly. I suppose you are going to tell me that father Coyote came to save the day again?”
“No, not this time, Washichus, it was Wanblee, the eagle, he has always been a friend to our people. So it must have been the eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and he carried them safely back to their village.”
“Yeah? So why are you telling me this?”
“To let you know that the Sioux have been to the top of that rock and back down again. Wakan Tanka made it so. No white man has been there.”