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The Lost Gold of Devils Tower

Legend tells of a cavern filled with gold. (Copyright Lee Krystek, 2000)

Near the northeast corner of Wyoming is a striking mountain of igneous rock that looks like a gigantic tree-stump. A tree stump over a thousand feet high. Columns run vertically up the top part of the rock like giant scratches. The name given to the mountain by the white man was "Devils Tower." The Indians had many names for it. One of them was "Bear Lodge."

Because it is so unusual in its appearance the tower has figured into many Native American legends and in 1977 it was used as the location for the finale of Steven Speilberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Perhaps the most widely-known legend the Native Americans had about the tower was told by the Kiowa: There were seven girls playing near their village when they were chased by some bears. The girls jumped on a low rock and called to it "Rock, take pity on us, rock save us!" The rock heard them and grew up towards the sky. The bears jumped at the rock scratching it, but they could not climb it. The rock took the girls so high that they became stars. A constellation we now call the Plediades.

There is one story, though, that does not deal with the creation of the rock but what is below it. Years ago a resident of that part northeast Wyoming visited Yankton, South Dakota. While there, he showed a picture of Devils Tower to some elderly Sioux Indians he met. One of them got very excited when he saw the picture.

"Has a passageway been found at the base of the tower?" he asked.

When the resident replied no, the man seemed disappointed. With a little urging, the resident was able to get the Indian to pass on to him the legend about the tower that he had been told. It went something like this:

Many years before three braves had been hunting near the tower. While exploring the rocks at the base of the mountain, they discovered a passageway underneath it. They made torches out of pitch pine knots for light and started exploring the tunnel. They found the passage strewn with bones. Perhaps human bones. At the end, the tunnel opened up into a cave with an underground lake some 25 yards long and more than 15 yards wide. Around the lake were large quantities of gold.

Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming. (Copyright Lee Krystek, 2000)

The braves were not prepared to take the gold with them, so they left the tunnel and hid the entrance so that others would not find it. They intended to return to get the gold at a later time, but never did. One of the braves, on his deathbed, told the story to other members of his tribe and the tale had been handed down for several generations before reaching the old Indian.

So is there a cave with gold under Devil's tower? Nobody has ever found one. Also the geology of the mountain, an igneous intrusion, does not seem to make it a promising location to find caves directly under the mountain. The tale sounds very much like other "lost mine" stories of the Old West, like the story of the "lost Dutchman" mine and Beale's mine, which seem to have little factual basis.

On the other hand, the Black Hills area in which the tower is located, has some of the largest caves in the world underneath it, including Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. The Black Hills area is also known for gold mining that inspired a major gold rush in the 1880's. So maybe, like many legends, there is some truth to the Devil's Tower story. Perhaps the lost cavern is not underneath the tower, but nearby, waiting for someone to find it.

Copyright Lee Krystek, 2000. All Rights Reserved.

 

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