Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Real Texas Giant and Other Tales

At a library sale years ago, I picked up a rather thin yellow book called The Danish Texans. It caught my attention because my husband is of Scandinavian descent, and his last name (my married name) ends with “sen” – common in Denmark.

Sadly, that little book has perched on my bookshelves, being ignored among all the bigger, more imposing tomes about Texas – until today, when I finally opened it while hunting up a topic for this blog. I found myself instantly immersed in John L. Davis’s tale of people who left Denmark to forge new lives in America, particularly Texas.

The bulk of Danish emigration to America occurred from 1820 to 1920. In the early decades a majority of the immigrants were landless farmers who could not earn enough as farmhands to marry and raise a family. A few came from cities like Copenhagen, bringing diverse skills.
Two Danish women working in field with mistress watching; ca. 1884; public domain

According to Davis, when asked why they emigrated, some Danes said, “I did not want to be a common laborer in my own country” or “I did not care to live such a life of drudgery and poverty as my parents lived; I can’t do worse in America, and I may do better.” Still others left home looking for adventure.

A Real Texas Giant

One adventurer was John Edward Henrichson, the son of a Copenhagen cabinetmaker, who put to sea as a cabin boy at the age of twelve in 1819. By then, he was as big as most sailors. When grown, he stood almost seven feet tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds, all muscle and bone. I search for a  picture of him on the web, but no luck. Dangit!

Young John helped keep records for the trading ship and employed skills learned from his father to build and repair cabinets onboard. He made several voyages including into the Gulf of Mexico, travelling on trading missions into Mexico and on flatboats up the Rio Grande. The ship also stopped in ports along the Texas coast.

Leaving the sea, Henrichson settled in New Orleans, married a wealthy widow and used her plantation as a base for trading activities. However, he was attracted to the Nueces-Powderhorn area of Texas which he had seen on his travels. In the late 1830s, he left his wife, taking their three children, ages between five and ten years, and headed for Texas. He became a rancher and trader in the future Corpus Christi area, bought and sold land, and ran a supply store.
Sunset over Powderhorn Lake; photo by Jerod Foster/Nature Conservancy

Henrichson became known as “El Grandor” because of his size and because he was a friend to all. He could not ride the small mustang horses for very long due to his weight. When he did, his feet almost touched the ground, so he mainly walked wherever he went. He and his son served in the Mexican War as a blacksmith and wagon driver respectively, but only until U.S. troops crossed the Rio Grande, at which point both men returned to their ranch.

The elder Henrichson became fairly wealthy. Not trusting banks, he buried gold coins on his land, failing to reveal where he'd  hidden the gold to his son before he died in 1877. But don’t worry, the family did just fine thanks to the ranch John founded.

“Little Denmark”
In the 1860s (exact year unknown) two Texans, Travis Shaw and John Hester, went to Denmark to enlist people to settle in central Texas. Hester’s wife was Danish and may have prompted the recruitment trip. Originally, over twenty families settled west of Lexington in the north of what became Lee County in 1874. Within a few years, the area became known as “Little Denmark.”

Most who settled there were farmers, but a few were craftsmen. Christian Moelbeck was a saddlemaker, Paul Paulsen a cabinetmaker, Niels Thompson a carpenter and bricklayer, Peter Jensen a blacksmith. Single men among the settlers most often married local girls. Some husbands came alone from Denmark, sending for their families later after getting established.

There were enough Danes in Little Denmark to preserve their culture for a while, but most quickly adapted to American ways. Many names changed: Thomassen became Thompson, Rasmussen changed to Robertson, Jens became Yens because Americans didn’t pronounce the Danish names correctly.

Some families taught their offspring Danish but English soon became the predominant language. Their religion also changed as members left the Lutheran church in favor of local denominations. Brush arbor camp meetings were different from religious gatherings in the old country. When a minister conducted such a meeting, families came prepared to stay a week. Some brought milk cows and/or chicken coops in their wagons; blankets and even tents might be included.

Methodist camp meeting, ca. 1819, public domain

The Danes did maintain some traditions such as beer and polkas at community gatherings, and foods such as kartofler (boiled potatoes) and rodgrod (thickened fruit juice pudding.) They also did not give up the custom of pastry and coffee every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Otherwise, they lived like most settlers. Women made clothes for their family, prepared food and cared for the children. Men farmed or worked at a craft, or both, selling any surplus in town. Most families had large vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

One man from Copenhagen, Peter Christian Jensen, soon had a 375-acre farm, which he never could have acquired in Denmark. When a dispute arose over who could attend a private school, Peter donated part of his land for a school he named the “Equal Rights School.” Anyone could attend.

A Tale of Two Cows

There is so much more I would like to share about the Danes who came to Texas, but this is getting rather long, so I will end with a charming little story recounted by Mr. Davis. It made me chuckle.
The tale was told by Margrethe Henningsen, whose family got a “Danish” cow from a man named Iver Wind. She says:

“Mother stood with pail in her hand for now we were really going to have milk, cream and butter; but, alas, when Mother sat down to milk, both she and the pail landed in the grass. Father and Mr. Wind tied the cow . . . then Mother tried again. But the monster jumped into the air with all four legs.”

This cow was exchanged for a Texan cow. “We looked askance at the new cow, for it was a real Texas cow with long horns out to the sides. But it proved to be quite gentle as long as there was enough cotton seed in the feedbag. It was just a matter of getting through first. If the cow finished eating first, she ran, and we either had to get more feed or content ourselves with what milk we had.”

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

Amazon Author Page:
Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 

Monday, September 18, 2017


I am certain many of you are familiar with Square dances, the Virginia Reel, and even today’s Line Dance and two step and so I know most of you are familiar with the dance caller who calls out the next move the dancers are to take. I recall doing this type of dance as part of the history class back in grade school.
The dances were often referred to by the cowboys in their own special lingo as “hoe-dig”, “shin-dig”, or “stomp”, and if anything was important to a cowboy, these dances were, indeed, of extreme importance. There were no invitations sent out or big announcements made, just word of mouth to let everyone know a dance is coming up. Everyone considered themselves invited to these affairs and they intended to be there even if they had to ride 60 miles to get there. Apparently, when a cowboy decides he wants to do something, no obstacle is too big to stop them.

Whoever gave one of these affairs, had to prepare in advance because there was a whole lot of work to be done. There were mountains of beef to barbecue and the women pitched in making dozens and dozens of pies, cakes, bread, and dough-nuts which they fried by the bucketfuls.

The cowboys dug deep to find their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ outfits to “slick-up” for the dance. They laundered their clothes and “greased” their boots, cut each other’s hair and shaved. None thought about the dusty trail to get there that was certain to discount their preening efforts. The women who lived a bit closer would bring their “party clothes” in a “go-Easter” to change into before the party started.

The first guests to arrive, whether it was by horse, buggy, or wagon, helped with the final preparations. By the time dinner was announced up to a hundred guests might be present. Most of the food was consumed at that meal, but there always seemed to be sandwiches, pies, dough-nuts and cake left throughout the festivities. Coffee was constantly available in a pot on the stove.

Once supper was finished, the furniture was removed and planks and boxes were lined along one wall for the convenience of the women folk. Since there weren’t as many women as men, there was no such thing as a wall flower. Women barely had a chance to get a rest between dances. Women were so scarce, some of the men tied a bandanna around their upper arms to indicate that they would take the place of a woman for dancing.

The old fiddler would fire up his fiddle to announce that the dancing was about to begin. The fiddler was usually a unique individual who was considered lazy, shiftless, and a person who rarely refused a drink of spirits. In the special language of cowboys these fiddlers were often referred to by their shortcomings with statements such as “He had more friends than fiddlers in Hell”, or perhaps they would say, “Lazy ‘nough to be a good fiddler” or “Drunk as a fiddler’s clerk.”  No matter how little the cowboys thought of fiddlers on a daily basis, at a cowboy dance, the fiddler was king.

Another important person at the dance was the “caller”. The cowboys referred to this person as “leather-lunged” and “loud-mouthed.” He was usually a carefree fellow and unassuming. He often invented special new calls and they could be picturesque calls which he called out in a monotone voice in time to the music.
Here are a few examples of the colorful calls:

First couple to the right,
Cage the bird, three hands ‘round,
Birdie hop out an’ crane hop in,
Three hands ‘round an’ go it again.

All men left; back to partner,
An’ grand right an’ left;
Come to yo’ partner once an’ a half,
Yallerhammer right an’ Jaybird left,
Meet yo’ partner an all chew hay,
You know where an’ I don’t care,
Seat yo’ partner in the old arm chair.

The shyness of some of the cowboys who hadn’t been in the presence of the opposite sex for quite some time was soon forgotten in the noise and excitement. Self-consciousness was tossed aside as the men began to “jine” in the dancing. It was often said of these cowboys, “He danced himself out of church” and had to “be saved for the next revival.”

The dance usually lasted until dawn. The caller would leave hoarse and the fiddler worn out. Exhausted and sleepy, the guests would ride back to their ranches as the music and calls ran over and over in their heads and produced smiles on their faces until the next dance.

 Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Gabe's Pledge. New Grooms with Honor release by Linda Hubalek

For researching Gabe's Pledge, book three in the Grooms with Honor series, I googled 1800s saddles, saddlemakers, tools, etc., since the main character is a saddle maker.

I could probably spend as much time reading facts and looking at images as I do writing the book.

"When men lived in their saddles, the saddles had to be sturdy, comfortable, durable, functional and versatile.  The long cattle drives of the 1860's through the 80's pushed saddle development to its limits.  The stock saddle had to be adapted to survive over six months of constant use under the harshest conditions and weather extremes without major failure.  The saddle had to be built so minor repairs and replacement of worn parts could be done on the trail.  You had to be able to fix it with a pocket knife and a rock.  These requirements are what developed the stock saddle of the Old West."
Will Ghormley - Maker of Old West Cowboy Leather

Here's some interesting facts (at least to me).

*1885 Steel horns appear. Wood horns would often break from the strain of tying off cattle. Steel replacements started to be used for repairs and then became the norm in new saddle construction.

*1880's Loop seats appear. Square cut outs of the seat reveal tops of the stirrup leathers where they hang over the tree. Allowed for easy cleaning, oiling, and replacement. Popular through 1920.

*1880's Padded seats appear (although not on the rig of any self-respecting working cowboy)

*1890's Saddle swells appear. Originally created by adding a type of bucking rolls around the fork. Later evolved into swells that were incorporated into the fork. Purpose is to prevent the rider's pelvis from slamming against the fork on a bucking horse.

(Click here to read more facts.)

Without a saddle, a cowboy didn't have work, so the saddle maker was a needed profession of the old west.

Here's the description and order link for Gabe's Pledge.  

A sweet historical romance set in 1887.

Gabriel Shepard has secretly loved Iva Mae Paulson for years, but has been too shy to court her. But when Iva Mae announces at a New Year's Eve party that her 1887 resolution is to find a groom, Gabe must decide if he's ready to lose her to another man, or step out of his saddle shop to pursue her.

Iva Mae Paulson loves teaching children but after six years, she wants her own family instead. Since her choice of husband won't take the first step, she'll set her own destiny by signing up to become a mail-order bride.

Help and hindrance by family and friends makes this a comical trip down the church aisle for this couple.

The Grooms with Honor series showcases the six sons of Pastor and Kaitlyn Reagan. The family was first featured in the 1873 year-based Brides with Grit series. Besides the Reagan brothers, the series features other men in their community.

"Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful unto her as long as you both shall live?"

The young men have heard Pastor Reagan say these words to many couples over the years, and they vow to treat all women this way as they walk through life.

Many thanks from the Kansas prairie...
Linda Hubalek

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Women of Controversy in Waco, Texas

This post was first published on Petticoats and Pistols. Due to time constraints, I'd like to use it again this month for my contribution to Sweethearts of the West.

My time travel romance, My Heart Will Find Yours, is set in 1880s Waco, Texas. Located on the Brazos River, in its early history, Waco was known as Six-Shooter Junction. Trail drives herded their cattle across the Brazos in Waco and the cowboys usually spent time in the bawdy houses of the Reservation or Two Street as the red-light district was known. Drinking in the multitude of saloons and card games sometimes led to fights, often involving the use of firearms.
When the suspension bridge opened in 1870, and the railroad arrived in 1871, business in Waco thrived. Trail drives repeatedly lost cattle when herding their livestock across the Brazos. It wasn’t uncommon for a man to be caught in the undertow and drown. Cattle bosses were willing to pay the 50 cents per animal to get their cattle across safely.
In her book, A Spirit So Rare, Patricia Ward Wallace broaches the topic of how women forged a path in the early history of Waco. Her chapter on prostitutes is titled Women of Controversy. Since prostitution plays a minor role in my western time travel romance, I’d like to borrow her title and share some of what I learned.
The first noted record of prostitution in Waco is documented in an 1876 city directory. Matilda Davis of 76 N. Fourth St. is listed as a madam with 10 occupants in her house. The women listed their occupation as actress. Waco had no playhouse at the time. In 1879, the city issued the first license for a bawdy house for an annual fee of $200 and a good behavior bond of $500.
Waco officials legalized prostitution within the Reservation in 1889 making Waco the first town in Texas and the second in the United States to condone a controlled red-light district. Madams paid a yearly fee of $12.50 for each bedroom and $10.00 for each bawd. Prostitutes paid an additional $10.00 license fee and paid the city physician $2.00 twice a month for a medical exam. This guaranteed they didn’t ply their trade outside their designated territory and were disease free. The city prohibited drinking within the area. Fines for violators ranged between $50 and $100. With the large number of prostitutes it’s easy to see the city benefited from trade within the Reservation.
Prostitutes were prohibited from being seen on the streets outside the Reservation yet they were allowed to trade with local businesses. No more than two at a time could travel via a city hack to the stores. Usually tradesmen sent clerks to the curb with merchandise. Some store owners required the prostitutes to stop at the back door.
Life was hard for these working girls. Violence abounded in the bordellos as did drug and alcohol use and abuse. Though licensed, the police had little to do with the establishments. The madams disciplined the women in their houses and maintained order among their clientele. On occasion the police were called when robberies or assaults occurred.
Waco’s most famous madam was Mollie Adams. She had worked in another house but in 1890 opened her own three-room operation. By 1893 she had a seven-room establishment. In 1910 she’d obtained enough wealth to commission a house to be built by the same firm that built the First Baptist Church of Waco and the building now the Dr. Pepper Museum. Her home at 408 N. Second St., had indoor plumbing, electric fixtures, two parlors, a dance hall, and a bell system wired to every room. Her portrait, included here, hung over the fireplace. Though wealthy at this point in her life, she died in an indigent home in 1944. Lorna Lane, the madam in Madison Cooper’s epic novel, Sironia, is supposedly modeled after Mollie Adams.
In 1917, the US Government ordered cities with military bases to shut down red light districts to protect the health of America’s soldiers. Not wanting to lose Camp MacArthur and its 36,000 troops, the city shut down the Reservation in August of 1917. It is rumored some bawdy houses managed to continue business through the 1920s.

Wallace, P. W., A Spirit So Rare, pp. 148-156.

Courtesy of Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Happy Reading and Writing!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Wonderful Chore of Ironing Clothes by E. Ayers

What comes after laundry day? The ironing. Not a pretty chore and certainly something that zapped the strength of our great-great grandmothers. We get off easy today with most of our clothes being permanent pressed. And if we do need to use the iron, they are lightweight steam irons that maintain the perfect temperature with special ultra slick surfaces to protect our clothing.
As a child I can remember my grandmother (born in the 1880's) using a funny looking thing as a doorstop. I asked my mom about it, and she told me it was an iron. Huh? As a small child it took two hands to pick that thing up. I tried it one time, and was scolded for if I ever dropped it on my feet… I probably would have crushed not just my itty-bitty piggy toes but also my little foot. It was my other grandmother who told me about irons. She barely scratched the surface, figuring I'd probably never need to know about such an antiquated item.
Zip forward to the present. Guess those women in my family never figured I'd grow up to be a writer of historical fiction. (Oh how I would love to pick their brains today!) So I've had to acquire the knowledge along my strange paths of research. Oh, be ever so thankful to have that electric steam iron with its super shiny surface, because going back even 100 years that wasn't the case.
Let's look at an old iron. The process of ironing is simple. Heat and water along with pressing the garment forces the molecules to move, allowing the fibers to stretch thus releasing the wrinkles. So way back in the 1800's and earlier an iron was made from (surprise!) iron, which is where we get its name. Fabrics were sprinkled with water, and often with water that had starch dissolved in it. That's the water portion of the process.😀 The pressing has never changed. It's what my grandmothers called elbow grease, or the manual job of moving the iron over the clothing. The heat came from heating the iron on a stove. Kitchen stoves usually were wood burning. But any sort of stove would work.
For the most part, every house had at least three irons. Two to heat while the other was busy pressing the fabric. When it cooled, you switched irons. But the more delicate the fabric the less weight or elbow grease was needed. So often an average household might contain six irons of two different weights or maybe nine with three different weights, that's based on per person ironing.
Now those heavy "doorstop" flat irons also had a competitive model. It was the box iron. As if
the iron wasn't heavy enough, a box iron contained a box that was filled with hot coals or hot stones. The nice thing was they tended to stay hotter longer being the heat source was in the iron. It could also make them extremely heavy.
Think you are getting the hang of this? I've not scratched the surface. You needed pads to pick the iron up, because an iron had a metal handle made from iron so the handle got hot. (Did you figure that one out?)
Today we just have to remember to keep our fingers from touching the bottom of the iron known as the sole plate. You would laugh at the number of times I've managed to burn the tips of my fingers usually trying to iron some lacy little edge on one of my baby girls' frilly dresses. And how
many times have I pulled the cookie sheet from an oven and burned my wrists? I don't think anyone would trust me with one of these old irons. Can you imagine the whole handle being that hot? Some brilliant person discovered they could add asbestos into those pads and protect the hands. Asbestos? Yikes!
In 1870 Mary Florence Potts patented what seemed like a wonderful invention. A detachable
Henry W. Seeley
wooden handle that allowed you to switch from one iron to another using that same "cool" handle. It worked but apparently wasn't super great. Then in 1882, Henry W. Seeley invented the electric flat iron. At fifteen pounds, it took a while to heat, and there was no electricity in our untamed west, on the back roads of our farms, or for those living in small towns. So the old heat-'em-on-the-stove irons were used well into the twentieth century for most families.
If you've ever used an iron frying pan, you know how important it is to protect and properly care for that pan. Well, those old irons were just as prone to rust after ironing all those clothes sprinkled with water. So they needed special care. As we all know, keeping that sole plate smooth is important to the fabrics so that we don't tear the material. (That's why mom said not to scratch the iron on zippers, etc.) To protect the old irons, they were sanded smooth. Then greased. Better get that right or you'd make a terrible mess of your next ironing job. That's got to be what fatback was originally used for because the recipes my Southern friends have that call for fatback, Yankees use bacon. 😉 Then the iron was wiped and waxed with beeswax. And it didn't take much beeswax or you'd have another mess. So when you were finally done ironing all day, you get to resurface those irons because you wouldn't want them to rust.
One more thing, everything you owned had to be ironed. Sheets, pillowcases, chemises, skirts (oh so long!), blouses, shirts, pinafores and jumpers (aprons), pants, hankies, underwear, stockings, even the babies' diapers, dishtowels, bath towels (skip thinking they were terry towels - usually made from hucking or something similar), everything had to be ironed and many things had to be starched! So try standing and ironing for hours with hot, heavy irons during the summer. And don't forget to keep that stove hot to maintain heated irons.
I'm so glad I live today. As for my iron, ah, I think it's in the closet upstairs, but I wouldn't make any bets. I don't even remember the last time I used it. I figure that's a good thing.

Friday, September 8, 2017


Since Cheri Kay Clifton wrote about the BIG Las Vegas, I thought to re-run my post about "The Other Las Vegas--in New Mexico."
I hope you enjoy it.

Las Vegas, New Mexico lies at the base of the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (The Blood of Christ). Las Vegas means "the meadows." The town is 65 miles due east of Santa Fe.

Las Vegas, New Mexico was established in 1835 after a group of settlers received a land grant from the Mexican government. They laid out the town in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings that could serve as fortifications in case of attack.
Las Vegas soon prospered as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail. During the Mexican-American War in 1846, Stephen W. Kearny delivered an address at the Plaza of Las Vegas claiming New Mexico for the United States.

 When the railroad arrived in 1880, it set up shop one mile (1.6 km) east of the Plaza. Fred Harvey showed up and used one side of the station as the Hotel Castaneda, complete with one of his already famous Harvey Houses.
 Turn-of-the-century Las Vegas featured all the modern amenities, including an electric street railway, the "Duncan Opera House" a Carnegie library, and the New Mexico Normal School (now New Mexico Highlands University.)
 The arrival of the railroad on July 4, 1879 brought with it businesses and people, both respectable and dubious. Murderers, robbers, thieves, gamblers, gunmen, swindlers, vagrants, and tramps poured in, transforming the eastern side of the settlement into a virtually lawless brawl.

Among the notorious characters were legends of the Old West: the Younger Brothers, dentist Doc Holliday,  Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Hoodoo Brown, The Durango Kid, Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler, and the Cole Brothers.

 Historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell once claimed regarding the Old West:
"Without exception there was no town which harbored a more disreputable gang of desperadoes and outlaws than did Las Vegas."

In 1970, my husband and our two elementary school age children lived in Las Vegas one year while he taught at New Mexico Highland University. The school is such a beautiful small college, and the rich experiences we encountered that one year have always stayed with us.
Living in an old renovated adobe house was quite an experience, with its polished vigas across the ceilings, pine floors, and a very small adobe fireplace in a corner. How I longed for an even floor, straight walls, and doors that shut properly. Nothing in a 100-year-old adobe house lies as it should which became part of its charm. The foot thick adobe walls kept us snug and warm during that one cold winter.
The window over my kitchen sink looked toward the close Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and many afternoons a rain shower moved across, watering my flowers and garden, moving on, leaving bright blue skies.
It is a beautiful place.

Note: We moved on to Oklahoma where my husband earned a PhD and I taught high school. Stillwater did not have the same old wild west feel to it, but we did enjoy our three-year stay there, too.
Next move was to our present home in Central Texas, San Marcos.
Thank you for visiting Old Las Vegas.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas

Thursday, September 7, 2017


Today, I thought for a bit of a virtual road trip we'd visit the Nation’s first National Monument. That's correct, Wyoming is home to the First National Park, Yellowstone, and the First National Monument, Devils Tower. 

Located in present day Crook County in Northeastern Wyoming, Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain including the Belle Fourche River. At its summit this core of a volcano exposed by erosion is 5, 112 feet above sea level.

Although it is highly likely early trappers and explorers saw the Tower from a distance there was not any direct reference to the formation until 1875. A U.S. Geological Survey party who made a reconnaissance of the Black Hills called attention to the uniqueness of the Tower.  Colonel Richard I. Dodge, commander of the military escort, described it as “one of the most remarkable peaks in this or any country.”

Colonel Dodge is credited with giving the formation its present name.  In 1876, he published a book “The Black Hills,” where he called the formation Devils Tower. He explained “The Indians call this shaft The Bad God’s Tower, a name adopted with proper modification, by our surveyors.” One of the geologists on the expedition countered Dodge saying “the name Bear Lodge (Mateo Teepee) appears on the earliest map of the region, and though more recently it is said to be known among the Indians as ‘the bad god’s tower,’ or in better English, ‘the devil’s tower,’  the former name, well applied is still retained.” Despite this response the name Devils Tower remained the name generally used, although for a time Geologists continued to use the original name.

The year before the Geological Survey party entered the Black Hills in 1874, in direct violation of the Treaty of 1868, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills. The Treaty of 1868 guaranteed this region to the Indians.  As a result of Custer’s expedition and his reports of the discovery of gold in the Hills, miners invaded the region.  Though the Army attempted to keep order, troops were withdrawn in 1875 and miners and settlers poured into the region with towns like Custer City and Deadwood springing up overnight. 

The subsequent battles and Custer’s fate was thoroughly discussed in a past blog, but in the end, the Indians were compelled to cede the Black Hills and most of their lands in Wyoming to whites.  This opened up the lands around Devils Tower. In early 1880s the first settlers came into the Belle Fourche Valley in the vicinity of Hulett.  With the exception of such outfits as the Camp Stool and the Driscoll, most of the settlers were small-scale farmers and ranchers from the mid-western states. In the vicinity of Moorcroft and the Tower, on the other hand, most of the land was occupied by large-scale outfits, such as the 101.  From 1889 to 1892, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad extended its line from the South Dakota State Line through Newcastle, Moorcroft, and on to Sheridan. From several points along this line, the Tower can be seen.

The Government took early action to prevent the Tower from passing into the hands of individuals wishing to exploit the Tower for personal gain. In August 1890, the General Land Office issued an order rejecting all application on the lands around the Tower.

In February 1892, Senator Francis E. Warren of Wyoming wrote the Commissioner of the General Land Office asking him for assistance in preventing the spoliation of Devils Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes (several miles northeast of the Tower).  Weeks later the office issued an order setting aside some 60.5 square miles including the Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes as temporary forest reserve.

That same year, the Senator introduced a bill to establish Devils Tower as a National Park.  The bill included Devils Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes. The bill was read twice and referred to committee where it appears no further action was taken.  It wouldn’t be until fourteen years later when Devils Tower would become a national monument.

Frank W. Mondell, Representative from Wyoming and resident of Newcastle, lent his support to a plan to have the area preserved as a national monument in 1906. Mondell was a member and later chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands. It was result of his influences that President Theodore Roosevelt, on September 24, 1906, proclaimed Devils Tower as the first national monument. The Little Missiouri Buttes were not included in the monument area and remained opened to settlement.

While difficult to reach, the Tower became a favorite camping and picnicking spot for people in the area.  One of the inviting features was a large spring of pure cold water located near its base.  It could only be reached over unimproved roads or trails by horseback or wagon.  It was said it was necessary to fort the Belle Fourche River seven times to get to the Tower.  This trek did not stop the people of the area from visiting Devils Tower once or twice a year and spending a few nights there.  Fourth of July celebrations were sometimes held at the Tower and people came from considerable distances to attend these events.

The Fourth of July celebration best-known is the 1893 celebration when William Rogers, a local rancher, became the first known man to climb the tower. Rogers with the help of another local rancher, Willard Ripley, prepared a 350-foot ladder to the summit of the Tower. The men drove pegs, out of oak, ash, and willow, 24 to 30 inches in length and sharpened on one end, into a continuous vertical crack found between the two columns on the southeast side of the formation.  The pegs were braced and secured to each other by a continuous wooden strip to which the outer end of each peg was fastened.  Building the ladder was probably more hazardous than climbing the Tower itself.

People came from as far as 125 miles to witness the first formal ascent of the Tower. Conservative estimates say 1,000 people came by horseback, wagon and buckboard to see the feat. Rogers began his ascent after proper ceremonies were conducted. After a climb taking about an hour, he reached the top.  Amid cheering, Rogers unfurled an American flag, specially made for the occasion, and attached it to a flagpole that had been attached to the ladder.  Unfortunately, a gust of wind tore the flag loose and it drifted to the base of the Tower, where promoters tore it up and sold the pieces as souvenirs.

Others climbed the Tower using Rogers ladder. One of the first being Linnie Rogers, who duplicated her husband’s climb two years later on July 4, 1895 becoming the first woman to reach the summit. The last to reach the top, by this method, was “the Human Fly”, Babe White, in 1927. Much of the ladder has since been destroyed, but portions of the ladder can still be seen from the south side of the Tower Trail.

In 1937, Fritz Weissner and two other mountaineers from the American Alpine Club of New York City climbed the summit using rock-climbing techniques. Their ascent took four hours and forty-six minutes.  Jack Durrance pioneered the classic and easiest route to the summit in 1938. Today climbers still flock to the Tower to test their abilities and reach the summit of Devils Tower.

Representative Mondell continued to seek funding for roads and bridges so tourists could reach the monument. However, bill after bill fell on the deaf ears of Congress. Finally, in 1917 the National Park Service with the help of Crook County built a three mile road leading to the formation.  And after petitions signed by the people of Wyoming and South Dakota, and pressure from Senators Warren and John Kendrick a bridge was finally constructed over the Belle Fourche in 1928. The roads and bridge allowed tourists in the ever popular motor vehicles access to the monument. 

 Although for many years the conditions of the roads made the trek to the Tower a difficult one, but despite these hardships visitors continued to make their way to visit, picnic, and camp at the Tower.  Access would improve with the construction of the Custer Battlefield Highway (U.S. Highway 14) between Spearfish, South Dakota and Gillette, Wyoming.  The state of Wyoming also improved roads into Sundance from U.S. Highways 85 and 16, and a paved highway was also constructed from U.S. Highway 14 to Alva making the south entrance entirely accessible by paved roads.

The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) of the 1930s provided extensive development for the Tower.  New roads were built, modern water and electrical systems installed, footpaths were laid out, picnic areas were established with tables and benches, and trailer and overnight camping areas were provided to the visitors. Residences for employees, workshops, and machine shops were erected, and in 1938 a museum was completed. The result of these improvements was a flock of tourists to the area.

Unfortunately, World War II would detract from the Tower’s new improvements and with the War tourism dropped dramatically.  But just prior to the war, George Hopkins would bring thousands to the Tower, and draw national attention. As a publicity stunt, Hopkins parachuted onto the summit of Devils Tower. His untried preparations for an easy descent failed, and stranded the stuntman on the summit. Food and supplies were dropped by plane to the stranded man, but for six days Hopkins waited while attempts and plans were made to locate a method to get him down.

Jack Durrance, a student at Dartmouth College, skier and mountain climber, who led the second mountain-climbing ascent to the summit in 1938 offered his assistance.  Durrance led seven other climbers to the summit where they found a surprisingly upbeat Hopkins. The descent was made with little difficulty.  Over 7,000 visitors came to the monument to see Hopkins and witness the rescue over the six days he was stranded on the summit.

Following World War II, tourists returned to the Tower and local celebrations were resumed.  Today visitors are invited to walk the 1.3 mile paved trail that encircles the tower or visit the prairie dog town just inside the park.  The Wyoming towns of Sundance, Moorcroft and Hulett provide lodging, food and entertainment.

For many Devils Tower is an interesting rock formation, or a challenge to climb. To many American Indian tribes, the Tower is a sacred place central to their culture. In the 1930s, first person narratives were recorded of the legend of the Tower to many of these cultures.

Arapaho Legend

An Arapaho lodge was camped at Bears Tipi. The father of this lodge was a head lodge and had seven children, five boys and two girls. The two girls had made an arrangement between themselves that the one who found the end bond (end rib) of a buffalo should receive the most favors from the brothers. The boys often made trips to other tribes. After a long search one of the girls found an end bone of a buffalo and on picking it up she turned into a bear and made some big scratches on her sister's back. The bear-girl told her sister, "if you tell the dogs will howl and this will be a signal so I will know that you have told." The sister did tell her brothers and when they heard the dogs howl and give the signal they were scared and started to run.

The bear-girl heard the signal and ran after them. The girl who had told was carrying a ball in her hand which she dropped and accidentally kicked. The ball bounded up on the big, high rock. The bear-girl reached over her sister's shoulder to grab the ball, slipped and made very big scratches on the big rock and fell on her sister and broke the sister's chest. The bear-girl climbed to the top of the big, high rock and told her family that there would be seven stars in the shape of a diamond appear in the east and the first star out would be off to one side and would be brighter than the other stars. This first star would be called Broken Chest Star. From this time on the Arapaho called this big, high rock "Bears Tipi".

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Sherman Sage, 81 years old. Otto Hungary, Interpreter.

Cheyenne Legend

A band of Cheyenne Indians went on one of their visits to Bears Tipi to worship the Great Spirit; as did many other tribes before the white man came. The Cheyenne braves took their families with them as they felt that would be safe as Bears Tipi was a holy place.

After having camped there for several days, one of the Cheyenne braves noticed that his wife was often gone from camp, staying away for a short time. As time went on he noticed that she was gone longer than before. This brave could not understand why his wife should be gone from their lodge so much as he had always been devoted to her and being a good hunter, as well as a brave warrior, she always had much buffalo, antelope, and deer meat. He furnished her fine skins to make nice clothes.

Becoming suspicious that some other brave in his band might be courting his wife, he watched to see what man was missing when his wife left camp. He found that no man was missing when his wife was gone. This man also saw that his wife had a skin over her shoulders now that she did not wear before coming to this camp.

One day when she had been gone longer than usual, he laid in wait for her, on her return he asked her where she had been and what drew her from camp so much of the time. She would not answer any of his questions. Then the man became mad and tore the skin from her shoulders and saw that she was covered with scratches.

He demanded that she tell him which man had abused her. Becoming frightened at the way her husband was acting she told him that she had been charmed by a very big bear that lived in the big rock. The bear had no mate and had become infatuated with her while she was out gathering fruit. Fearing for the safety of the camp, she had submitted to the bear's embraces, which accounted for the scratches on her shoulders.

Then the warrior told his wife to lead him to the bear so he could kill it. When they found the bear, the man had great fear because the bear was big, very big. The bear slapped the woman with his paw and changed her into a bear. The man ran to the camp to get the rest of the braves to help him kill the big bear.

They found the bear had crawled into a cave, leaving his hind feet in the door. The bear's feet were so big that nobody could get past them. They could not get close enough to the bear to kill him so they shot at his feet to make him come out. When the bear came out he was so big that all the warriors were scared and climbed up on a big rock.

The men were so scared that they prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the rock began to grow up out of the ground and when it stopped it was very high. The bear jumped at the men and on the fourth jump his claws were on the top. The Great Spirit had helped the men and now they had great courage and they shot the bear and killed him. When the bear fell, he fell backwards and pushed the big rock which made it lean.

After that, the bear-woman made this big rock her home, so the Cheyennes called it Bears Tipi.

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Young Bird. Samuel Weasel Bear, Interpreter.

Crow Legend

Once when some Crows were camped at Bears House, two little girls were playing around some big rocks there. There were lots of bears living around that big rock and one big bear seeing the girls alone was going to eat them. The big bear was just about to catch the girls when they saw him. The girls were scared and the only place they could get was on top of one of the rocks around which they had been playing.

The girls climbed the rock but still the bear could catch them. The Great Spirit, seeing the bear was about to catch the girls, caused the rock to grow up out of the ground. The bear kept trying to jump to the top of the rock, but he just scratched the rock and fell down on the ground. The claw marks are on the rock now. The rock kept growing until it was so high that the bear could not get the girls. The two girls are still on top of the rock.

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Rides the White Hip Horse. Goes to Magpie, Interpreter.

Kiowa Legend

Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, "Rock take pity on us, rock save us!" The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears' claws, turned to stone, all around the base.No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it - it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears' claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock "Tso-aa", a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree.

Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.

Lakota Legend

In the Sioux tribe long ago was a brave warrior who often went alone into the wilderness where he would fast and worship the Great Spirit in solitude. Being alone helped him to strengthen his courage so that in the future he could carry out his plans.

One day this warrior took his buffalo skull and went along into the wilderness to worship. Standing at the base of Mato Tipila after he had worshiped for two days he suddenly found himself on top of this high rock. He was very much frightened as he did not know how he would get down. After appealing to the Great Spirit he went to sleep. When he awoke he was very glad to find that he was again at the base of this high rock.

He saw that he was standing at the door of a big bear's lodge as there was foot prints of a very big bear there. He could tell that the cracks in the big rock were made by the big bear's claws. So he knew that all the time he had been on top of this big rock he had been standing on a big bear's lodge.

From this time on his nation called this big high rock Mato Tipila and they went there often to worship. The buffalo skull is still on top of this big high rock and can be seen on the highest point.

This legend told to Dick Stone by Short Bull, who lived a short distance west of Ogalala, South Dakota, on July 31, 1932. Mark Running Eagle, Interpreter.

For me it’s one of my favorite memories of my first visit to Devils Tower  when I was only eight-years-old, and my dad passed on one of these legends to my brother and me. Did one of the legends appeal to you?


Mattison, Ray H. "The First 50 Years." National Park Service. 1955

Kirsten Lynn is a Western and Military Historian. She worked six years with a Navy non-profit and continues to contract with the Marine Corps History Division for certain projects. Making her home where her roots were sewn in Wyoming, Kirsten also works as a local historian. She loves to use the history she has learned and add it to a great love story. She writes stories about men of uncommon valor…women with undaunted courage…love of unwavering devotion …and romance with unending sizzle. When she’s not writing, she finds inspiration in day trips through the Bighorn Mountains, binge reading and watching sappy old movies, or sappy new movies. Housework can always wait.