A recent proposal to change the name of Devils Tower National Monument has fallen through. But even if it had succeeded, Old Nick would have kept a prominent place in the landscape of the West.
Monument Supervisor Lisa Eckert had suggested
adding the name "Bear Lodge" to the site. That came at the request
of some Native American groups, whose ancestors conducted sacred
rituals at the imposing 1,200-foot-high volcanic monolith.
However, area residents persuaded Wyoming Rep. Barbara
Cubin, R, to introduce a bill to block any name change. Her
spokesman explained that "Once you start messing around and calling
it Bear Lodge, it loses some of its identity." In response, Eckert
dropped the suggestion, although Native American activists say they
have not given up on the issue.
we’ll still have the Dirty Devil River in Utah, and
I’ll still see the Devils Armchair when I walk home from the
post office in downtown Salida, Colo., and gaze at the eastern bowl
of Mount Ouray in the Sawatch Range.
According to the
U.S. Geological Survey’s database of place names, there are
more than 750 demonic place names in the West. The most popular is
Devils Canyon — there are 71 of them. We also have an
assortment of Devils Gulches (3), Devil Creeks (17), Devils Basins
(5), Devils Peaks (11), and the like, but they don’t really
reveal much about their namesake.
For that, you could
examine various anatomical parts, starting with the 19 Devils
Backbones in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The
Devils Head emerges in Colorado, California and Washington. Look
around the infernal West, and you can also find the Devils Gut,
Nose, Thumb, Elbow, Tooth, Horn, Ribs, Heel, Eyebrow, Tailbone and
Throat. Somewhat surprisingly, given our common image of Satan
(which comes from the faun, a half-man half-goat wildland creature
in Roman mythology), we have no Devils Hoof or Hoofprint, although
there is a Devils Toe Creek in Idaho.
It appears that the
devil did keep a second home in the West. It had a Chimney in
Montana, and Stairs or Stairways in Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and
As for furnishings, there’s a Devils
Footstool in Montana and a Bedstead in Idaho, as well as Chairs and
Armchairs in several states. He cooked in the Devils Kitchen of
California with a Dutch Oven from Utah, did laundry with a
Washboard in Idaho, made butter with a Churn in Oregon, opened wine
with a Corkscrew in Montana and got clean on Saturday night at the
Bathtub in Arizona or California, so he could go to the Dancehall
On Sunday, he might have led the unfaithful
from a Devils Pulpit in California or Oregon. Or he could have
sneaked off for a few holes at the Devils Golf Course in
California, using the Devils Golf Ball from Utah. Why all these
devil names on our landscape? The provenance of most is lost to
time, but certainly some people believed that the devil lived
inside the earth, and so it made sense to name odd-shaped
protuberances and escarpments for his backbone, thumbs or horns
— whether from whimsy or honest conviction.
the others, many of these devil spots are rough places that
somebody had to cross once, and "had a devil of a time" doing it.
That’s how Devils Slide in Colorado got named a century ago.
The Denver, Northwestern & Pacific was then laying rails to
cross the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass, 11,660 feet above sea
level. To get there, the tracks had to hug the mountainside on a
shelf above timberline — but there was a quarter-mile stretch
that was nothing but sharp talus. Crossing that treacherous zone
required building two side-hill trestles, where the slightest
mishap could mean a 1,000-foot plunge into the headwaters of North
Steam-powered trains ran over it until the
Moffat Tunnel opened in 1928, and the locomotives no longer had to
climb the pass.
That’s just one place where people
had to "work like the devil" to make a route, and there are scores
of others in the West.
So, no matter what happens with
Devils Tower in the future, the devil will still adorn our maps.
Out here, we seem more than willing to give the devil his due.