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The Legend of Bear Rock

The Legend of Bear Rock - origins

What really is Bear Rock?

Bear Rock
  • Bear Rock - Devil's Tower
  • Nowadays Bear Rock is known as Devil’s Tower – when white men discovered it, they incorrectly translated the local name as Bad God’s rock, which soon changed to Devil’s Tower. It had many names amongst the Plains tribe with the Lakota (Sioux) also call it Bear Lodge. They have an ancient, sacred relationship with it.

    The rock itself is formed from magma (hot, liquid rock and crystals) which cooled underground. As it cooled, it shrank making columns (mostly hexagonal – 6 sided) which were separated by vertical cracks. The surrounding rocks were sedimentary (laid down by seas over millions of years), and were gradually eroded, leaving the harder magma rock pillars exposed.

    Both the land around it and the rock itself are still being eroded – and very, very occasionally a pillar cracks, is weakened by wind, rain and ice and falls to the ground (it is believed that the last one fell about 10,000 years ago). Nowadays the rock is an important tourist site and a favourite with specialist climbers. It is such a striking feature, that it is not surprising that all of the local tribes had legends about its creation.

    Who are the Sioux?

    Sioux man - wikimedia
  • Sioux council chief
  • It is believed that the Sioux Indians, along with other North American peoples, came from Asia about 30,000 years ago. Traditionally the Sioux were nomadic, they never stayed in one place for long. Buffalo were their main source of food and clothing and so the Sioux would follow the herds. In about the 1500s, the Spanish introduced the Sioux to horses, meaning that their nomadic life became much easier.

    They lived in in large buffalo-hide tents called tipis ( teepees). Tipis were made to put up and break down quickly. A whole village could pack up and be ready to move within an hour! The women were in charge of the home and domestic arrangements, built the tipis and carried them from place to place. The men were hunters and warriors, defending the family and providing the meat and hides. Both men and women wore their hair long (often in braids) and took part in medicine, art, music and story telling (an important part of a tribes culture).

    On special occasions, Sioux would paint their faces and arms with colourful designs. They used different patterns for celebrations than for war paint. Fights between local tribes were often only about proving warriors’ courage and skill and usually resulted in little or no bloodshed. Not all the men were great warriors, some were skilled hunters, others medicine men and yet others story tellers and entertainers. The Sioux believed that people should do the job they were good at.

    What was the life of a Sioux child like?

    Sioux woman and baby - Wikimedia
  • Sioux mother and baby
  • Sioux babies were regarded as blessings and a birth was celebrated for many days. The names the babies were given were like nicknames, based on looks, nature, family or events and could change over time. The ‘real’ name was often won some way in later in life and known to very few. Sioux children were brought up with loving and respectful care and treasured not only by parents but the whole tribe. Their word for children is wakanyeja meaning sacred. Mothers carried their babies on their backs in cradleboards.

    As they grew children played and also learned the customs and beliefs through stories and games as well as the skills they would need as adults. There was no physical punishment if a child did wrong – usually a stern look would be enough. Rarely, a naughty child might be told off in front of the whole village – and earn an embarrassing name that would follow them for a long time … a very great deterrent!

    All the children learnt about what plants, nuts and berries were good to eat and what were helpful in medicine. They learnt how to make tools and utensils needed by the tribe. When they were ten, boys were expected to try to make their first buffalo kill – it must have been an exciting but terrifying experience, chasing the huge buffalo and trying to shoot it with a bow and arrow. There was no dishonour in missing, only in not trying. Girls had to learn about tipis, making clothes and baskets and also how to make ‘jerky’. This was an important dried food made from buffalo meat. If it was made correctly, it could be safely eaten for up to two years. Hunters could take it with them and it could be carried from camp to camp.

    What is a grizzly bear?

    Brown bear
  • A brown bear
  • A grizzly bear is the North American name for the brown bear. The name stems from the fur which has greyish (grizzled) tips. Originally, these bears could be found all over North America, but since the arrival of Europeans, their numbers have declined, sometimes because people have deliberately cleared whole areas of the bears, for example to build a railway, and sometimes because their habitats have been destroyed for the building of settlements, industry and growing of crops.

    Grizzly bears usually live for more than 20 years and hibernate for between 5 and 7 months each year. To do this, they need to build a den and eat enormous amounts so that they can last that time without food. Female grizzlies give birth during the hibernation period and have to have enough milk to feed their tiny cubs so that they grow big and strong enough for the outside world when they emerge in April or early May.

    Although usually solitary creatures, they will feed together if there is a lot of food, for example when the salmon are swimming upstream once a year. They are mainly carnivores (meat and fish) but also eat plants and fruit. As well as hunting for their prey, they will steal birds’ eggs, food left by other animals and prey on the young of other creatures. However, they are also capable of preying on large mammals such as moose, bison, deer and even black bears. Attacks on humans are quite rare, despite the mythology surrounding these massive creatures.

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