Landing zone in ‘Close Encounters’ has American Indian connections

By Steve Hammons 

In the 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” with its amazing ending at Devils Tower, Wyoming, there were many references to real incidents and situations, as well as subtle connections to UFOs, extraterrestrial visitation and other mysterious phenomena.

For example, the police chase across the Ohio-Indiana state line resembled real police incidents in that general region.

And interestingly, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is also located near the Ohio-Indiana border. That base is home to an Air Force foreign technology research center and closely associated with the alleged Roswell incident and subsequent research.

In “Close Encounters” a mysterious red-suited team of 12 Americans is covertly sent to Devils Tower, a U.S. National Monument. That element parallels claims about a secret mission called “Project SERPO.”

According to reports about this allegedly real operation, 12 carefully selected and trained U.S. military personnel went on an exchange program in the 1960s with an extraterrestrial race aboard their spacecraft, staying on a faraway planet for more than a decade.

In “Close Encounters” the clandestine logistics and security operation at Devils Tower was largely facilitated by U.S. Army Special Forces.

In real life, some of their specialties are covert and unconventional operations. Army Special Forces also works in roles to establish rapport with indigenous populations and provide training.

But is there more about Devils Tower that we can learn?

Bear’s Lodge, also known as Devils Tower, Wyoming



Native American Indians had a very different name for this unusual geological formation. To the Lakota and Cheyenne, it was “Bear Lodge,” “Grizzly Bear Lodge,” or “Bear Lodge Butte.” The Cheyenne and Crow also referred to it as “Bear’s House” or “Bear’s Lair.” It was also called “Bear’s Tipi” by the Cheyenne and Arapaho. To the Kiowa, it was “Tree Rock.”

How did an Indian identity associated with a bear lodge become “Devils Tower?” It is believed that an interpreter in an 1875 expedition in the area misunderstood the Indian words and translated them as “Bad God’s Tower” which was later changed to “Devil’s Tower,” and eventually to “Devils Tower” (no apostrophe).

President Theodore Roosevelt declared the huge rock formation a U.S. National Monument in 1906. Today, the entire monument are includes 1,347 acres.

Interesting legends and folklore about the site may also hold clues about more subtle connections at Devils Tower or Bear Lodge.

A Lakota tale reportedly describes six Lakota girls picking flowers there when they were chased by bears. The Great Spirit helped the girls by raising the ground under them. The distinctive vertical striations of the rock were made when the bears tried to climb it but slid down, leaving huge scratch marks, according to this legend.

A Kiowa story is similar. Seven girls playing were chased by large bears. To escape, the girls climbed a rock and prayed to the Great Spirit for help. Answering the girls’ prayers, the Great Spirit caused the rock to rise to the heavens, saving the girls as the bears tried to climb the rock, leaving their claw marks.

As the girls reached the uppermost realms of the sky, they became the star constellation the Pleiades. This star system is sometimes associated with extraterrestrial visitors in more modern cases.

There is another legend about several boys escaping a bear, praying to the Creator for help, being raised up on the rock and escaping back to their village with the help of an eagle.


When Army Special Forces, scientists, technicians, defense and intelligence officials, and the mysterious 12-person team infiltrate the Devils Tower or Bear Lodge region in “Close Encounters,” can we make any connections to this Native American Indian lore or other possible factors?

Many Indian tribes have oral histories about unusual visitors or beings of many kinds. In some legends, the visitors come from far away in the skies. In others, certain beings are native to Earth, or live nearby, and are part of the mysteries of Nature and reality.

Even now, there are many reports of mysterious phenomena in Indian Country. And, Indian perspectives about Nature, the Great Spirit and other matters can be unique and helpful to learn about.

Another different type of link is the rich history in the U.S. Army of establishing connections to Native American tribes and traditions. Unit patches, words and concepts related to the identity and honor of a warrior can be found throughout the U.S. Army.

For example, the Army’s famed 101st Airborne Division uses the Cherokee word “currahee” as a touchstone concept. Currahee means “we stand alone together.”

The Army Special Forces motto, though not in American Indian language, is the Latin “de Oppresso Liber” meaning “Liberate the Oppressed.”

Of course, these two U.S. Army examples are paradoxical, to put it mildly, regarding the history of conflicts with Native American Indians over centuries as Europeans landed, conquered, took land, enslaved and destroyed or nearly destroyed native societies and cultures.

When some Europeans became “Americans,” regional militias and federal army troops often did the same.

In the case of the Cherokee, their ancient homeland in the Appalachian Mountain region stretched from Tennessee and North Carolina to Georgia and Alabama. Staring in the 1700s, there was a large degree of intermarriage with Scottish, Scots-Irish and English explorers and settlers, resulting in the millions of Americans today who have Cherokee DNA within them.

But this did not help them when in 1838 men, women, children and the elderly were forced at gunpoint and bayonet point from their homes and farms into prison camps, their land stolen, and marched to Oklahoma on the terrible and deadly “Trail of Tears.” Many mixed-ethnicity Cherokee were reportedly able to avoid this removal.

Their experience parallels the history of many other tribes.

Today, some researchers advise us to consider the experience of Native American Indians who faced a visitation or invasion of technologically superior “aliens” from England, France, Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

Could humans dealing with advanced beings from elsewhere experience a fate similar to that of American Indians?

Maybe we can take another look at “Close Encounters” in light of the history of Bear’s Lodge or Devils Tower. That location may serve as a way to explore the many lessons about connections between American history, humanity, Nature and the mysteries of the universe. 

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