Black Hills history: The unique story of how George Hopkins made it to the top of Devils Tower in 1941

Photo by James Phillip Grabrick

DEVILS TOWER, W.Y. – People have been climbing Devils Tower ever since 1893 when Bill Rogers climbed to the top through the use of a painstakingly constructed stake ladder hammered into a crack in the side of the tower.

However, in 1941 one man made it to the top of the tower without ever climbing it: George Hopkins.

Hopkins was a professional parachutist who completed over 2000 jumps, a world record at the time. Hopkins was in Rapid City to break another record: the most jumps completed within a single day.

To build publicity for that event, and to win a $50 bet with his friend Earl Brockelsby, he decided to do something else before it: parachute onto the top of Devils Tower.

Hopkins never asked for permission, or even notified the National Park Service of what he intended to do. 

On October 1 Hopkins made the jump with only one hiccup: he had no way down.

George Hopkins

The plan had been for a second plane to drop 1000 ft of rope onto the top of the Tower, which Hopkins would use to climb down. Instead, the rope fell off the side of the monument, well beyond Hopkins’ reach. The publicity stunt had suddenly turned into an emergency situation.

One day later, another rope was dropped to Hopkins, but was both badly tangled and quickly froze because of the freezing wind and condensation on top of the Tower.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), everyone from concerned citizens to corporations to the military offered ideas, resources, and advice on getting him down. The Goodyear company offered the use of one of their blimps, and the Navy offered a helicopter. 

These were deemed too dangerous, instead the NPS took the offer of a rock climber, Jack Durrance, to climb the tower and bring Hopkins back down.

By the time Durrance could arrive, four days had passed, during which time Hopkins was regularly airdropped additional supplies.

On October 6th, Durrance led seven climbers to the top of Devil’s Tower and found Hopkins in perfectly fine health.

This turned out to be a better publicity stunt than Hopkins could have hoped for. During his time on top of the tower, the national news media ran with the story as far as they could. Locally, over 7000 people visited the monument to see the event, which is no small number considering how sparsely populated the region was.

Hopkins CheeringHopkins won his $50 bet, went on to become a parachute trainer for the military in World War II, and remains the only man on top of Devil’s Tower without having climbed up it.

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