Devil’s Tower daredevil

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Motorcyle daredevil Evil Knevil had nothing on a skinny South Dakota kid named George Hopkins.

On a dare and a $25 bet, he parachuted onto Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming. He was the first and only person to ever do so.

Earl Brokelsby, who in 1937 started the famed Reptile Gardens near Rapid City, turned Hopkins’ leap into a national publicity stunt to make more people aware of the Black Hills as a tourist destination.

In those years, South Dakota was looked at as a a near-desert and the Black Hills was bundled up in all that.

The hills and all of its wonders was a well-kept secret.

Brokelsby succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in his campaign to catch the eye of the national media. His efforts, and those of the skinny South Dakota daredevil, were national news for weeks.

Devil’s Tower is a 1,260-foot, 40-million year old monolith that is part of the Wyoming Black Hills. No human had ever been on top of the tower.

So the dare, the bet and Brokelsby’s press moxie came to fore.

In early October of 1941 just months before WW II started for America, Hopkins strapped on a parachute and climbed aboard an airplane at Spearfish piloted by famous South Dakota pilot Clyde Ice.

They took off and headed for Devil’s Tower.

The plan was for Hopkins to parachute onto the top of the slender tower and then lower himself back to level ground on ropes that Ice would drop to him after Hopkins had landed.

Brokelsby alerted the local and national press of this daring feat about to take place. The stunt got even better than Brokelsby had planned.

That’s because Hopkins ended up stranded on the top of tower with no way down. The ropes that Ice dropped were so tangled from the drop that Hopkins couldn’t use them.

So the nation was riveted for several days while a rescue plan was developed. George could be dropped another parachute and could jump off, but that was dangerous.

So a skilled mountain climbing team from Wisconsin arrived to rescue Hopkins, who was surviving on food and water dropped by Ice and other pilots.

On Oct. 6, 1941, the eight Wisconsin climbers made it to the top. The climb down with Hopkins in tow took them 12 hours.

The Black Hills got more national notoriety than Brokelsby and others ever dreamed it would.

And young Hopkins had his 15 minutes of fame, plus, the $25 he won on the bet.

Write to the author at cfcecil@swiftel.net