In my many hikes to the Harney Peak lookout, I have noticed many times the marker there for Dr Valentine McGillycuddy. I suppose that the main reason it has stuck in my head is because of my grandfather, George Byer, who used to call our house and ask for Mrs McGillycuddy. We always knew it was Grandpa, but we went along with the joke anyway. Of course, Grandpa’s Mrs McGillycuddy was fictional, while Valentine McGillycuddy was a real person. I did some research a few years ago, and found out that Valentine McGillycuddy was the first white man to climb all the way to the top of Harney Peak. Many have followed in his footsteps, myself and my husband included. Harney Peak, so named in the late 1850s by Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren in honor of General William S. Harney, who was commander of the military in the Black Hills area. The Lakota Sioux Indians called it Hinhan Kaga, which means “Making of Owls” in English. I think I like that name.
Dr McGillycuddy first came to the Black Hills with the Jenny-Newton Party. His mission was to survey and map the Black Hills, and to confirm that gold had been discovered there. It was during this excursion that he climbed Harney Peak. There had been other white men to climb the mountain, including General George Custer, but they all stopped just short of the peak, because it was to difficult to make it…something I think I can relate to. McGillycuddy angled a felled tree into a crevice in the granite, and made his way to the very top. I can totally feel his elation and sense of accomplishment, since I have felt the same way myself. My guess is that it would not be the last trip he made to the top either. That mountain has a way of calling you back for a second and even third or more visits.
McGillycuddy became a friend to Crazy Horse, and in fact was with him when he died after being stabbed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska in 1877. After that time, the Lakota Sioux named McGillycuddy Tasunka Witko Kola, which means “Crazy Horse’s Friend” in English. Other Native Americans named McGillycuddy Wasicu Wakan, which means “Holy White Man” in English. Dr Valentine McGillycuddy did lead a very amazing life. His first wife died, and he moved to San Francisco to continue his medical practice. There he married Julia Blanchard. After he passed away in 1939, Julia wrote a book about his life called “McGillycuddy, Agent” which was how he signed his name during his favorite role in life. He was a friend to the Indians, and did his best to educate them by building a school for the children. He was a calming influence on the relationship between the Indians and the White Man. It is quite fitting then that his ashes be entombed on the mountain that he loved. It gives a totally different feeling to the little plaque that is there…if one researches it.