Harney Peak

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Harney Peak
Hinhan Kaga (Lakota)
Harney Peak from Palmer Gulch (August 2006)
Highest point
Elevation 7,244 ft (2,208 m)  NAVD 88[1]
Prominence 2,922 ft (891 m) [2]
Coordinates 43°51′57″N 103°31′57″W / 43.865847725°N 103.532431997°W / 43.865847725; -103.532431997Coordinates: 43°51′57″N 103°31′57″W / 43.865847725°N 103.532431997°W / 43.865847725; -103.532431997[1]
Parent range Black Hills
Topo map USGS Custer
First ascent July 24, 1875 by Valentine McGillycuddy and party[3]
Easiest route hike, Trail 9[4]

Harney Peak, or Hinhan Kaga is the highest natural point in South Dakota and the Black Hills. It lies in the Black Elk Wilderness area, in southern Pennington County, in the Black Hills National Forest.[2] The peak lies 3.7 mi (6.0 km) WSW of Mount Rushmore.[5] At 7,242 feet (2,207 m),[1] it has been described by the Board on Geographical Names as the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.[6] Guadalupe Peak and Sierra Blanca also lie far to the east of the Continental Divide and are substantially higher, but the Rockies end north of the region of that latitude.

Hinhan Kaga[edit]

The natural point was called Hinhan Kaga by the Lakota Sioux.[7] The peak was 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 in the late 1870s.[6] Some modern-day Lakota have requested a reinstatement of the original name Hinhan Kaga. A dispute put forth as a reasoning behind it is that the new name is offensive because General William Harney's men massacred Native American women and children during a battle in 1855.[8][9]


The first European Americans believed to have reached the summit were a party led by General George Armstrong Custer in 1874, during the Black Hills expedition.[10]

Harney Peak is the site of the Sioux Native American Black Elk's "Great Vision" which he received when nine years old and the site to which he returned as an old man, accompanied by writer John Neihardt, who popularized the medicine man in his book Black Elk Speaks.[note 1]

Neihardt recorded Black Elk's words regarding his vision as follows: "I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world," he is quoted as saying. "And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being."[11]

Harney Peak was first used as a fire lookout tower in 1911, with nothing more than a wood crate placed at the summit. In 1920, a 12'x12' wood structure was built, and it was expanded to 16'x16' the following year. The Civilian Conservation Corps completed construction on the stone fire tower in 1938. Harney Peak fire tower was last staffed in 1967.[12]

A post office was operated at Harney Peak from 1936 until 1942, and again from 1945 until 1946.[13] The Harney Creek post office was reportedly one of the "most elevated post offices in the United States".[14]

In May 2015 the South Dakota Board of Geographic Names recommended renaming Harney Peak Hinhan Kaga to remove the name of a soldier known for massacring Sioux women and children at the Battle of Blue Water Creek [15] and to honor the original Lakota name for the mountain.[7] At the end of the following month, the board reversed the recommendation that the peak be renamed stating that, "there was no public consensus on a new name." The recommendation will now go to a federal board.[16]


The summit can be reached from Sylvan Lake, Camp Remington, Highway 244, Palmer Creek Rd., Mount Rushmore, or Horse Thief Lake. From the trailhead at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, to the summit and back is about 7 miles (11 km).[4] This is the shortest, least strenuous, and most popular route. No permit is required for use of the first portion of the trail. However, the United States Forest Service requires hikers to obtain a permit at a self-service kiosk located at the entrance to the Black Elk Wilderness area en route to the summit.[17]

An old stone tower, once used as a fire lookout tower, is located at the summit. The ashes of Valentine McGillycuddy were interred near the base of the tower and a plaque reads, "Valentine McGillycuddy, Wasicu Wacan." Wasicu Wacan is Lakota for "Holy White Man."[18] Note that "wacan" is commonly spelled "wakan" in some Lakota societies.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ See chapter 3 and the Author's Postscript of Black Elk Speaks, Bison Books, 2004.


  1. ^ a b c "Harney". NGS data sheet. U.S. National Geodetic Survey. Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  2. ^ a b "Harney Peak, South Dakota". Peakbagger.com. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  3. ^ James R. Macdonald, Ph.D (2009). "Museum of Geology: History". Rapid City, South Dakota: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  4. ^ a b "Harney Area Trailheads". South Dakota Fish, Game and Parks. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  5. ^ Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, 30x60 Minute Topographic Quadrangle, USGS, 1977
  6. ^ a b "Harney Peak". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2010-09-04. 
  7. ^ a b Carrie Moore (2015). "Hill City Prevailer-News". Hill City Prevailer-News. Retrieved 2015-06-04. 
  8. ^ Nord, James (May 1, 2015). "Activists work for Native American-friendly site names". The Elkhart Truth. Associated Press. 
  9. ^ Louwagie, Lacey (July 6, 2015). "Despite Objections, 'Harney Peak' Name Stays". Courthouse News Service. 
  10. ^ Connell, Evan S. (1984). Son Of The Morning Star. San Francisco, California: North Point Press. pp. 237–238. ISBN 0-86547-160-6. 
  11. ^ "Harney Peak". SouthDakota.com. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  12. ^ Saum, Bradley D. (2013). Harney Peak Revealed. Createspace. pp. 34–36. ISBN 9781478316756. 
  13. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Harney Peak Post Office (historical)
  14. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1940). South Dakota place-names, v.1-3. University of South Dakota. p. 40. 
  15. ^ South Dakota Board of Geographic Names (2015). "Harney Peak Written Public Comments" (PDF). South Dakota Board of Geographic Names. Retrieved 2015-06-04. 
  16. ^ "In Reversal, SD Board Would Keep Harney Peak Name". Pierre, SD: Associated Press. 29 June 2015. Retrieved 14 July 2015. 
  17. ^ "Harney Peak". SummitPost.org. Retrieved 2012-11-12. 
  18. ^ "McGillycuddy House at the heart of city history". Retrieved 2012-11-12. 

External links[edit]