I stand in solidarity with esteemed Lakota Elder and Korean War combat veteran Basil Brave Heart who points out the highest peak in He Sapa (Black Hills) is named after a general who massacred Sioux women and children. I stand with Brave Heart in favor of changing the name of Harney Peak. In his editorial titled “What’s in a Name?” Charles Trimble said Inyan Kaga is the peak that Oglala holy man Black Elk referred to as the “center of the world,” and to rename it after such a man as Harney adds insult to the stealing of the sacred He Sapa.
Trimble posed the question: why was the Lakota name of Inyan Kaga changed to Harney Peak? It was, after all, Gen. William S. Harney who led the punitive campaign of 1855 against the Sioux in retribution for the annihilation of Lt. John Grattan and his troops. It was Grattan who provoked the attack by firing on the Lakota over the so-called Mormon cow incident. Harney’s most famous “battle” in that campaign was at Blue Water Creek, which actually was a massacre that rivals Wounded Knee in its senseless brutality.
Gen. Harney was described as an arrogant, abusive and bare-knuckled murderer, according to historian George R. Adams who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the famous Indian fighter. The dissertation later evolved into a 286-page scholarly biography called “General William S. Harney, Prince of Dragoons,” published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2001. According to Adams, Harney was an imperialist and a firm believer in Manifest Destiny, the notion that the settlers were destined by God to conquer the continent. Harney should be remembered for his quick temper, foul mouth, violent nature, vindictive bent and callous behavior, and for abusing soldiers and committing murder. Adams describes how Harney fathered a child out of wedlock and beat a slave to death in a fit of rage, after which he stayed on the lam for several months to avoid prosecution. He was twice court-martialed, and nearly provoked a war with Britain over a boundary dispute in the San Juan Islands, leading to his removal from command.
Adams, in his overall judgment, concludes: “I think Harney was a great military leader and a great soldier by the standards of his times,” but the scholar goes on to say that “he was not a great human being by the standards of his time.” The standards of Harney’s time, Trimble said, saw the replacement of traditional Lakota names with new Anglo designations as part of overall efforts to break the tribal structure and disappear their people into the mythical melting pot as demanded by Manifest Destiny. I think it’s a healthy exercise to undo historical racism and change the names back to their traditional place names, and, wherever it is appropriate, to their original names.
Richard Iron Cloud