Monday, August 31, 2015

I'm Climbing Harney Peak This Week On September 3. Wish I Were Climbing "Hinhan Kaga" Instead.

    It's the same beautiful hunk of mountain located in the central Black Hills of South Dakota,
The Site, 200 Miles South Of The Black Hills
AKA "The Harney Massacre"
(photo from
but its name is smeared with a bloody, brutal memory that needs to be removed.
Here's what the mountain's namesake, U.S. Army Colonel (later General) William S. Harney did on September 3, 1855 at nearby Blue Water, Nebraska (from the Nebraska State Historical Society website):  "On September 3, 1855, the U.S. Army's 600-man Sioux Expedition, commanded by Col. William S. Harney, attacked and destroyed a Lakota village located three miles north on Blue Creek . . . The infantry opened fire with its new, long-range rifles and forced the Indians to flee toward the mounted soldiers (who had circled undetected to the north), who inflicted terrible casualties. Eighty-six Indians were killed, seventy women and children were captured, and their tipis were looted and burned."  The site also notes that the double-dealing Harney bought time for his cavalry to block the Indian escape "while engaged in a delaying parley with Chief Little Thunder."

    Good grief.  Harney was engaged in negotiations with Little Thunder even as he was prepping his troops for a massacre?  How can we honor this conniving coward by continuing to attach his name to the most significant peak in the Black Hills?  My gosh.  We often berate the Japanese for giving false signals of detente in Washington, D.C., while their military and political leaders were preparing their attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but we locals have no compunction about honoring one of our own for having done the same thing to those unprepared Lakota at Blue Creek. "Harney Peak" has got to go.  
     I have no idea what it takes to set a name change in motion, but I do know that recent efforts to
The Mountain Itself
Let It Be Honored By The Past, Not Degraded By It
(photo from 
change the mountain's name to "Hinhan Kaga" (Lakota for "making of owls") have gotten nowhere. It's time to redouble the effort.  I see that President Obama recently signed off on a name change for Alaska's Mt. McKinley, which will henceforth be known as "Denali" in accordance with local native tradition.  Seems to me a similar effort with the same results can take place here.  

     As to William S. Harney himself, he and his deeds belong in our History books, not on one of the most beautiful mountains in the United States. Anybody who tries to go with the "situational ethics" dodge that what he did at Blue Creek was in accordance with the moral and ethical standards of his time can go jump in Sylvan Lake, at the base of the mountain.  There is no moral code whatsoever that justifies that or similar massacres that occurred during the wrenching away of the American west from its Indian occupants. We co-descendants of those days have to make the most of our shared History, including in our common heritage a mutual acceptance of facts that sometimes merit revulsion.
     I'll be climbing that mountain Thursday, 160 years to the day after the events at Blue Creek, but I'll do it with a sense of awe and wonder at the surroundings--and a sense of disgust that it bears the name of a mass murderer.  

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