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Friday, June 19, 2015

Who the heck was Harney?

He killed Indians,  didn't he?

This weekend will be the closing of public comments on whether to change the name of Harney Peak in the Black HIlls to Hinhan Kaga, the Lakota name for the place.  The name is hard to translate into English.  Kaga means to make, create, or imitate.  Hinhan is the Lakota plural for owls. So, the English translations have been "maker of owls", "where owls are created", "owl nest", and so on.  The Lakota accounts of the formation of the people and of the land itself is written in the land.  There are spiritual associations with the landscape that few non-Indian know about, let alone understand.  The western mind is simply not equipped to make a translation that evokes the associations with which Lakota words and place references are loaded.  It is best to let the Lakota word stand as it is.

But the proposed name change has unleashed a storm of blog chatter.  Blog chatter is what Shakespeare's Macbeth was referring to when he said, "it is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."   Among the contention is the questions of why give the peak a Lakota name when other tribes preceded them, presumably, in occupying the area in which it is located.  Before the honkey hoard evicted the Lakota people from the woodlands, other tribes who were displaced by the Lakota lived there.  What is ignored in those ravings is that the Black Hills were regarded as "the heart of all that is" by many nations and they held it in the same reverent regard as the Sioux nations.  As with many places in the U.S., Hinhan Kaga was considered sacred and hostilities were suspended when various nations came to make the spiritual observations that the place represented to them.  The important part of the name change is that it re-establishes the significance the place has for the indigenous people, and therefore informs the non-indigenous of a greater significance.  

So, then, what does Harney mean?  Harney is among those regarded as military heroes in American white history whose character and deeds are not without a basis for scathing criticism, sometimes contempt.  The leader of that group of military heroes is (Brevet) General George Arnstrong Custer.  While Custer had some military successes, he was predominantly a vainglorious ass  When he is mentioned in military history, it is not as a hero, but as a fool who violated every standard of military thought and deed in a way that got him and 268 of his troops killed.  He is held up as an example of what not to do.

To the Lakota and other tribes, Custer was a violator of a treaty, still nominally in effect, that betrayed the Indian nations and led to the theft of the Black Hills, in fact all of West River South Dakota.Custer had his military moments, but a study of his actions as a commander show a man who was daring and lucky during the Civil War, but who miscalculated and blundered his way through his Indian campaigns, until he made the ultimate blunder.  He violated his orders, tried to shape a heroic image from the killing of Indians and dispossessing them of their lands.  

Harney was a soldier of the same stripe.  His early biographies portray a man of military competence who in his off-hours enjoyed gardening.  However, as with Custer, later studies of historical and military documents reveal quite another personality.  In a recent biography of Red Cloud, Harney's career is summed up this way:

Harney, with his plump cheeks and snowy whiskers, resembled a uniformed Father Christmas.  But his jolly countenance was deceiving.  He had once been chased out of St. Louis by a mob after he'd beaten to death a female slave for losing his house keys.  And he hated Indians and enjoyed killing them, either in the field or at the end of a rope on the gallows.  He had led the troops against the Sauk in the Black Hawk War and against the Seminole during Andrew Jackson's Everglades campaign--where his buffoonish negligence resulted in the massacre of an entire detachment of dragoons.  He himself had escaped by capering through the Florida bush wearing only his underwear.  The resultant embarrassment increased Harney/s fervor to slay red people;  and during the Mexican War his overzealous pursuit of the Commanche--as opposed to engaging Santa Ana's troops--enraged the commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. Winfield Scott, who relieved him of command. [135]
Harney's most famous engagement with the Sioux was the Battle of Ash Creek, where he killed 86 men, women, and children, and  earned the name of Woman Killer.  The account in the Red Cloud biography of his treatment of the captives, mostly women. is:

After Harney force marched the captives to Fort Laramie, the officers were allowed to  select the prettiest for themselves, with the rest :"shared out among the soldiers."  A year later half=breed "war orphans" ran thick aat the fort, including an infant girl alleged to have been fathered by Harney himself.[138]

The book summarizes his later career:

...Harney's bungling adventures continued into the farcical.   He still hunted Indians, seemingly for sport, but that never bothered the authorities back east.  .  It was only in 1859 when he nearly set off a shooting war with Great Britain that his superiors thought to rein him in.  [After a series of misadventures] Harney was quietly retired and whisked from the national stage.  [157]

So, Harney was the name given to the highest point in the Black Hills with its spiritual connection to the Lakota and other nations as "the heart of everything that is."

There are those who think the name of the peak should not be changed.  And there are those who think the shooting of nine worshipers in Charleston, S.C., last Thursday was not an act of racism.  Naming the peak Harney may be an intensely ignorant and stupid insult to the Indian nations.  But to white America, it memorializes the kind of person and the kind of acts that so many people worship and revere. 

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