Harney Bad Then and Now; Black Elk Better Name for SD’s Highest Peak

John Tsitrian celebrates Black Elk Peak as a better name for South Dakota’s highest point than its prior colonialist name, Harney Peak. He looks the Governor’s projected ignorance of history and says that full knowledge of General William Harney’s ill deeds—such as beating a slave to death for misplacing his keys and massacring, looting, and burning the Indian village at Blue Water Creek—would incline reasonable observers to prefer gracing the peak with the name of the Lakota holy man.

Tsitrian also neatly anticipates and disposes of some convenient relativism to which Harney defenders resort:

And by the way, don’t tell me that we shouldn’t be judging his 19th century behavior through our 21st century moral lenses. In 1864, Congressional investigators called the perpetrators of the Sand Creek Massacre “foul and dastardly.”  I’m not a situation-ethicist, nor do I believe 19th century moral standards tolerated massacres like the one at Blue Water creek.  What I do believe is that expunging Harney and replacing it with Black Elk is a matter of common decency [John Tsitrian, “The Harney Peak Name Change? A Matter of Common Decency,” The Constant Commoner, 2016.08.14].

Sand Creek and Blue Water Creek were similar atrocities against the natives of the land our ancestors stole. Changing the name of one mountain does not change history or end our occupation of this stolen land. But it does take from a thief and killer an honor he does not deserve and turn visitors’ and hikers’ attention toward another man who actually lived and died in South Dakota, whose personal history is closely tied to the mountain, and whose life better invites conversations about Euro-Lakota relations.

33 Responses to Harney Bad Then and Now; Black Elk Better Name for SD’s Highest Peak

  1. Roger Cornelius

    On this date, Aug. 15, 1876, the U.S. Congress voted to run the Sioux out of the Black Hills because gold had been discovered.
    John is correct about Daugaard and his ignorance and selfishness. Daugaard and Thune had the opportunity to start healing state/tribal relations by embracing the name change. Instead they both took the name change as an opportunity to perpetuate hate. Daugaaard and Thune are simply playing to their uneducated base.
    The Rapid City Journal had several articles up on their website regarding the change and comment sections were filled with over 150 hateful deceitful comments not only about the name change, but about Indians in general.

  2. Regardless of how nasty old Mr. Harney was, I still think this is being orchestrated by the Pope. If my good friend Lar with here he would no doubt concur with me. Most of us have no idea of how far some churches will go.

  3. Mr. C, I am glad you do not engage those hateful people who just bash every article for the sake of bashing it. I try not to read the hateful comments but it shows a sad side of some people in our society.

  4. John T is a very good remembrance of how the republican party once was. In the last 40 years, all they have been doing is dumbing their voters down with the most ridiculous stories ever thought of. The worse part is, they do not seem to ever catch on that they have been hustled. Now they have the biggest con of all, and you can watch them go over the cliff with stupid. It is good to know that there are some with a voice of reason from the republican party of old, we all should want them back.

  5. How about Mr. Stan. Is he also one of the voices of reason in your mind, Mr. jerry? Mr. Stan is swell enough sometimes, but other times he seems insaner than most.

  6. David Newquist

    John Tsitrian is accused by some anonymous commenters of committing “presentism,” although John carefully explains in his post that he is not viewing Harney from a contemporary moral perspective; Harney’s contemporaries did not think he was a man to be honored and memorialized.

    The name Black Elk Peak marks an aspiring aspect of what makes the landmark significant. It is where Black Elk had his vision, which was later rendered in “Black Elk Speaks,” a book of great significance in giving proper acknowledgement to Native American culture and spirituality.

    Nicholas Black Elk was a holy man of the Lakota, following a family tradition. He was also a Jesuit-trained catechist in the Roman Catholic church. He knew and practiced the liturgies of both his native religion and the Roman branch of Christianity. As he matured, he felt it his calling to record and transmit the theology of his native religion. That is why he agreed to collaborate on books about it.

    Black Elk Peak is the place where Black Elk’s vision came to him in a form that explained and transmitted Lakota belief to his own people and also to the immigrants who took possession of the native landscape.

    The name Harney Peak shall be remembered for what it represents in the affairs and mentalities that drove the subjugation of the Indians, but is that what we want to mark in the land? Black Elk Peak designates a place where an important event happened, an event that inspired efforts at reconciliation and where the human spirit has transcended the genocide inherent in its previous name.

  7. Actually, Mr. Newquist, Mr. Black Elk, before he had taken the name Nicholas (a mighty fine name, I would add) had a vision in which he was transported to the top of the big rock from which he saw the sacred circle and such in his dream. Much later in life, after he was well into his final 45 or 50 years as a Catholic, did he tromp up the rock himself.

  8. David reinforces the better case that can be made for naming the peak for Black Elk than for Harney. The white general never visited the mountain. The peak played a central role in Black Elk’s life (or at least the narrative Neihardt crafted from it) and in the story of the Lakota. When visitors ask, “Why is the mountain named ___?” Black Elk makes for a much more interesting and relevant story than Harney. (I know: I just retold my daughter the short version of the story a couple days ago.)

    Roger, it is a shame that, on this anniversary, the RCJ comment page becomes a catalog of all those nasty comments showing we’ve made so little progress in our relations.

  9. Come this Friday, Nicholas will have been gone for something like 66 years. It really wasn’t that long ago.

  10. David Newquist

    In Black Elk’s first vision at the age of 9, the Peak is the place he was transported to in his vision to receive it. It is the place he returned to (apparently a number of times) in the company of elders as he tried to understand the vision and what he was to do with it. He had subsequent visions (such as a Dog Vision) which expanded on the first, which came to him as he lay ill in his parents’ teepee, near where “a small creek flows into the Greasy Grass” river.

    It is important to understand the visions as a form of intellection composed of words and images. When came time to present his thinking to the people, the mode of presentation was an elaborate horse dance which re-created the images and the songs from the vision, in contrast to the repeating of texts that Black Elk would do as a catechist.

  11. “For the last thirty years I have lived very differently from what the white man told about me. I am a believer. The Catholic priest Short Father baptized me thirty years ago. From then on they have called me Nick Black Elk. Very many of the Indians know me. Now I have converted and live in the true faith of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, I say in my own Sioux Indian language, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” as Christ taught us and instructed us to say. I say the Apostle’s Creed and I believe it.”

    Nicholas Black Elk’s Last Testimony
    Holy Rosary Mission
    Pine Ridge, S. Dakota
    January 26, 1934

  12. If I recall there were a lot of grandfathers giving a nine year old boy “herbs” as well. One wonders why some of my Libertarian friends did not cry for the peak to be named Demon Weed Hill or something of that sort.

  13. mike from iowa

    Grudz, you should try some “herbs.” Maybe you wouldn’t be insaner than most.

  14. If you are truly concerned about changing the name of Harney Peak to some other less nefarious name – then do it. Start by creating a crowdfund and donate your money to it and get it changed. I am all for that!

  15. I’m surprised no one has tried to sell naming rights… “Sanford Peak” or “Target Top” or “Monsanto Mountain”

  16. Daniel Buresh

    As long as the natives want it. We have wannabe native’s and SJW’s in ND that are ticking the tribes off with their political correctness. They are removing the indian logo from all state road signs now and the native population is sick of a bunch of white wannabe’s making claims for them. Even a majority of natives wanted to keep the Fighting Sioux logo and a bunch of white wannabe’s decided they couldn’t make that choice for themselves. The effects of removing all native imagery from the public is only going to support their entire culture into fading into history.

    “One descendant of Marcellus Red Tomahawk said it “tears my heart out” that officials decided to swap out the markers featuring his great-great-grandfather with versions displaying the nondescript North Dakota outline, an homage to the upcoming 100th birthday of the state’s transportation agency.
    “Anything that represents American Indians is being dismantled,” Wilbur Red Tomahawk said. “The time will come when the only way to know about an Indian is to read about them in a book or go to a reservation.” …
    LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a tribal historian at Standing Rock, said the removal of the signage of will be unsettling to the tribal members on the reservation that straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border and is home to about 9,000 people, more than half of whom live in North Dakota.
    “The emblem of Red Tomahawk has always been a great deal of pride with the tribe and the majority of people here do not know this is happening,” Brave Bull Allard said. “I think there are going to be some really upset people here on Standing Rock.””

    No one cares about native pride if some white sjw can feel good about themselves acting on behalf of those who didn’t ask to be spoken for. Don’t these natives know, native american imagery is bad for their culture…../s

  17. When Black Elk physically went to the top of the mountain he did not see the sacred circle. He saw it only in a vision when he was transported there. Because the sacred circle was not closed in Black Elk’s lifetime he could only see it in a vision. That vision is now a step closer to fulfillment. When the federal government transfers the Black Hills National Forest to tribal control the sacred circle will be closed, and tribal members will feel Black Elk’s spirit and understand his vision. This will come to pass.

  18. Don Coyote

    The story of Black Elk is fraught with historical myth making as historians and academics have questioned the accuracy of John Neihardt’s account in his book “Black Elk Speaks”. Indeed the book is not only a poor historical text but it is also a disputable biography. Neihardt is not only guilty of constructing a “noble savage” caricature of Black Elk and North American Indians but also of engaging in exaggerations and alterations to the translations of his notes to make the story more palatable to white and European markets. The book is as much about Neihardt as it about Black Elk and it should be read in the same context as a novel would be.

  19. Good to hear from a learned authority on native culture like you Daniel. So then, as I read you, you approve of the name change, bravo!

  20. Don Coyote

    @cah: “Sand Creek and Blue Water Creek were similar atrocities against the natives of the land our ancestors stole.”

    Comparing Sand Creek and Ash Hollow/Blue Water Creek and calling them similar is completely ahistorical.

    At Sand Creek Black Kettle’s people consisted mostly of old men, women and children who were camped under a white flag of truce and the US flag after being promised by the commander at Ft Lynn that they would not be attacked. The attack came as a total surprise on an unarmed group.

    At Ash Hollow/Blue Water, Little Thunder demonstrated only bluster and told General Harney that “if he wanted peace he could have it or if he wanted war he could have that”. Then realizing that Harney wasn’t bluffing, Little Thunder at a second parley refused to give into Harney’s demand that he turn over the men responsible for the Grattan affair and a mail robbery. Little Thunder had had ample time to remove the women and children from the village but didn’t. Little Thunder could have acceded to Harney’s demand but didn’t. Two times Little Thunder could have changed the inevitable but didn’t. Harney did nothing different at Ash Hollow than Indians themselves had done before in their inter-tribal warfare.

    As to whom stole what from whom, maybe the Sioux should admit to stealing the Black Hills from the Kiowa and the Crow who were there long before the Sioux were run out of Minnesota and Wisconsin by the Ojibwe.

  21. My only concern about the new name surrounds the fact that some Tribal members didn’t feel it was appropriate to name landmarks after individuals. However, as Cory’s title indicates Black Elk Peak is a better name than Harney Peak. There was never any reason to honor Harney with such an amazing piece of geography.

    I just hope Black Elk’s ancestors and Tribal members are comfortable with the name. Frankly they are the only opinions I really care about.

  22. mike from iowa

    Nothing about Custer breaking the treaty and leading prospectors into the Black Hills?

  23. So that is how you get around to the land theft by the white man, blame it on the Indians. Good deal Obama was not around then (maybe he was). You and yours now say that 9/11 did not actually happen, accoding to Girlianny. You all want to make it up as you go.

  24. Ask yourself if Nicholas Black Elk would like a mountain named after him.
    Ask yourself if Crazy Horse, a man who did not allow himself to be photographed, would like to have his name and supposed image attached to the desecration of a big rock in the Black Hills.
    When the Chinese take over I suspect they will carve somebody else into the big rock that was formerly known, among other things, as Harney Peak.

  25. Holy cow, Mike! Let’s climb one mountain at a time, shall we? :-)


  26. Roger Cornelius

    There is a side to the Black Elk story that is rarely if ever discussed, even by noted historians and anthropologists since they don’t know much about it.
    While Black Elk has always been a revered visionary for the Lakota there was and still is to some degree an objection to his teachings.
    As with most tribal cultures the Lakota culture is proudly rich in myth and legend.
    Many of the traditional spiritual leaders of yesterday and today could only accept Black Elk teachings that did not include his introduction of European Christianity.
    In the days before the Black Robes and other religions that immersed themselves on tribal cultures, there was no Bible, there was no God and there was no Jesus.
    In contemporary Lakota ceremonies like talking circles, prayer circles, the Sundance, etc. there still is no mention of God or Christianity, the only reference is to The Creator.
    Many of the churches on the reservation have a mix of Christian services as well as Lakota such as Black Elk taught.
    That conflict of Christianity and Lakota beliefs exists today, many of the younger generation have rejected Christian teachings in favor of traditional Lakota ceremonies.

  27. Roger, you do well to remind us of the complexity surrounding Black Elk and his religion. Just imagine: suppose the younger generation you see rejecting Christianity and adopting purer Lakota traditions (curious: how much did the Lakota borrow from other tribes’ spirituality pre-colonial era?) grows and raises their children and grandchildren similarly. Suppose a century from now Lakota activists in West River deem “Black Elk Peak” unacceptable and demand another rename for a more traditional Lakota leader or a Lakota concept (back to Hinhan Kaga, perhaps, in the traditional language). White folks could find themselves fighting to preserve “Black Elk Peak” a a symbol of Euro-Lakota reconciliation, a reminder of a man who lived through colonialism and found ways to meld Christian and Lakota teachings into a workable worldview.

  28. yeah, we white folks could say “its been called Black Elk Peak forever!”

    Coyotely, yer just like yer candidate Trump. When you say absolutely, trust me, it is clear you have no idea whatyou are talking about. Ash Hollow is on the south side of the North Platte River. Blue Water massacre site is at a separate tributary from the north into the North Platte, miles away.

    a day or two before Harney’s troops attacked they WERE at Ash Hollow, miles away. A couple Indians were there hunting. There was a conversation similar to your quote. Maybe you could determine whether it was merely a thirteen year old that said that, or of a different tribal affiliation entirely. It was not the Brule village Chief Little Thunder. Their were also 13 lodges of Oglalas at Blue Water when it was attacked, too. grattan’s beef was with a Miniconju, not the Brule. Gives us some mail facts that support your other assertion.

    Harney established the “dawn indiscriminate zealous attack on the sleeping village” technique, giving no quarter, often hanging Indian leaders to make example of their decimated bodies, decapitation, like he used dead bodies as after-battle target practice as documented.

    Religious freak Chivington used Harney’s tactics 10 years later. Sounds similar to me. Union Army Lt. Soule, commanding a small official contingent of Chivington’s gun toting militia, refused to participate in the “punitive” killing spree. He was of course drummed out of the military for his ethics.

    BTW, there were Black Elk family descendents directly involved in the name change process, pushing for acceptance of Black Elk over Hinhan Kaga Paha peak as a name to replace the offensive connotation to the name Harney on the spiritual, sacred “center of everything”.

    Widely known rancher Rittberger written comment infamously referred to Hinhan Kaga as “two owls screwing” and Custer County Commission Chair Lampert (former republican state director of Custer State Park) righteously asserted formally on the county’s behalf that our Indian resident neighbors “should have learned the lesson that Harney taught them” by murder at the Blue Water. That’s when the governor’s departments and cabinet members piled on against the name change. Thats when Pennington County Commission, except deb haddcock, deemed it “prudent” to oppose the name change.

    True to form, the Custer based state-wide newpaper association went on a tare resisting the name change, and now that it has occurred, RCJ reporter Seth Tupper couches all his reporting, headlines, captions and focus on making sure its readers adopt its position that SD resist the federal name change.

    divisive politics of course. republican politics. RCJ:(

    see SDBGN formal comments, spring, summer 2015; rcj august 2016

    now of course Daugaard and Thune have both finally shown their true colors. both admitted they were caught flat footed because they took their eye off the ball and didn’t care about their constituents, listening only to their own echo chamber. a lot like dick cheney. with leaders like this we get baaaad results.

    theft of the hills is provable in court with the documentation available. read the 1980 supreme court. and stop using misusing “ahistorical” big words to bluster up your pointless, anti-culture argument. this is no “theft” by Indians. This is survival in the face of ever expanding western incursion. Why do you think the Kiow the Crow and the Ojibwe moved? Not to steal mineral rights to dig gold out of the land. Got it now coyotely?

  29. bearcreekbat

    As to whom stole what from whom, maybe the Sioux should admit to stealing the Black Hills from the Kiowa and the Crow who were there long before the Sioux were run out of Minnesota and Wisconsin by the Ojibwe.

    Don, can you tell us whether the Sioux decided to stop a war with the Kiowa and the Crow and to that end offered a treaty that constituted the supreme law of the Sioux’s land that gave ownership of the Black Hills to the Kiowa and Crow in exchange for ending the war; which, after this treaty was accepted by the Kiowa and the Crow, the Sioux then broke their treaty promises and forcibly took the land back from the Kiowa and the Crow?

    You seem to have a great source of knowledge about this history, so I assume you are aware that in 1868 the USA made such promises to convince the Sioux to end the Sioux/USA war, but then, as leslie pointed out, broke these promises, defied their own declared supreme law of the land, and took the Black Hills back by force.

    “Theft” seems a reasonable description of the USA’s actions in violating its own Constitution’s declared supreme law of the land. But unless the Sioux also violated their own supreme laws when they took land from the Kiowa and Crow, as did the USA when it took back the Black Hills, characterizing the Sioux’s action as “theft” seems a bit revisionist, wouldn’t you agree?

  30. …and now tone deaf thune, as he watches 1st Lee Schoenbeck shill for gov. daugaard to neuter the SDGNB (legislating that the SDBGN shall never again have the power to respond to an Indian proposal to change a name in South Dakota), then as the Wyo. legislature recently mandated that Arvol Looking Horse, CRST and White Buffalo Calf Pipe Carrier, or anyone else, shall NEVER change the name of that infamous Sturgis motorcycle rally destination “Devil’s Tower” back to Mato Paha, I think, its native name; embarrassed thune thinks its a good idea to rein in the USBGN, the federal administrative board responsible for cogent geographical names, having been functioning and in existence since the 1890s, so that board too can’t respond to Indian proposals either. wow

  31. Rep. Schoenbeck explains on SDPB w/ Laurie Walsh Mid Day, that he spoke with Rep. Bordeaux and then gained a better understanding of his contra-position denying SDBGN for its prescient initial unanimous vote to change Harney Peak to Hinhan Kaga Paha. This legislative backlash to Basil Brave Heart’s legal petition to change the name to Black Elk Peak shows the state administration under Daugaard to be acting in bad faith. The governor’s cabinet in large part belatedly came out against any name change.


    happily as we all know, Black Elk Peak now stands tall and proud in the spine of the Black Hills, and perhaps will help return self esteem to Indian children here and across the nation. Thank you Lee.

  32. old news: seth tupper, dana Ferguson and lori walsh paint such a biased, negative report here, they don’t even obviously know. we have a long way to go in this state. tupper thinks daugaard should fight and Wyoming should prepare for more woe concerning devil’s tower, ferguson just seems so surprised. Surprisingly,moreso, is daugaard seems smarter, this time than these three, although all are obviously on the same team for “South Dakota Status Quo” (C) leslie, 2016.

    press smooching the governor’s office. yuk http://listen.sdpb.org/post/dakota-midday-dakota-poltical-junkies-discuss-black-elk-peak

  33. Today Karen Little Thunder is overseeing return of some artifacts taken by soldiers from bodies at the Blue Water Massacre 1855 at the scene