Press Release: Pennington County Democrats Call for Renaming of Harney Peak

Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 23, 2015

Pennington County Democrats Call for Renaming of Harney Peak

Rapid City, SD (September 22, 2015)-

On September 22, 2015, the Pennington County Democratic Party passed a resolution calling for the renaming of Harney Peak, the highest mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The resolution, entitled “PENNINGTON COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY RESOLUTION OF SUPPORT FOR RENAMING HARNEY PEAK TO ‘BLACK ELK PEAK,’” encourages the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to approve the formal request of Lakota elder Basil Brave Heart to change the name of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak.

The resolution states that public comments received by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names included support of the name change by a descendent of General William S. Harney and a descendent of Little Thunder, a leader of a Lakota village destroyed by Harney in 1855. The resolution further states that the existing name of the peak is highly offensive to Native people.

Historian Eric Zimmer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa and a research fellow at the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, provides historical background regarding General Harney, after whom the peak is currently named.

Zimmer notes that Harney “likely never set foot on the mountain. Harney’s actions before and during his time in the Black Hills, moreover, were deplorable under any standard of human decency. While living in St. Louis in 1834, Harney murdered a slave child named Hannah. He was well known for his short temper, and historians have surmised that the girl’s only transgression may have been as minor as misplacing the soldier’s keys. Even in the antebellum South, the attack sparked a public outrage and Harney was indicted for murder. He was ultimately acquitted because, in the repulsive logic of their time, he was a decorated white soldier and she a forgettable slave girl.”

“Harney,” Zimmer continues, then “resumed his military career. Over the years, Harney fought against American Indians in Florida and Illinois, and later against Mexican forces during the US–Mexico War. But it was his exploits at Ash Hollow along Nebraska’s Blue Water Creek that earned Harney the nicknames ‘Mad Bear’ and ‘Woman Killer’ by regional Lakotas.

Following the 1854 Grattan incident, the Army sent Harney to arrest the Lakotas. On the morning of September 2, 1855, Harney’s forces found the Natives camped along Blue Water Creek. Tribal leaders again attempted peace, but Harney ordered an attack that killed eighty-six Lakotas, more than forty of whom were women and children. Aided by two Howitzer machine guns, the soldiers launched their assault then pursued on horseback.”

Changing the name of Harney Peak would follow the historic renaming of North America’s highest mountain, “Mt. McKinley,” to its indigenous name, Denali. President Obama announced that change last month.

The Pennington County Democrats will transmit their Resolution to Mr. Lou Yost, Executive Secretary of the US Board on Geographic Names, Domestic Names Committee by the September 30, 2015 public comment deadline. The public can submit comment, as well, to

Mr. Lou Yost, Executive Secretary

US Board on Geographic Names/Domestic Names Committee

523 National Center

Reston, VA  20192-0523

by September 30, 2015 or via email at


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