Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

HARNEY, WILLIAM (1800-1889)

Gen. William S. Harney was born in Haysboro, Tennessee, on August 22, 1800. He first visited the Great Plains in 1825, when he accompanied the Col. Henry Atkinson and Benjamin O'Fallon expedition to sign treaties with the upper Missouri tribes. Harney fought in the Sauk and Fox wars in 1832, serving as Gen. Zachary Taylor's assistant inspector. In 1837 he participated in the Second Seminole War. Harney left Florida with a reputation as an Indian fighter, having performed several daring, and sometimes ruthless, actions against the Seminoles.

Between 1846 and 1848 Harney fought in the U.S.-Mexican War. After the war, Harney was assigned to inspect military posts and control Indian raids in Texas. In 1855 he assumed command of a campaign against the Brulés, who were involved in conflicts with immigrant travelers on the overland trails. On September 3, Harney's troops routed Little Thunder's village at Blue Water Creek (Ash Hollow) in western Nebraska, killing about a half of the 250 band members. The Lakotas named Harney "Mad Bear" because, following the attack on their village, he marched across the Badlands to Fort Pierre, Dakota Territory, challenging the Lakotas to a winter fight. The success of his campaign encouraged Harney to suggest that mobile units might replace permanent posts.

Harney was promoted to brigadier general in 1858, and in 1863 he retired to St. Louis. He returned to the Great Plains as a member of the 1865 and 1867 peace commissions to negotiate treaties with tribal leaders. In 1868 he also received a temporary assignment to establish three Sioux agencies on the Missouri River–at Whetstone Creek, Cheyenne River, and Grand River. Harney died in Orlando, Florida, on May 9, 1889.

Richmond L. Clow University of Montana

Clow, Richmond L. "General William Harney on the Northern Plains." South Dakota History 16 (1986): 229–48.

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