Lake Harney was named for William Selby Harney who was born in Haysboro, TN on 22 Aug 1800.  He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the First United States Infantry on 13 February 1818, during the First Seminole War (1817-1818).   Harney displayed great prowess against the Creeks and Seminoles and was promoted to First Lieutenant on 7 Jan 1819.   On 14 May 1825, he became a Captain, then a  Major on 1 May 1833, and a Lieutenant Colonel on 15 August 1836.  He was brevetted to Colonel on 7 December 1840 for "gallant and meritorious conduct" against the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War.

There is a very interesting story about Harney on the St. Johns River.  He and a company of sixty men were camped near Cook's Ferry on the river while waiting to cross the river on the ferry.  It was a beautiful spot with shade trees nearby and a sandy beach on the lake.  Harney's tent was pitched at the edge of the campground near the lake.  The soldiers were scattered around but none of their tents were between Harney and the lake.  During the night, Harney was wakened by someone stumbling over one of his tent ropes.  He lay still, awaiting further developments.  Soon a large knife was stuck through the cloth of his tent and ripped down to the ground.  Harney raised up and grabbed his sword.  An Indian stuck his head inside and saw Harney as he ran out the front of his tent with his sword. Harney circled around the tent and ran into three or four more Indians.  The Indians chased Harney and the only escape route for Harney was toward the lake.  He ran out into the water with the Indians following him closely.  He was a very good swimmer and he out swam the Indians and circled toward some oak trees on the shore.  The Indians jumped in their canoe and tried to cut him off but he reached the trees first and made his way to camp, dressed only in his soaked underclothes. The Indians reached the trees right behind Harney and went after him on foot.  But Harney reached the camp first and gave the alarm.   With the entire camp now awake and preparing for battle, the Indians left their canoe and escaped into the woods on foot.  All was well.

After the end of the Second Seminole War, Harney served in the War with Mexico (1846-1848) and the Civil War until his retirement on 1 Aug 1863 as a General.  After retirement, he married his nurse and lived in Pass Christian, MS for some time. He died on 9 May 1889 in Orlando, FL and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  Harney Peak in South Dakota is named in his honor, as is Camp Harney in Zapata County, TX.

Compiled by Mal Martin, Feb 2001

More on General Harney's Life





Adams, George Rollie. General William Selby Harney, Frontier Soldier.  1800-1889.

Black Hills National Forest (on-line).

"Casper Star Tribune". 1 June 1997.

Crow, Myrtle Hilliard.  Old Tales and Trails of Florida. Southern Heritage Press. 1987.

Fort Washita and its Generals (on-line).

Handbook of Texas (on-line).

National Archives and Records Administration.

Rawls, L.U. Life of General William S. Harney.

University of Arizona (Ph.D dissertation). 1983.

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