Native Peoples at West Point:

Past, Present, and Future


Debra A. Crain

The young Creek boy was only 15 years and 8 months old when he set off from his home, in what is now Montgomery, Alabama, to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. The year was 1817. the boy was David Moniac (sometimes pronounced Manac), the first "non-white" graduate of West Point.

David was under tremendous pressures at West Point. He was the only "Indian Boy," as Sylvanus Thayer, Superintendent of West Point, referred to him. He ranked 19th out of 29 in his class upon completion of his first year, so he asked to be turned back. Cadet Moniac was granted his request and repeated his first year. He did not do well in academics, but excelled in fencing and other physical activities. However, even with all of his trials and tribulations, David Moniac finally graduated from West Point on July 1, 1822, 39th out of 40 in his class.

After graduation, Moniac became a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Sixth Infantry Regiment. He abruptly resigned his commission on December 31, 1822 at the suggestion of President Madison that excess officers retire to civilian life, where they could impart the benefits of their West Point training to the state militia.

As a civilian, David Moniac became a prosperous cotton farmer and breeder of thoroughbred horses in Baldwin County, Alabama. He married Mary Powell who was the cousin of Osceola, a prominent Seminole leader. He also enlisted in the state militia as a private.

In December of 1835, the Second Seminole War began. It was at this time that David Moniac returned to active military service as a Captain in the Mounted Creek Volunteers. There were 750 Creek Indians in the Regiment who wore white turbans to distinguish themselves from the enemy. Thirteen officers commanded the Mounted Regiment, including Captain Moniac, the only American Indian Officer. ON October 5, 1836, Captain Moniac led the Mounted Creek Volunteers in an attack against a strong Seminole encampment at Fort Brook, Florida (now known as Tampa). He was promoted to Major for his action during this engagement. Then at dawn on November 21, 1836, Major Moniac with his Mounted Creek Volunteers, the Florida Militia and the Tennessee Volunteers moved into the foggy Wahoo Swamp where the Seminoles were massed in considerable force. They fought their way to the Withlacoohee River where Major Moniac was ordered to sound the depth of the water. When David Moniac entered the water, the Seminoles fired a deadly volley of musket fire, piercing his body with sixty-seven bullets and mortally wounding him. He was finally laid to rest on January 15, 1837 near what is now the Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell, Florida. Major Moniac was buried with full military honors. His pall bearers were those officers who ha been his classmates at West Point.

Since the time of David Moniac, there have been ninety-two American Indian graduates from the United States Military Academy. Among these graduates have been George Beaver (Creek) who graduated on June 13, 1929 at the age of 24 and George Harrington (Comanche) who graduated on June 8, 1977 at the age of 22.

George Beaver graduated from Tulsa, Oklahoma High School and then attended Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri. Because of his extensive military training at Wentworth Academy, George already knew how to shine his shoes, clean his rifle and other military protocol. Since his classmates were not as well-versed in the complexities of military life, George spent many hours instructing them. This led to a number of "area tours" to atone for the lack of time that George spent on his own studies and duties.

After graduation Lieutenant Beaver served in the Infantry at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Philippines, Fort Benning, Georgia and at Fort Crook, Nebraska where he died on August 5, 1938 as the result of a nerve disorder. His classmates paid tribute to his quiet, kind character in the obituary that they wrote for him in the April, 1942 Assembly.

George Harrington was the first known Comanche to graduate from West Point. He is the grand nephew of the last Chief of the Comanche Nation, Quanah Parker. George was accompanied at his swearing-in ceremony on June 8, 1977, by his uncle, James M. Cox, the Chairman of the Comanche Tribe at that time. Quanah Parker was Mr. Cox' grandfather.

Second Lieutenant Harrington served as an Infantry Officer with the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii before attending medical school at the University of New Mexico. He also served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and is presently a Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon and a Lieutenant Colonel.

Since the inception of West Point in 1802, Cadets have received a broad general education leading to a Bachelor of Science degree upon Graduation. However, since 1985, Cadets have been able to pursue opportunities in twenty-five fields of study and nineteen optional majors, including Chemistry and Life Science, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Engineering Management, Engineering Physics, Environmental Engineering, Mathematical Science, Mechanical Engineering, Operations Research, Systems Engineering, Behavioral Sciences, Economics, Foreign Languages, General Management, Geography, History, Political Science and Studies in Philosophy and Literature. This diversity in curriculum has also allowed the United States Military Academy to become the only academic institution in the nation ranking in the top five in both Rhodes Scholarship and Hertz Fellowship competitions. Rhodes Scholarships provide an opportunity for study in the humanities while Hertz Fellowships provide three years of study leading to a Ph.D. in a physical science.

The United States Military Academy also offers cadets the opportunity to participate in twenty-two Athletic competitive Teams and one hundred different extracurricular clubs, including hobby groups (Cadet Flying Club, Chess Club, Ski Club, etc.), support groups (Cadet Glee Club, operating the cadet radio station, Cadet Drill Team, Cadet publications, etc.), academic clubs (language clubs, American Chemical Society, Debate council and Forum, Astronomy Club, etc.) and religious activities. These teams and clubs allow cadets to participate in activities away from the daily stress of academy life. They encourage cadets to learn skills and have experiences not usually taught in the curriculum. This results in a well-rounded officer ready to deal with all life has to offer when he or she graduates from West Point.

The military training program is based primarily on one word - Discipline. The daily regimen of cadet life is designed to develop an appreciation for discipline and the need to maintain professional standards of the highest order. This program helps to develop young men and women into exemplary commissioned officers in the Regular Army of the United States.

How does this combination of both a superior, well-rounded education and superb military training impact Native Peoples today? The words of Major David DeHorse (Yankton Sioux), Class of 1980, say it all, "Native Peoples have graduated from West Point and the experience is contributing to the culture." Major DeHorse goes on to say that his experience at West Point, "...did an unequaled job in preparing me to achieve the four virtues of our people: Bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom." Major DeHorse is a Special Forces Officer who is preparing to attend Law School after he retires next year.

A classmate of Major DeHorse, Mr. Paul Morris (Western Band of Cherokee), also agrees that the education at West Point prepares you for anything you want to do in life. He says that, "Your experience at West Point will serve you for your entire life. That experience will give you the tools to become the President, a Rhodes Scholar, a General, an astronaut, a Senator, a CEO, a tribal leader." Mr. Morris goes on to say, "I was raised to understand that Cherokee were not all warriors but led a very civilized and peaceful existence. Yonaguska (Cherokee Chief) is a well-documented and honorable example of this. West Point helped me become a stronger leader and learn the skills of a warrior so that I could come up with peaceful solutions when they were appropriate." Mr. Morris is presently a Consultant in the Northeast.

The United States Military Academy is not the easiest route to take for a college education. As pointed out by Major (Retired) Ed Farnham (Tuscarora), Class of 1980, "If you want to be challenged in every way, go to West Point. If you want to go to a college that has some of the best students in the United States, go to West Point. If you want to work hard and have a ton of opportunities, go to West Point. If you want a great start in today's world, go to West Point. If you want to build character, go to West Point." Major (Retired) Farnham goes on to give this advice to any young American Indian/Alaskan Native considering applying to West Point, "Deciding what college to attend is an awesome decision.... Make a wrong choice, and it could negatively affect the rest of your life. Make the right choice, and it will have a positive effect for the rest of your life. Whatever you decide, commit to it and do it with all your strength." Major (Retired) Farnham is a computer consultant in Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant Colonel Earl Knight (Minnecoujou Sioux), Class of 1981, gives this advice to the younger generation of Native Peoples considering whether West Point is right for them, "...we have young warriors with unlimited skills and potential...Go forward now, be proud of your heritage and show your brethren soldiers that American Indians can make a difference. In doing so, not only will you open a door for yourself, but also, you will open doors for younger American Indians as they aspire to reach the high goals you have established for yourself...(West Point) showed me there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome." Lieutenant Colonel Knight is stationed at the United States Strategic Communications Command.

Major Brigitte T. Kwinn (Prairie Band of Pottowatamie), Class of 1984, is presently stationed in Croatia. Her fondest memories about her days at West Point revolve around the Women's Volleyball Team. Major Kwinn says, "I played varsity volleyball for four years. I was the captain (of the team) in my last year. We were able to travel all around the East Coast and represent Army. My junior year we were nationally ranked. My beast (Cadet Basic Training) roommate, Sue Thompson, talked me into trying out for the team during Beast Barracks. She and I were on the team for four years and we still keep in touch." Major Kwinn gives this advice to other American Indians considering West Point, "American Indians have been brave warriors and soldiers throughout history...(guerrilla warfare in the Seminole Wars, Navajo Code Talkers, raising the flag at Iwo Jima, Medal of Honor winners in many wars). Although the West Point experience will temporarily take you away from your traditional surroundings and way of life, it will provide a legacy for generations to follow."

Major Jeannette Jones (Eastern Band of Cherokee), Class of 1897, talks about her West Point experience in glowing terms. She says, "I received a great education and made life-long friends." After Major Jones graduated from West Point, she says "I think I was very prepared (for the challenges met after Graduation). Once I got over the reality of being another little fish in a big pond...., I was able to easily move forward an do fun things." Major Jones is currently working in Army contracting at Rock Island Arsenal.

Captain Amy Brinson (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa), Class of 1992, works in the Medical Service Corps in Wiesbaden, Germany. She compares the Long Gray Line of West Point to the American Indian traditions taught to us by our Elders. Captain Brinson says, "West Point requires certain rites of passage in order to proceed to the next step in our lives, which is similar to American Indian heritage." She also encourages other American Indian/Alaskan Native young men and women to consider attending the United States Military Academy. Captain Brinson says, "Do it! It definitely challenges you, plus, it is financially worthwhile." I considered going to Dartmouth, but even after financial assistance/scholarships, I would have left with a debt of at least $40,000. Instead, I graduated (from West Point) with nearly $4,000 in my cadet account. I did not put a financial strain on my family and yet completed my Bachelor's Degree.

Captain (United States Marine Corps Reserve) Jason Giles (Muscogee Creek), Class of 1992, recounts playing football for West Point as one of his most pleasurable memories. He says, "The high of playing in front of 70,000 people is something that I will probably never experience again. However, the most meaningful experience was speaking to large groups of people such as Cadets, Officers, or occasionally reporters. West Point forces you to become at least a capable public speaker. I always remember dreading the upcoming class or company presentations, but speaking in front of a group of talented individuals teaches you oral skills that carry on for life." Captain Giles wants to pass this information on, "....Let me assure any young long-haired Native American who is thinking about attending an Academy, your hair will grow back quickly. I have been out of the Marines for one year and can already place it in a ponytail." Captain Giles is presently in his second year of Law School after serving his five year commitment in the Marine Corps. Captain Giles was allowed to serve his time in the Marine Corps rather than the Army because his father is a former Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

These present day American Indian graduates of the United States Military Academy are all proud to be a part of the Long Gray Line, and would encourage other American Indian/Alaskan Native students to step up and take the challenge of attending one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the United States today.

Which brings us to the future of American Indian/Alaskan Native graduates of West Point. There are currently twenty-nine American Indian/Alaskan Native cadets enrolled at the United States Military Academy. Two outstanding Second Class Cadets (Juniors) shared their thoughts about what it means to them and their families to attend West Point.

Cadet Daniel Allen Galvan (Navajo), Class of 2000, says "...the most important attribute that I use to get through here is determination. I tell myself I will get the job done, even if it means I have to sleep only a few hours a night or I have to stay in my room and study while my friends leave on weekends and the evenings. It is all about how much you want it, and I won't quit because that is not what I learned as a kid." It is important to Cadet Galvan to succeed at West Point because he has plans to use what he has learned to help his tribe. "One of the goals of the Academy is 'to inspire each (cadet) to a life time of service to the nation.' For me this means my tribe as well. I am majoring in Civil Engineering because someday I want to help create something that all people can enjoy and make use of. I hope that I will have the opportunity to construct something on my reservation that people can enjoy...." Cadet Galvan wants to make the point that he did not get to West Point without the help of people who care about him. He says, "...I would like to thank all of the people that helped me get here. Of course, my parents and family. I would like to thank my coaches in high school. I would also like to thank the great teachers I had in high school. It was their great instruction that acts as my foundation for all of the subjects I now study. Finally, my friends, who gave me support when needed, and all of the good times we enjoyed and still enjoy when I go home."

Cadet Nathaniel T. Crain (Blackfoot), Class of 2000, has a rather unique experience. He is not only a West Point Cadet, but has been a "Military Brat" his entire life. His father graduated from West Point in 1977, and is still on active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Cadet Crain tells what attending West Point has meant to his family, "They were excited at first, but it has been a trying time. They remain very proud of me, but they realize the difficulties that come with being a cadet here." Cadet Crain also thinks that what he is learning at West Point will help him serve his tribe. He says, West Point teaches duty above all else. Upon graduation, this commitment to duty should help me be the best officer I can be, loyal and selfless. In the same way, it should also help me realize the duty I have to my tribe. Given an opportunity to serve after my military service, I would love to perform my duty to my tribe." Cadet Crain concludes with, "West Point, in all, has been a wonderful experience for me, thus far. I have realized my limits, and the extent to which I can surpass what I previously thought my limits. It is difficult, yes, and often feels as if it is not worth it, but when it comes down to it, I realize why I came here, and the greater importance of my commitment to the United States."

Cadets Galvan and Crain also would encourage any young American Indian/Alaskan Native to attend West Point if given the opportunity. Cadet Galvan says, "There is no reason not to attend West Point because you are Indian. .....Beast and Plebe (Freshman) year have a way of creating bonds between cadets that last forever."

Cadet Crain agrees and adds, "You can decide once you get here if it's right for you. Never close any doors before you can make an informed decision."

This decision, to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, is one that both the Native graduates and cadets represented in this article are glad they made. They agree that attending West Point gave them opportunities that they never would have otherwise had. These opportunities have led to them serving not only the United States of America, but their own Tribal Nations as well. And as Native People, this should make us proud.

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