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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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