The Baby Name Morningstar

Wounded Knee Incident, March, 1973
Wounded Knee Incident, 1973

In 1973, from February 27 until May 8, American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and Oglala Lakota occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The standoff lasted 71 days, and both the activists and the federal government were armed. Gunfire wounded several people on each side and ultimately killed two of the occupiers.

The first victim was 48-year-old activist Frank Clearwater, who had hitchhiked to Wounded Knee with his pregnant wife Morning Star, 37. They arrived on April 16, Frank was shot in the head on April 17, and he died in the hospital on April 25. The news of his death was widely reported.

The same year, the baby name Morningstar appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time:

  • 1978: 6 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1977: 9 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: 9 baby girls named Morningstar
  • 1974: unlisted
  • 1973: 8 baby girls named Morningstar [debut]
  • 1972: unlisted

(The SSA omits spaces, so some these babies may have been named “Morning Star.”)

Supporters of the Indian movement extolled Frank, who had claimed to be Native American. The 1973 folk song “The Ballad of Frank Clearwater” refers to Frank as an “Apache who longed to be free.”

But this was probably not the case. Frank Clearwater, born Frank Clear in the state of Virginia, is listed as “white” on various documents (including arrest records and the 1930 U.S. Census).

My guess is that Morning Star’s name was similarly invented — coined as a sign of solidarity — and that she was also not Native American. I’m not sure what her real name was, or what became of her (or the baby) after 1973, but her assumed identity lives on in the baby name data…

"Show your Solidarity with the Indian Nations" poster


Images: © AP; “Show your Solidarity with the Indian Nations” via LOC

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