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Red Cloud

Chief Red Cloud
Chief Red Cloud
Oglala Teton Sioux Warrior-Statesman
Photo 1897 David F. Barry

During the 1860's Red Cloud is credited as becoming the most important war leader of the Sioux and Cheyenne against the Whites, virtually closing down the Bozeman Trail.

"My sun is set. My day is done. Darkness is stealing over me. Before I lie down to rise no more, I will speak to my people. Hear me, my friends, for it is not the time for me to tell you a lie. The Great Spirit made us, the Indians, and gave us this land we live in. He gave us the buffalo, the antelope, and the deer for food and clothing. We moved our hunting grounds from the Minnesota to the Platte and from the Mississippi to the great mountains. No one put bounds on us. We were free as the winds, and like the eagle, heard no man's commands." - Red Cloud, Makhpia Luta

This marks the beginning of the final words of Red Cloud, great chief of the largest tribe of the Teton Sioux Nation, to his people on July 4, 1903.

Red Cloud

As a warrior, Red Cloud had great success in confrontations with the United States government, making him an outstanding leader of the Oglala Sioux, yet he also became one of the great believers in peace.

In 1866, Red Cloud planned the most successful war ever fought by an Indian nation. Alarmed by the army and their construction of forts along the Bozeman Trail, Red Cloud fought to protect the land of the Sioux, which encompassed the heart of the territory being used for this chain of forts. Red Cloud watched the heavy movement of miners and settlers as they crossed the Lakota’s land.

"Hear ye, Dakotas!" he exclaimed. "When the Great Father at Washington sent us his chief soldier [General Harney] to ask for a path through our hunting grounds, a way for his iron road to the mountains and the western sea, we were told that they wished merely to pass through our country, not to tarry among us, but to seek for gold in the far west. Our old chiefs thought to show their friendship and good will, when they allowed this dangerous snake in our midst. They promised to protect the wayfarers."

"Yet before the ashes of the council fire are cold, the Great Father is building his forts among us. You have heard the sound of the white soldier's ax upon the Little Piney. His presence here is an insult and a threat. It is an insult to the spirits of our ancestors. Are we then to give up their sacred graves to be plowed for corn? Dakotas, I am for war!"

In less than a week after this speech, the Sioux advanced upon Fort Phil Kearny, the new sentinel that had just taken her place upon the farthest frontier, guarding the Oregon Trail. Every detail of the attack had been planned with care, though not without heated discussion, and nearly every well-known Sioux chief had agreed in striking the blow. The brilliant young war leader, Crazy Horse, was appointed to lead the charge. His lieutenants were Sword, Hump, and Dull Knife, with Little Chief of the Cheyennes, while the older men acted as councilors. Their success was instantaneous. In less than half an hour, they had cut down nearly a hundred men under Captain Fetterman, whom they drew out of the fort by a ruse and then annihilated.

Red Cloud saw the deadly accuracy of the U.S. Army’s new rifles and at the Wagon Box Fight of August 1867 might have thought his chances of stopping the movement on the Bozeman Trail was next to impossible. However, the government decided to concede defeat in 1868 (Fort Laramie Treaty) and closed the Bozeman Trail and the forts along that trail were ultimately abandoned. The Sioux set fire to the forts and Red Cloud signed a treaty to end the conflicts, only to find later that he had actually signed a treaty that also set up reservations. After his visits to Washington D.C. and the outcry of individuals who heard his speeches on behalf of his people, the government revised the treaty.

Red Cloud encouraged his people to live in peace and did not join forces with the more militant Sioux under Crazy Horse.

His private life was exemplary. He was faithful to one wife all his days, and was a devoted father to his children. He was ambitious for his only son, known as Jack Red Cloud, and much desired him to be a great warrior. He started him on the warpath at the age of fifteen, not then realizing that the days of Indian warfare were well-nigh at an end.

Among latter-day chiefs, Red Cloud was notable as a quiet man, simple and direct in speech, courageous in action, an ardent lover of his country, and possessed in a marked degree of the manly qualities characteristic of the American Indian in his best days.

Red Cloud became almost entirely blind before his death in 1909 in his ninetieth year.

"Shadows are long and dark before me. I shall soon lie down to rise no more. While my spirit is with my body, the smoke of my breath shall be towards the Sun for he knows all things and knows that I am still true to him."

"They made us many promises, more than I can remember.  But they kept but one...They promised to take our land...and they took it".....Red Cloud

Red Cloud Side
Photo Courtesy of: Mary Ellen McWilliams

(quoted material & photo with permission from this site)

This site prepared by:  Evelyn Jeffers, Hampton High School

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