Although the Sioux warrior Red Cloud held no claim to hereditary
chieftainship, he became, through a surpassing strength of
character, the most celebrated leader of his people. He was a member
of the Snake family, the most distinguished of his tribe, and was
born in 1822. His father became an alcoholic when liquor was
introduced to the tribe by white traders, producing in Red Cloud an
abiding distrust of the white man. While still a young man Red Cloud
became leader of the Oglala Teton Sioux of the Pine Ridge
Reservation, the largest and most powerful band of the Sioux nation.
The Government undertook, in 1865, the building of a road from Fort
Laramie, Wyoming, on the North Platte River, to the gold fields of
Montana. Red Cloud headed the tribe's opposition, maintaining that
the road would bring in hordes of white men and bring about the
destruction of the buffalo herds needed for survival of the Plains
tribes. When the first detachment of troops was sent to begin
construction, Red Cloud intercepted them with a large party of
Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne braves. The troopers were kept virtually
as prisoners for two weeks, but when Red Cloud perceived that they
were in danger of being massacred by the young warriors of the party
he permitted them to continue.
A commission was sent to negotiate a treaty with the Oglala
permitting them to build the road in peace, but Red Cloud refused to
attend the council and forbade his men to negotiate. On June 30m\,
1866, another treaty council was called at Fort Laramie, Wyoming.
Red Cloud appeared at this meeting, but was steadfast in his refusal
to permit the best remaining hunting grounds to be violated. While
Red Cloud was speaking, a large army force under General Carrington
arrived. The Oglala chief demanded to know why the troops were there
and was told that they had come to build forts and see to the
construction of the road. After a heated argument with the general,
Red Cloud grabbed up his rifle and, shouting defiance, took his men
away. Later he returned to register his protest to Carrington, who
coolly ignored his pleas.
With about 2,000 braves, Red Cloud surrounded the soldiers and
workers at Fort Kearney, keeping them under such close harassment
that it was virtually impossible to get in or out of the fort. A
detachment of 81 men under command of Captain Fetterman was
completely wiped out by Red Cloud's followers on December 21, 1866.
On August 1, 1867, another fight occurred near the fort with great
loss of life. The Indian blockade was so effective that no wagons
had been able to reach the fort during the long siege.
In 1868 another commission was sent to make terms with Red Cloud,
who demanded that the three army posts in the area be abandoned
along with the Montana road project. Such a treaty at last was made,
with Red Cloud refusing to sign until the garrisons had been
completely withdrawn. He finally signed the agreement at Fort
Laramie on November 6, 1868.
Although he resisted the encroachments of civilization, the
venerable chief kept the peace, not participating actively in the
Sioux war of 1867, or the later outbreak of hostilities in 1890-91.
Because of the great respect in which he was held by his people (he
was credited with 80 coups, making him the number one warrior of the
Sioux), he held great influence even in his old age. He became the
statesman of his nation, making several trips to Washington to deal
with Indian affairs. With his wife, with whom he had lived since his
young manhood, he adapted himself as best he could to cost and in
behalf of the Indians.
In his later years, his eyesight failed him and he was given a house
by the Government. His courtly manners belied the fierce warrior of
old. He died in 1909 after a long life in the service of his race
and his country.
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