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Red Cloud

Native American Nations | Indian Warriors
 

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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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

Indian Warriors

 

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