March 14, 2002

Red Cloud (Mahpiya Luta), Oglalla Sioux


Keywords: Chief Red Cloud Sioux chief american indian chiefs native american chief Oglalla sioux chief native american history american indian history Montana history Sioux tribe nation sioux cheif Charles Alexander Eastman Ohiyesa

Source: As remembered by Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa)

Red Cloud was born about 1819 near the forks of the Platte River. He was one of a family of nine children whose father, an able and respected warrior, reared his son under the old Spartan regime.

The young Red Cloud is said to have been a fine horseman, able to swim across the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, of high bearing and unquestionable courage, yet invariably gentle and courteous in everyday life. This last trait, together with a singularly musical and agreeable voice, has always been characteristic of the man.

When Red Cloud was about six years old, his father gave him a
spirited colt, and said to him:

“My son, when you are able to sit quietly upon the back of
this colt without saddle or bridle, I shall be glad, for the boy
who can win a wild creature and learn to use it will as a man be
able to win and rule men.”

Red Cloud, instead of going for advice and help to his
grandfather, as most Indian boys would have done, began quietly to
practice throwing the lariat. In a little while he was able to
lasso the colt. Red Cloud was dragged off his feet at once, but hung on,
and finally managed to picket him near the teepee.

When the big
boys drove the herd of ponies to water, Red Cloud drove his colt with the
rest. Presently the pony became used to him and allowed himself to
be handled. The boy began to ride him bareback; Red Cloud was thrown many
times, but persisted until he could ride without even a lariat,
sitting with arms folded and guiding the animal by the movements of
his body.

From that time on Red Cloud told me that he broke all his own
ponies, and before long his father’s as well.

The old men, his contemporaries, have often related to me how
Red Cloud was always successful in the hunt because his horses were
so well broken. At the age of nine, Red Cloud began to ride his father’s
pack pony upon the buffalo hunt.

Red Cloud was twelve years old, he told
me, when he was first permitted to take part in the chase, and
found to his great mortification that none of his arrows penetrated
more than a few inches.

Excited to recklessness, Red Cloud whipped his
horse nearer the fleeing buffalo, and before his father knew what
he was about, he had seized one of the protruding arrows and tried
to push it deeper. The furious animal tossed his massive head
sidewise, and boy and horse were whirled into the air.

Fortunately, the boy was thrown on the farther side of his pony,
which received the full force of the second attack. The thundering
hoofs of the stampeded herd soon passed them by, but the wounded
and maddened buffalo refused to move, and some critical moments
passed before Red Cloud’s father succeeded in attracting its
attention so that the boy might spring to his feet and run for his

I once asked Red Cloud if he could recall having ever been
afraid, and in reply he told me this story. He was about sixteen
years old and had already been once or twice upon the warpath, when
one fall his people were hunting in the Big Horn country, where
they might expect trouble at any moment with the hostile Crows or

Red Cloud had followed a single buffalo bull into the
Bad Lands and was out of sight and hearing of his companions. When
he had brought down his game, Red Cloud noted carefully every feature of
his surroundings so that he might at once detect anything unusual,
and tied his horse with a long lariat to the horn of the dead
bison, while skinning and cutting up the meat so as to pack it to

Every few minutes Red Cloud paused in his work to scrutinize the
landscape, for he had a feeling that danger was not far off.

Suddenly, almost over his head, as it seemed, he heard a
tremendous war whoop, and glancing sidewise, thought he beheld
the charge of an overwhelming number of warriors. He tried
desperately to give the usual undaunted war whoop in reply, but
instead a yell of terror burst from his lips, his legs gave way
under him, and he fell in a heap.

When Red Cloud realized, the next
instant, that the war whoop was merely the sudden loud whinnying of
his own horse, and the charging army a band of fleeing elk, he was
so ashamed of himself that he never forgot the incident, although
up to that time he had never mentioned it. Red Cloud’s subsequent career
would indicate that the lesson was well learned.

The future leader was still a very young man when he joined a
war party against the Utes. Having pushed eagerly forward on the
trail, Red Cloud found himself far in advance of his companions as night
came on, and at the same time rain began to fall heavily.

the scattered scrub pines, the lone warrior found a natural cave,
and after a hasty examination, he decided to shelter there for the

Scarcely had Red Cloud rolled himself in his blanket when he heard a
slight rustling at the entrance, as if some creature were preparing
to share his retreat. It was pitch dark. Red Cloud could see nothing, but
judged that it must be either a man or a grizzly. There was not
room to draw a bow. It must be between knife and knife, or between
knife and claws, he said to himself.

The intruder made no search but quietly lay down in the
opposite corner of the cave. Red Cloud remained perfectly still,
scarcely breathing, his hand upon his knife.

Hour after hour he
lay broad awake, while many thoughts passed through his brain.
Suddenly, without warning, he sneezed, and instantly a strong man
sprang to a sitting posture opposite. The first gray of morning
was creeping into their rocky den, and behold! a Ute hunter sat
before him.

Desperate as the situation appeared, it was not without a grim
humor. Neither could afford to take his eyes from the other’s; the
tension was great, till at last a smile wavered over the
expressionless face of the Ute. Red Cloud answered the smile, and
in that instant a treaty of peace was born between them.

“Put your knife in its sheath. I shall do so also, and we
will smoke together,” signed Red Cloud. The other assented gladly,
and they ratified thus the truce which assured to each a safe
return to his friends. Having finished their smoke, they shook
hands and separated.

Neither had given the other any information.
Red Cloud returned to his party and told his story, adding that he
had divulged nothing and had nothing to report. Some were inclined
to censure him for not fighting, but he was sustained by a majority
of the warriors, who commended his self-restraint.

In a day or two
they discovered the main camp of the enemy and fought a remarkable
battle, in which Red Cloud especially distinguished himself

The Sioux were now entering upon the most stormy period of
their history. The old things were fast giving place to new. The
young men, for the first time engaging in serious and destructive
warfare with the neighboring tribes, armed with the deadly weapons
furnished by the white man, began to realize that they must soon
enter upon a desperate struggle for their ancestral hunting

The old men had been innocently cultivating the
friendship of the stranger, saying among themselves, “Surely there
is land enough for all!”

Red Cloud was a modest and little known man of about
twenty-eight years, when General Harney called all the western
bands of Sioux together at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, for the purpose
of securing an agreement and right of way through their territory.

The Ogallalas held aloof from this proposal, but Bear Bull, an
Ogallala chief, after having been plied with whisky, undertook to
dictate submission to the rest of the clan. Enraged by failure, he
fired upon a group of his own tribesmen, and Red Cloud’s father and
brother fell dead. According to Indian custom, it fell to Red Cloud to
avenge the deed.

Calmly, without uttering a word, he faced old
Bear Bull and his son, who attempted to defend his father, and shot
them both. He did what he believed to be his duty, and the whole
band sustained him.

Indeed, the tragedy gave the young man at once
a certain standing, as one who not only defended his people against
enemies from without, but against injustice and aggression within
the tribe. From this time on he was a recognized leader.

Man-Afraid-of-His-Horse, then head chief of the Ogallalas,
took council with Red Cloud in all important matters, and the young
warrior rapidly advanced in authority and influence. In 1854, when
he was barely thirty-five years old, the various bands were again
encamped near Fort Laramie.

A Mormon emigrant train, moving
westward, left a footsore cow behind, and the young men killed her
for food. The next day, to their astonishment, an officer with
thirty men appeared at the Indian camp and demanded of old
Conquering Bear that they be given up.

The chief in vain protested
that it was all a mistake and offered to make reparation. It would
seem that either the officer was under the influence of liquor, or
else had a mind to bully the Indians, for he would accept neither
explanation nor payment, but demanded point-blank that the young
men who had killed the cow be delivered up to summary punishment.

The old chief refused to be intimidated and was shot dead on the
spot. Not one soldier ever reached the gate of Fort Laramie! Here
Red Cloud led the young Ogallalas, and so intense was the feeling
that they even killed the half-breed interpreter.

Curiously enough, there was no attempt at retaliation on the
part of the army, and no serious break until 1860, when the Sioux
were involved in troubles with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. In
1862, a grave outbreak was precipitated by the eastern Sioux in
Minnesota under Little Crow, in which the western bands took no
part. Yet this event ushered in a new period for their race.

surveyors of the Union Pacific were laying out the proposed road
through the heart of the southern buffalo country, the rendezvous
of Ogallalas, Brules, Arapahoes, Comanches, and Pawnees, who
followed the buffalo as a means of livelihood.

To be sure, most of
these tribes were at war with one another, yet during the summer
months they met often to proclaim a truce and hold joint councils
and festivities, which were now largely turned into discussions of
the common enemy.

It became evident, however, that some of the
smaller and weaker tribes were inclined to welcome the new order of
things, recognizing that it was the policy of the government to put
an end to tribal warfare.

Red Cloud’s position was uncompromisingly against submission.
He made some noted speeches in this line, one of which was repeated
to me by an old man who had heard and remembered it with the
remarkable verbal memory of an Indian.

“Friends,” said Red Cloud, “it has been our misfortune to
welcome the white man. We have been deceived. He brought with him
some shining things that pleased our eyes; he brought weapons more
effective than our own: above all, he brought the spirit water that
makes one forget for a time old age, weakness, and sorrow. But I
wish to say to you that if you would possess these things for
yourselves, you must begin anew and put away the wisdom of your

“You must lay up food, and forget the hungry. When your
house is built, your storeroom filled, then look around for a
neighbor whom you can take at a disadvantage, and seize all that he
has! Give away only what you do not want; or rather, do not part
with any of your possessions unless in exchange for another’s.”

“My countrymen, shall the glittering trinkets of this rich
man, his deceitful drink that overcomes the mind, shall these
things tempt us to give up our homes, our hunting grounds, and the
honorable teaching of our old men? Shall we permit ourselves to be
driven to and fro — to be herded like the cattle of the white man?”

Red Cloud’s next speech that has been remembered was made in 1866,
just before the attack on Fort Phil Kearny. The tension of feeling
against the invaders had now reached its height. There was no
dissenting voice in the council upon the Powder River, when it was
decided to oppose to the uttermost the evident purpose of the

Red Cloud was not altogether ignorant of the numerical
strength and the resourcefulness of the white man, but he was
determined to face any odds rather than submit.

“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.

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.

Instead of sending troops to punish, the government sent a
commission to treat with the Sioux. The result was the famous
treaty of 1868, which Red Cloud was the last to sign, having
refused to do so until all of the forts within their territory
should be vacated.

All of his demands were acceded to, the new
road abandoned, the garrisons withdrawn, and in the new treaty it
was distinctly stated that the Black Hills and the Big Horn were
Indian country, set apart for their perpetual occupancy, and that
no white man should enter that region without the consent of the

Scarcely was this treaty signed, however, when gold was
discovered in the Black Hills, and the popular cry was: “Remove
the Indians!” This was easier said than done. That very territory
had just been solemnly guaranteed to them forever: yet how stem the
irresistible rush for gold?

The government, at first, entered some
small protest, just enough to “save its face” as the saying is; but
there was no serious attempt to prevent the wholesale violation of
the treaty. It was this state of affairs that led to the last
great speech made by Red Cloud, at a gathering upon the Little
Rosebud River.

It is brief, and touches upon the hopelessness of
their future as a race. He seems at about this time to have
reached the conclusion that resistance could not last much longer;
in fact, the greater part of the Sioux nation was already under
government control.

“We are told,” said he, “that Spotted Tail has consented to be
the Beggars’ Chief. Those Indians who go over to the white man can
be nothing but beggars, for he respects only riches, and how can an
Indian be a rich man? He cannot without ceasing to be an Indian.
As for me, I have listened patiently to the promises of the Great
Father, but his memory is short. I am now done with him. This is
all I have to say.”

The wilder bands separated soon after this council, to follow
the drift of the buffalo, some in the vicinity of the Black Hills
and others in the Big Horn region. Small war parties came down
from time to time upon stray travelers, who received no mercy at
their hands, or made dashes upon neighboring forts.

Red Cloud
claimed the right to guard and hold by force, if need be, all this
territory which had been conceded to his people by the treaty of
1868. The land became a very nest of outlawry.

Aside from
organized parties of prospectors, there were bands of white horse
thieves and desperadoes who took advantage of the situation to
plunder immigrants and Indians alike.

An attempt was made by means of military camps to establish
control and force all the Indians upon reservations, and another
commission was sent to negotiate their removal to Indian Territory,
but met with an absolute refusal. After much guerrilla warfare, an
important military campaign against the Sioux was set on foot in
1876, ending in Custer’s signal defeat upon the Little Big Horn.

In this notable battle, Red Cloud did not participate in
person, nor in the earlier one with Crook upon the Little Rosebud,
but he had a son in both fights. He was now a councilor rather
than a warrior, but his young men were constantly in the field,
while Spotted Tail had definitely surrendered and was in close
touch with representatives of the government.

But the inevitable end was near. One morning in the fall of
1876 Red Cloud was surrounded by United States troops under the
command of Colonel McKenzie, who disarmed his people and brought
them into Fort Robinson, Nebraska.

Thence they were removed to the
Pine Ridge agency, where he lived for more than thirty years as a
“reservation Indian.” In order to humiliate Red Cloud further,
government authorities proclaimed the more tractable Spotted Tail
head chief of the Sioux.

Of course, Red Cloud’s own people never
recognized any other chief.

In 1880 he appealed to Professor Marsh, of Yale, head of a
scientific expedition to the Bad Lands, charging certain frauds at
the agency and apparently proving his case; at any rate the matter
was considered worthy of official investigation.

In 1890-1891,
during the “Ghost Dance craze” and the difficulties that followed,
he was suspected of collusion with the hostiles, but he did not
join them openly, and nothing could be proved against him. He was
already an old man, and became almost entirely blind before his
death in 1909 in his ninetieth year.

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.

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