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Red Cloud
Maȟpíya Lúta
Red Cloud in 1880
DiedDecember 10, 1909(1909-12-10) (aged 86–87)
Burial placeRed Cloud Cemetery, Pine Ridge
43°4′38″N 102°35′1″W / 43.07722°N 102.58361°W / 43.07722; -102.58361 (Grave of Red Cloud (Maȟpíya Lúta))
NationalityOglala Lakota
Known forRed Cloud's War
Most photographed American Indian of the nineteenth century
TitleTribal chief
SuccessorJack Red Cloud
Spouse(s)Pretty Owl (Mary Good Road)

Red Cloud (Lakota: Maȟpíya Lúta) (born 1822 – December 10, 1909) was one of the most important leaders of the Oglala Lakota from 1868 to 1909. He was one of the most capable Native American opponents whom the United States Army faced in its invasion of the western territories. He defeated the United States during Red Cloud's War, which was a fight over control of the Powder River Country in northeastern Wyoming and southern Montana. The largest action of the war was the Fetterman Fight, with 81 US soldiers killed; it was the worst military defeat suffered by the US Army on the Great Plains until the Battle of the Little Bighorn 10 years later.

After signing the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), Red Cloud led his people in the important transition to reservation life. Some of his opponents mistakenly thought of him as the overall leader of the Sioux groups (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota), but the large tribe had several major divisions and was highly decentralized. Bands among the Oglala and other divisions operated independently, though some individual leaders were renowned as warriors and highly respected as leaders, such as Red Cloud.

Early life

Red Cloud was born close to the forks of the Platte River, near the modern-day city of North Platte, Nebraska.[1] His mother, Walks as She Thinks, was an Oglala Lakota and his father, Lone Man, was a Brulé Lakota leader.[2] They came from two of the seven major Lakota divisions.

As was traditional among the matrilineal Lakota, in which the children belonged to the mother's clan and people, Red Cloud was mentored as a boy by his maternal uncle, Old Chief Smoke (1774–1864). Old Chief Smoke played a major role in the boy's childhood, as the leader of the Bad Faces.[2] He brought Red Cloud into the Smoke household when the boy's parents died around 1825. At a young age, Red Cloud fought against neighboring Pawnee and Crow bands, gaining much war experience.

Red Cloud's War

Main article: Red Cloud's War

Red Cloud's War was the name the U.S. Army gave to a series of conflicts fought with Native American Plains tribes in the Wyoming and Montana Territories. The battles were waged between the Northern Cheyenne, allied with Lakota and Arapaho bands, against the Army between 1866 and 1868. In December 1866, the Native American allies attacked and defeated a United States unit in what they would call the Fetterman Massacre (or the Battle of the Hundred Slain), which resulted in the most U.S. casualties of any Plains battle up to that point.[3]

Red Cloud
Red Cloud

Captain William J. Fetterman was sent from Fort Phil Kearny with two civilians and 79 cavalry and infantrymen to chase away a small Native American war party that had attacked a wood-gathering party days before. Captain Frederick Brown accompanied Fetterman; the two were confident in their troops and anxious to go to battle with the Native Americans. They disobeyed orders to stay behind the Lodge Trail Ridge and pursued a small decoy band of warriors, led by a Native American on an apparently injured horse. The decoy was the prominent warrior Crazy Horse. Fetterman and his troops followed the decoy into an ambush by more than 2,000 Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. Combined Native American forces suffered only 14 casualties, while they killed the entire 81-man U.S. detachment.

Following this battle, a U.S. peace commission toured the Plains in 1867 to gather information to help bring about peace among the tribes and with the U.S. Finding that the Native Americans had been provoked by white encroachment and competition for resources, the commission recommended assigning definite territories to the Plains tribes. The Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other bands settled for peace with the U.S. under the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The U.S. agreed to abandon its forts and withdraw completely from Lakota territory.

Treaty of 1868

The treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation, covering the territory of West River, west of the Missouri River in present-day Nebraska (which had been admitted as a state in 1867), and including parts of South Dakota. Uneasy relations between the expanding United States and the natives continued. In 1870, Red Cloud visited Washington D.C., and met with Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ely S. Parker (a Seneca and U.S. Army General), and President Ulysses S. Grant.

In 1871, the government established the Red Cloud Agency on the Platte River, downstream from Fort Laramie. As outlined in the 1868 Treaty, the agency staff was responsible for issuing weekly rations to the Oglala, and providing the annually distributed supply of cash and annuity goods. The agent and Washington officials would determine how much of the annuity was to be paid in cash or goods, and sometimes the supplies were late, in poor condition, inadequate in amount, or never arrived at all. Red Cloud took his band to the agency (a predecessor of the Native American reservation) and tried to help them in the transition to a different way of life. In the fall of 1873, the agency was removed to the upper White River in northwestern Nebraska. (source?)

According to Charles A. Eastman (Ohiyesa) 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 new treaty 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 Sioux. ... Scarcely was this treaty signed, however, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the popular cry was: "Remove the Indians!"... The government, at first, entered some small protest, just enough to "save its face"... but there was no serious attempt to prevent the wholesale violation of the treaty." [4]

Great Sioux War of 1876–1877

Seated, L to R: Yellow Bear, Red Cloud, Big Road, Little Wound, Black Crow; Standing, L to R: Red Bear, Young Man Afraid of his Horse, Good Voice, Ring Thunder, Iron Crow, White Tail, Young Spotted Tail, ca. 1860-1880
Seated, L to R: Yellow Bear, Red Cloud, Big Road, Little Wound, Black Crow; Standing, L to R: Red Bear, Young Man Afraid of his Horse, Good Voice, Ring Thunder, Iron Crow, White Tail, Young Spotted Tail, ca. 1860-1880

Red Cloud settled at the agency with his band by the fall of 1873. He soon became embroiled in a controversy with the new Indian agent, Dr. John J. Saville.

In 1874, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer led a reconnaissance mission into Sioux territory that reported gold in the Black Hills, an area held sacred by the local Native Americans. Previously, the army had unsuccessfully tried to keep miners out of the region, and the threat of violence grew. In May 1875, Lakota delegations headed by Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and Lone Horn traveled to Washington in an attempt to persuade President Grant to honor existing treaties and stem the flow of miners into their lands. The Native Americans met on various occasion with Grant, Secretary of the Interior Delano, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs Smith. He told them on May 27 that Congress was ready to resolve the matter by paying the tribes $25,000 for their land and resettling them into Indian Territory. The delegates refused to sign such a treaty, with Spotted Tail saying about the proposal:

When I was here before, the President gave me my country, and I put my stake down in a good place, and there I want to stay. ... You speak of another country, but it is not my country; it does not concern me, and I want nothing to do with it. I was not born there. ... If it is such a good country, you ought to send the white men now in our country there and let us alone.[5]

Although Red Cloud was unsuccessful in finding a peaceful solution, he did not take part in the Lakota war of 1876–1877, which was led by Tȟašúŋke Witkó (Crazy Horse) and Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (Sitting Bull).

In the fall of 1877, the Red Cloud Agency was removed to the upper Missouri River. The following year it was removed to the forks of the White River, in present-day South Dakota, where it was renamed the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

His last days

Othniel Marsh and Red Cloud pictured in New Haven, Connecticut, c. 1880
Othniel Marsh and Red Cloud pictured in New Haven, Connecticut, c. 1880

Red Cloud became an important leader of the Lakota as they transitioned from the freedom of the plains to the confinement of the reservation system. His trip to Washington, DC, had convinced him of the number and power of European Americans, and he believed the Oglala had to seek peace.

In around 1880, he visited (not for the first time) the palaeontologist and geologist Othniel Marsh in New Haven, Connecticut. Marsh had first visited the Red Cloud Agency in 1874, alleging, among other things, that "the Indians suffered for want of food and other supplies because they were cheated out of annuities and beef cattle and were issued inedible pork, inferior flour, poor sugar and coffee and rotten tobacco."[6]

In 1884, he and his family, along with five other leaders, converted and were baptized as Catholics by Father Joseph Bushman.[7]

Red Cloud continued fighting for his people, even after being forced onto the reservation. In 1887, he opposed the Dawes Act, which broke up communal tribal holdings, and allocated 160-acre (65 ha) plots of land for subsistence farming to heads of families on tribal rolls. The U.S. declared additional communal tribal lands as excess, and sold them to immigrant settlers. In 1889, Red Cloud opposed a treaty to sell more of the Lakota land. Due to his steadfastness, and that of Sitting Bull, government agents obtained the necessary signatures for approval only through subterfuge, such as using the signatures of children. Red Cloud negotiated strongly with Indian Agents such as Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy.

Outliving nearly all the other major Lakota leaders of the Indian Wars, Red Cloud died on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1909, at the age of 87, and was buried there in the cemetery now bearing his name. In old age, he is quoted as having said, "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."[8]

Legacy and honors

Announcements of Red Cloud's death and recognition of his achievements were printed in major newspapers across the country. As had been typical of the U.S. perception during Red Cloud's prominence in war, The New York Times' article on his death mistakenly described him as leader of all the Sioux bands and tribes, but noted his abilities as a leader and diplomat. While he was a prominent leader, the Lakota were highly decentralized and never had one overall leader, especially of the major divisions, such as Oglala and Brulé.[9][10][11]

Red Cloud was the most photographed American Indian of the nineteenth century.[12] There are 128 known photographs picturing Red Cloud.[12] He was first photographed in 1872 in Washington D.C. by Mathew Brady, just before meeting with President Grant. He was also among the Indians photographed by Edward S. Curtis.

In 2000, he was posthumously selected for induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. He has been honored by the United States Postal Service with a 10¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.

In 1871, the town of Red Cloud, Nebraska was named in his honor.

Theodore Sorensen wrote in Kennedy that President John F. Kennedy considered naming one of the 41 for Freedom ballistic missile submarines after Red Cloud, but apparently bowed to Pentagon concerns that the name could be misinterpreted as being pro-Communist even though Red Cloud was not a Communist, owing to the symbolism of the time (early 1960s, during the Cold War era) using the color red to represent Communism.[citation needed]

Moss Icon, an Annapolis-based post-hardcore band, released their Mahpiua Luta 7" EP in 1989. The lyrics to their 1992 song "Sioux Day" contain repeated references to Red Cloud.

Descendants of Red Cloud

Red Cloud's descendants have continued to be chosen as traditional leaders of the Lakota people:

See also


  1. ^ "Red Cloud". New Perspectives of the West. PBS / WETA. Retrieved October 22, 2012 – via
  2. ^ a b Drury, Bob (1993). The Heart of Everything That Is. Simon & Shuster. pp. 60, 74. ISBN 978-1-4516-5466-0.
  3. ^ Viola, Herman J. (2004). Trail to Wounded Knee: The Last Stand of the Plains Indians 1860–1890. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. ISBN 9780792282235.
  4. ^ Eastman, Charles A. (July 5, 2008). "Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains" – via Project Gutenberg.
  5. ^ Griske, Michael (2005). The Diaries of John Hunton. Heritage Books. pp. 64–69. ISBN 978-0-7884-3804-2.
  6. ^ Waltmann, Henry George (1962). "The Interior Department, War Department and Indian Policy, 1865-1887". D.Phil. dissertation. Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, p. 269 [pdf 281]. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  7. ^ Enochs, Ross (1996). The Jesuit Mission to the Lakota Sioux: Pastoral Theology and Ministry, 1886–1945. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 26. ISBN 9781556128134.
  8. ^ "Native American Words". Tsa-la-gi-ti-a-ye-li. Tammy Knott. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  9. ^ "Red Cloud, Sioux Chief, Dead; Old Indian Warrior Caused The Massacre Of Fort Phil Kearney". The New York Times. December 11, 1909. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  10. ^ "Red Cloud Gone to Final Rest". Boston Globe. December 11, 1909. Retrieved May 29, 2008. Famous Sioux Chief Lived to be 89. Rated as the Wiliest Enemy of Whites in Modern Times. Cornered in 1869, Friendly, as a Rule, Ever Since. Red Cloud, the famous old Sioux Indian chief, is dead, according to Supt Brennan of the Pine Ridge Indian agency, who is in Washington, attending the meeting of those interested in the education of the ...
  11. ^ "Red Cloud Dead". Hartford Courant. December 11, 1909. Retrieved May 29, 2008. Famous Sioux Indian Chief Was 86 Years Old. Red Cloud the famous old Sioux Indian chief is dead. This information was received today by Superintendent Brennan of the Pine Ridge Indian agency, who is in Washington attending the meeting of those interested in the education of the Indian.
  12. ^ a b Broache, Anne (June 2005). "Chief Lobbyist". Smithsonian. pp. 21–22.
  13. ^ death date and English first name detailed on the tombstone at Holy Cross Cemetery, Pine Ridge, SD
  14. ^ death date detailed on the tombstone at Holy Cross Cemetery, Pine Ridge, SD
  15. ^ birth and death date detailed on the tombstone at Holy Cross Cemetery, Pine Ridge, SD
  16. ^ tombstone at Holy Cross Cemetery, Pine Ridge, SD
  17. ^ "Oliver Red Cloud Obituary". Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Associated Press. 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2018.

Further reading