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Red Cloud

(ca. 1822-1909)
Red Cloud

Red Cloud was an Oglala Sioux chief best known for his undaunted courage while leading his people in several important victories over the forces of the United States.

He was born in Nebraska in September 1822 near the Platte River. He had a twin brother, Roaring Cloud, also known as “Sky.” Sadly, almost nothing is known about this man.

Red Cloud's intelligence, strength and bravery was widely known throughout the tribe. He was credited with 80 coups, or individual feats of bravery. Eventually, he was chosen as tribal chief over the hereditary claimant to the title, Young Man Afraid of His Horses.

The Oglala were the largest division of the Sioux Nation, and Red Cloud became perhaps the most important field commander among the Sioux and Cheyenne. He was strongly opposed to the westward expansion of the whites and believed it was his mission to defend the Indians’ last and best hunting grounds.

In an attempt to come to an agreement with the United States government, Red Cloud attended a peace conference at Fort Laramie in 1866. It became apparent the United States intended to bring in more troops and expand their system of fortifications, so Red Cloud took defensive action.

In December of that year, in the midst of Red Cloud’s campaign, Captain William Fetterman foolishly pursued a band of Indians with a detachment of 80 soldiers. They were ambushed. He and his troops were annihilated.

During this time, Red Cloud and his warriors succeeded in virtually closing down the Bozeman Trail and other overland routes from Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in the east to the Montana goldfields in the northwest.

Throughout 1867, not a single wagon moved along the trail to the goldfields. Finally, in 1868, the United States requested another peace council. In return for Red Cloud’s pledge to live in peace, the government promised to abandon all forts along the trail and accept the territorial claims of the Sioux. Red Cloud waited until the troops were withdrawn. When the forts were left standing unoccupied, he signed the treaty at Fort Laramie on November 6, 1868. This event is cited as one of the few times when Indian military power forced the United States to completely carry out the provisions of a peace treaty.

Although Red Cloud was critical of white expansion, he counseled peace during the troubles of 1876 when Crazy Horse, Gall, and Sitting Bull gathered their armies for battle.

Five years later, Red Cloud was again on the offensive - this time demanding the removal of Indian Agent V. T. McGillicuddy. Times had changed, however, and this time the white man won. Red Cloud was removed as chief, and not long afterward the tribe was removed to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Here, blind and ailing, he lived with his wife until his death on December 10, 1909.

Dockstader, Frederick J. Great North American Indians: Profiles in Life and Leadership. New York, NY: Litton Educational Publishing, Inc., 1977.

Photograph by Charles M. Bell, Washington, D.C., 1880


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