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  • Writer's pictureRachel Red-Horse

Native Legends: Red Cloud

Red Cloud was born in 1822 near present-day, north-central Nebraska near the forks of the Platte River. Red Cloud gained a reputation in raids against the Pawnee and Crow.

He became War chief and leader of the Oglala Sioux after showing leadership and bravery against the Pawnees, Crows, Utes, and Shoshones. He also divided the Oglala by killing the rival of his uncle, another tribal leader.

In 1865 when gold was discovered in Montana the Army began building forts across Lakota hunting grounds, establishing the Bozeman Trail. The Bozeman Trail was connected to the Oregon Trail and brought miners, immigrants, settlers, and wagon trains directly through buffalo feeding areas. Red Cloud, along with Man Afraid of his Horses, refused to sign a nonaggression treaty permitting passage across their lands from Fort Laramie to Montana. Which led to the army taking action.

When troops built forts along the Bozeman Trail they broke the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The treaty that protected tribal lands for the Sioux. Red Cloud and his followers cut off food supplies and laid siege to Fort Phil Kearney for two years in resistance. Captain William Fetterman led a relief party in 1866 of eighty-one men and he never returned. This was the start of Red Cloud’s War.

At the end of the war, Red Cloud signed the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie. In the treaty, the U.S. promised it would abandon the Bozeman Trail. They also gave the Lakota possession of what is now the western half of South Dakota, along with large parts of Wyoming and Montana. Red Cloud agreed to stop fighting, and moved onto a reservation in Nebraska known as the Red Cloud Agency.

Red Cloud was now a diplomat on behalf of his people. In 1870, Red Cloud visited Washington with other Native American leaders, and met President Grant. He met with Grant again in 1875, when Grant offered $25,000 to the Sioux if they would give up their rights to hunt along the Platte River in Dakota Territory. Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and Little Wound refused this offer on behalf of their people.

Despite Red Cloud's peaceful negotiations, other Indians, including Red Cloud's son, still wanted to fight for their territory and way of life. President Grant tried to avoid war, but after Sitting Bull's defeat of Custer's Seventh Cavalry in June 1876, whites began an aggressive campaign against Native Americans in the West. Red Cloud resisted the call to war.

After moving to Pine Ridge Agency in 1878, Red Cloud pushed for better treatment for his people. Eventually, the agent was dismissed. Red Cloud went to Washington a few more times on behalf of his people, and activists like Mary Bonney worked to help Native Americans gain more rights. Red Cloud continued to work towards preserving Native lands and maintaining sovereignty. Several years before his death, Red Cloud converted to Christianity and changed his first name to John. He died at the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1909.

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