Red Cloud

Red Cloud

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Red Cloud is the English name of Makhpiyaluta (Scarlet Cloud), which also may be spelled Mahpiua-Luta. Red Cloud was the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) chief who, more than any other Lakota chief, is associated with the Plains Indians' transition from free warrior nomads to subjugated peoples. government and the Army’s cavalry, which marked him as one of the most important Lakota leaders of the 19th century.

Birth and childhood

Red Cloud was born in 1822, on the placid banks of the wide, slow-flowing Platte River near what is now North Platte, Nebraska. Red Cloud’s mother was a member of the Oglala Sioux, and his father, who died in Red Cloud's youth, was a member of the Brulé Sioux. Red Cloud was reared in the household of his maternal uncle, Chief Smoke.

Although the story of his youth is unknown, Red Cloud probably grew up in the traditional loving environment that surrounded Sioux children. During his formative years, the tribe spent much time fighting territorial wars with the neighboring Pawnee, Crow, Ute, and Shoshone tribes. As Red Cloud was growing up, he was shown numerous games that taught him how to be a skilled fighter. Red Cloud also possessed an important ability to tell tales in a lively and convincing manner.

Early career

Much of Red Cloud's early life was spent at war, first and most often against the neighboring Pawnee and Crow, and at other times, against other Oglala. Red Cloud proved his medicine was powerful at age 16 when he survived a near-fatal arrow wound in his ribs. He counted coup* more than 80 times, and coaxed 4,000 warriors from various tribes to ally with him against the white men. In 1841, Red Cloud killed one of his uncle's primary rivals; the slaying caused dissension among the Oglala that persisted for years to come. He gained enormous prominence within the Lakota nation for his leadership in territorial wars against the Pawnees, Crows, Utes, and Shoshones.

Young Red Cloud developed a reputation for both bravery and cruelty. His stature among the Oglala Sioux rose early, his having acquired a reputation as a fierce warrior and a man of pronounced ruthlessness to enemies of his people, particularly in campaigns against the Pawnees.

The Bozeman Trail, forts, and gold

When white men discovered gold in Montana in the early 1860s, they began to build a road, soon called the Bozeman Trail, that ran through the heart of Lakota territory from Fort Laramie in present-day Wyoming, to the gold fields. They also constructed a series of forts to protect the road.

The first small detachment of troops sent out to begin construction work were intercepted by Red Cloud with a large party of Oglala Lakota and Cheyenne. They prevented the soldiers from moving for many days, but they eventually were allowed to leave. In the fall of 1865, commissioners went to parley with the Oglala for permission to build the road, but Red Cloud forbade the negotiations and refused to attend the council.

Marriage and later career

Red Cloud took only one wife during his lifetime; her name was Pretty Owl. Their marriage lasted more than half a century.

By the middle 1860s, Red Cloud was a leading Oglala warrior and was recognized by the whites as a chief. Beginning in 1865, Red Cloud led the Oglala and the Cheyenne in a war against the white interlopers on the Bozeman Trail. He launched a series of assaults on the forts. Red Cloud had seen the army drive the eastern Lakota from their land in Minnesota during bloody battles in 1862 and 1863. Unwilling to allow his people to suffer being pushed off their land, he led a series of attacks on the forts along the trail — the single most successful offense ever carried out by an Indian nation.

Red Cloud's principal military achievement lay in forcing the United States to abandon the Bozeman Trail between the North Platte River and the goldfields of Montana. In June 1865, following a failed U.S. Army campaign to bring about a lasting peace through force, the U.S. Government's Indian policy changed from military pacification to one of negotiation.In June 1866, a peace conference was held with such leaders as William T. Sherman, great chiefs chief Dull Knife, chief Spotted Tail, and Red Cloud in attendance, to negotiate what was to be the first Fort Laramie Treaty, but it was never signed. Red Cloud repeated his refusal to endanger his people's hunting grounds. The chief angrily left the council, and the Indians halted virtually all civilian travel on the trail. The little forts — Reno, Phil Kearny, and C.F. Smith — that the army had established to protect travelers could hardly protect their own garrisons.

In 1866, Red Cloud watched the army build forts along the Bozeman Trail into Montana gold country. Miners and squatters came, first in a trickle, then in a great deluge of wagon trains that cut deep ruts into the land. Red Cloud headed the opposition for his tribe, which resisted in the belief that the influx of travel along the trail would destroy the best remaining buffalo hunting grounds.

On December 21, 1866, Red Cloud staged an ambush. He tricked a calvary officer by the name of Fetterman, who was dispatched from Fort Phil Kearny to protect a party sent out to gather wood. He selected 10 warriors, including the 19-year-old Chief Crazy Horse, to be decoys. The group of 10 warriors attacked the woodcutters to lure the soldiers in. Fetterman led some 80 men against the 10 warriors; 2,000 warriors then attacked his flank. The regiment was defeated. Not one trooper survived. The Fetterman battle dramatized the failure of the army's Indian policy and gave new impetus to calls for negotiating peace with the Sioux — particularly with Red Cloud. Red Cloud, however, refused to negotiate until the army abandoned the forts along the Bozeman Trail.

Red Cloud's strategy was so successful that by 1868, the U.S. Government agreed to draft the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The document's remarkable provisions mandated that the army abandon its forts along the Bozeman Trail and guarantee the Lakota possession of what is now the western half of South Dakota, including the Black Hills, along with much of Montana and Wyoming.

The army abandoned the forts in August 1868, but Red Cloud did not arrive at Fort Laramie to discuss peace until some time later. In finally signing the treaty on November 6, Red Cloud accepted conquered status for all of his people, in exchange for gifts, the promise of annuities, and other benefits. He agreed to abandon the warpath and relocate his people on a large reservation north of the state of Nebraska and west of the Missouri River. The treaty of 1868 was a long and complicated document that the Indians found difficult to understand. The peace, of course, did not last.

A fragile peace

Red Cloud kept the peace he had agreed to at Fort Laramie in 1868. He recognized the folly of going to war, but he tried to win as many concessions as possible. Red Cloud lived in peace with the whites, although he was later charged with duplicity by encouraging hostile Native Americans. Various reform groups admired him and considered him to be a celebrity, but he was a thorn in the flesh of those who were trying to carry out the government's "peace policy."George A. Custer's 1874 Black Hills expedition again brought war to the northern Plains, a war that would mean the eventual subjugation of independent Indian nations. Red Cloud did not join Chief Crazy Horse, Chief Sitting Bull and other war leaders in the following Lakota War of 1876-77. He opposed the movement of gold seekers and settlers to the Black Hills, for example, but he did not participate in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He lent encouragement to the "hostiles," however, and his son Jack was in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Red Cloud also retained some influence with Crazy Horse. It was Red Cloud that the government used in 1877 to persuade the noted war chief to surrender, come in to Fort Robinson, and accept defeated status. As a reward, General Crook allowed Red Cloud to resume his leadership of the Oglalas. It was a sad success for Red Cloud; not only was Crazy Horse slain while in Army custody, but Red Cloud would helplessly witness the slow erosion of his people's way of life over the next 30 years.

Finally, in 1878 Red Cloud agreed to relocate his people to the Pine Ridge Reservation in western South Dakota.In the 1880s, Red Cloud waged a political battle with Pine Ridge Indian agent, Valentine McGillycuddy, over the proper distribution of government food and supplies, some of which was not finding their way into the teepees and bellies of the Indian people. At last, he forced McGillycuddy’s dismissal.

Latter daysRed Cloud was removed as war chief in 1881, and he lived thereafter in retirement on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

In 1890, the old chief discouraged participation in the warpath Ghost Dance, attempting to avert the troubles that had led to the Wounded Knee massacre. As the years wore on, Red Cloud experienced increasing difficulty with members of the tribe who wanted to resume the warpath. They felt that he no longer was an effective leader.At the same time, there were those who felt that he was an obstructionist who impeded his people's progress along the white man's road. He fought without success against the Dawes Act of 1887, which carved reservations into individual tracts.Until his death in 1909 at the great age of 87, Red Cloud continued to lobby from the Pine Ridge Reservation for tribal control of their lands and keeping power in the hands of the chiefs. He was a central figure in the conflict between the army and the Interior Department over who should have authority over the Plains Indians.

*A feat of bravery performed in battle, especially touching an enemy's body without causing injury.
See also the Kiowa chief- Santana and the Oglala chief - American Horse, the Elder.

Biography of Red Cloud

Red Cloud (Makhpiya-luta, `scarlet Cloud,’ frequently known among his people as Makhpia-sha, ‘Red Cloud’). A principal chief of the Oglala Teton Sioux of Pine Ridge reservation, the largest band of the Sioux nation, and probably the most famous and powerful chief in the history of the tribe. The origin of the name is disputed, but is said by ex-agent McGillycuddy 1 to refer to the way in which his scarlet-blanketed warriors formerly covered the hillsides like a red cloud. If this be true, the name was be­stowed after he had obtained recognition as a leader.

Red Cloud was born at the forks of Platte River, Nebraska, in 1822, and died at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Dec. 10, 1909. He was a member of the Snake family, the most distinguished and forceful of his tribe, and rose to prominence by his own force of character, having no claim to hereditary chiefship, which in the Oglala band rested with the family represented by They-fear-even-his-horse (“Young­man-afraid-of-his-horses”), the latter being more conservative and more friendly toward civilization.

Red Cloud’s father died of drunkenness brought about by the introduction of liquor into the tribe without stint, commencing about 1821. When in 1865 the Government undertook to build a road from Ft. Laramie, Wyoming, on the North Platte, by way of Powder River to the gold regions of Montana, Red Cloud headed the opposition for his tribe, on the ground that the influx of travel along the trial would destroy the best remaining buffalo ground of the Indians. The first small detachment of troops sent out to begin construction work were intercepted by Red Cloud with a large party of Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne, and held practically as prisoners for more than two weeks, but finally were allowed to proceed when it seemed to the chief that they might be massacred by his young men. In the fall of the same year commissioners were sent to treat with the Oglala for permission to build the road, but Red Cloud forbade the negotiations and refused to attend the council.

On June 30, 1866, another council for the same purpose was called at Ft Laramie, Red Cloud this time attending and repeating his refusal to endanger the hunting grounds of his people. While he was speaking, a strong force of troops under Gen. Carrington arrived, and on being told, in reply to a question, that they had come to build forts and open the road to Montana, he seized his rifle and with a final defiant message left the council with his entire following. Car­rington then set out on his mission, which included the rebuilding and garrisoning of Fort Reno, on powder River, and the establishment of Fort Phil Kearny and Fort C. F. Smith, the last named being on Bighorn River, in Montana.

Another protest to Carrington himself proving ineffectual, Red Cloud surrounded the troops and working force at Fort Kearny with perhaps 2,000 warriors and harassed them so constantly that not even a load of hay could be brought in from the prairie except under the protection of a strong guard, while it was made impossible to venture out after the game that was abundant all around. On Dec. 21, 1866, an entire detachment of 81 men under Capt. Fetterman was cut off and every man killed. On Aug. 1, 1867, another severe engagement occurred near the post. In all this time not a single wagon had been able to pass over the road, and in 1868 another commission was appointed to come to terms with Red Cloud, who demanded as an ultimatum the abandonment of the three posts and of all further attempts to open the Montana road.

A treaty was finally made on this basis, defining the limits of the Sioux country as claimed by the Sioux, Red Cloud refusing to sign or even to be present until the garrisons had actually been with­drawn, thus winning a complete victory for the position which he had taken from the beginning. He finally affixed his signature at Ft Laramie, Nov. 6, 1868. From that date he seems to have kept his promise to live at peace with the whites, although constantly resisting the innovations of civilization.

He took no active part in the Sioux war of 1876, although he is accused of having secretly aided and encouraged the hostiles. Being convinced of the hopelessness of attempting to hold the Black Hills after the discovery of gold in that region, he joined in the agreement of cession in 1876. In the outbreak of 1890-91 also he remained quiet, being then an old man and partially blind, and was even said to have been threatened by the hostiles on account of his loyal attitude toward the Government.

As a warrior Red Cloud stood first among his people, having counted 80 coups (q. v.) or separate deeds of bravery in battle. As a general and statesman he ranked equally high, having been long prominent in treaties and councils, and several times a delegate to Washington, his attitude having been always that of a patriot from the Indian standpoint. Unlike Indians generally, he had but one wife, with whom he lived from early manhood. Personally he is described by one well acquainted with him as a most courtly chief and a natural born gentleman with a bow as graceful as that of a Chesterfield. For some years before his death he was blind and decrepit, and lived in a house built for him by the Government. His immediate band is known as Iteshicha (q. v.)

Nebraska. Our Towns

Named for a famous Indian chief and home to both a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and a baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, the town of "Red Cloud" got its official start in 1871. Located in the beautiful Republican River valley of southcentral Nebraska, it is also in southcentral Webster County. In an April election, with 45 votes cast, Webster County was established as a separate county from Jefferson, with Red Cloud as its county seat.

In its first year a school was started, the town's first baby was born, and along with other businesses, two lawyers set up office in the community. At the town's second Fourth of July celebration the following year, there was an unplanned buffalo stampede through the middle of the festivities.

Silas Garber, one of the town's founders, moved to Lincoln in 1874 to begin serving the first of his two terms as governor of Nebraska.

The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad arrived in 1881 and by 1882, it connected Red Cloud to both Kansas City and Denver. By 1885 six passenger trains a day stopped at the depot in the south part of town. Because the main business district was located a mile north of the depot and its surrounding businesses, a horse-drawn street-car line was established in 1887. For a nickel fare, it transported people from the depot to the downtown business district. It operated until 1917 when the tracks were torn up to make way for new brick-paved streets.

Red Cloud was a progressive community from the start, becoming an incorporated village in 1878. In 1887 electricity was available to the town's residents and a city water system was installed. In 1898 Bell Telephone set up a local phone system with 40 subscribers. The town's industries over the years included brick factories, creameries, a lumbermill, brick tile works, a wire and slat fence factory, a cheese plant, a brewery, a broom factory, and a cigar factory.

By 1890 the town was home to about 2,500 citizens. It was also something of a Populist center, electing Populist Congressman William McKieghan, and establishing a Populist newspaper, "The Nation."

Red Cloud survived the loss of the mainline of the B&MR Railroad in the late 1890s, as well as the drought and economic down-turn during that decade. It was the first city in Nebraska to elect a woman mayor. Mary Peterson served in that capacity from 1921-27. The people took the Depression of the 1930s, as well as the big Republican River flood, in stride.

Red Cloud also produced several very famous people:

- native son, Clarence Arthur "Dazzy" Vance, Red Cloud baseball team pitcher, was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. He led the National League in strikeouts for seven straight years in the 1930s.

- Nebraska's Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Willa Cather, spent six years of her life growing up in Red Cloud and always thought of the town as her home. Her memories of the town and its citizens are immortalized in her novels and short stories of the plains. The town of Red Cloud served as a model for her fictional towns of Black Hawk, Hanover, Moonstone, Frankfort, Haverford and Sweet Water. Today many of the places described in Cather's books are a part of the Willa Cather Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the largest dedicated to an author in the United States.

Red Cloud boasts four historical organizations which preserve and interpret the history of the town and the surrounding countryside: the Nebraska State Historical Society's Willa Cather Historical Center, the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation, the Webster County Historical Museum, and The Land and Its People Foundation. The town serves not only as a popular tourist center, but also as a trade center for the surrounding farming population.

In 1988 Red Cloud is a city of 1,300 people. The community hospital, a new grass-greens golf course, and many businesses and organizations make Red Cloud both a good place to visit and a good place to live.

By Ann E. Billesbach, Willa Cather Historical Center, Box 326, Red Cloud, NE 68970

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: See all Willa Cather's works, and contact the historical organizations located in Red Cloud.

The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School

Book Now
Red Cloud Indian School welcomes visitors year round to learn the history of the Lakota people and the vibrancy of Lakota arts and culture today. Tour our historic campus, where Chief Red Cloud himself is laid to rest. Experience Lakota and other Native art exhibits in The Heritage Center fine arts gallery and support local Lakota artists by purchasing authentic Native-made goods in our gift shop.

Chief Red Cloud (1822-1909) was a great leader who fiercely defended the lands and rights of the Oglala Lakota. As the U.S. government encroached further and further on tribal sovereignty throughout the nineteenth century, Chief Red Cloud, or Maȟpíya Lúta as he is known to the Lakota, recognized that education was essential to the future survival of his people. In 1888, he joined with the Jesuits, or “black robes,” to create a school for Lakota children at the southern end of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Over 130 years later, the organization that bears his name—Red Cloud Indian School—continues to honor his spirit and his deep commitment to his people. By teaching Lakota history and spirituality, by actively revitalizing the endangered Lakota language, and by creating opportunity for Lakota artists, we are working to deepen understanding of Lakota heritage, culture, and values.

We welcome all visitors to join us at Red Cloud—to learn more about the history of the Lakota people and to experience the vibrancy of Lakota arts and culture today.

A Red Cloud graduate will guide you on a tour of our beautiful campus and the historic cemetery where Chief Red Cloud himself is laid to rest. As part of your tour, you will experience Lakota and other Native art exhibits in The Heritage Center gallery. You’ll also have the opportunity to purchase authentic Native-made goods in The Heritage Center’s gift shop—and help to provide a sustainable source of income for local Lakota artists on the Pine Ridge Reservation. We look
forward to welcoming you!

Virtual Tours

Due to our campus being closed to visitors we are unable to offer in-person tours.

We are happy to share these virtual tours until we can see you in person.

Holy Rosary Church Tour

You will walk you through the special details of our new church and showcase its award-winning architecture and design.

Historic Cemetery Tour

We will walk you through our historic cemetery on our Red Cloud campus. This cemetery is the final resting place of community members, Indian Scouts, Jesuits, Franciscan Nuns, and Chief Red Cloud.

The Tour

Red Cloud Indian School is situated in the beautiful rolling hills of the Pine Ridge Reservation, southwest of the majestic Badlands and just north of the Nebraska border. Your guided tour includes a walk around campus, including visiting Chief Red Cloud’s memorial gravesite and a look inside our award-winning Holy Rosary Church, which honors both the Catholic and Lakota values that have shaped Red Cloud’s history. After a formally guided tour, guests can view Lakota and other Native American fine arts in The Heritage Center’s gallery and purchase handmade jewelry and other Lakota arts in our onsite gift shop. During the summer, visitors can experience the Red Cloud Indian Art Show—the largest and longest-running Native art exhibition of its kind and one of only a few held in an indigenous community.

Throughout the tour you will learn about:

  • Chief Red Cloud’s vision for a school on the Pine Ridge Reservation—and its extraordinary success in empowering Lakota students today
  • The history of the Lakota people, and the trauma and injustices that unfolded during the reservation era, and the cultural revitalization that is happening on the reservation today.
  • The importance and prevalence of the arts in Lakota communities—and how Lakota artists are keeping traditional practices alive today.

Your Guides

As well as being staff members, our tour guides are all graduates of Red Cloud Indian School.

Signing the Treaty and Old Age

Although Red Cloud and his tribes were generally successful in their efforts to protect their land from foreign expansion and takeover by burning all the forts alongside the Bozeman trail, in 1868, they finally signed a peace treaty. The Fort Laramie Treaty recognized the Black Hills, which are sacred to the Sioux tribes, as their land for all time and that they could settle there without being encroached upon by anyone.

Things didn’t go as planned and as soon as there was gold found in the Black Hills, the miners from all over started to pour into the native territory. Although the Treaty was supposed to stop it from happening, the miners requested protection from the government and the army which ultimately led to new battles against Native people. Red Cloud dedicated decades of his life to being a mediator and attempting to bring peace to the two opposing sides, with varying degrees of success. He settled in the Pine Ridge reservation during the 1870s where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

Red Cloud ultimately resigned as a tribe chief in 1903 when his son Jack took over his place. He died several years later, in 1909 at the age of 88, and found his final resting place in Pine Ridge reservation.

Red Cloud's War

The 1860s brought new attention from both whites and Indians to the northeast corner of what soon would become Wyoming Territory. First, a gold frenzy in Montana Territory drew miners north from the emigrant road that followed the North Platte River. Mountain man Jim Bridger warned against establishing a trail through the Arapaho and Lakota hunting grounds, urging that another path west of the Bighorns be used instead. But the Powder River Basin route was the most direct and, in 1863, John Bozeman, following ancient routes long used by Indians, blazed the Bozeman Trail through the middle of the basin.

Meanwhile in 1864, Col. John M. Chivington led a detachment of Colorado volunteer troops that massacred about 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children at a peaceful camp on Sand Creek near the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado Territory. The furious survivors fled north to the Powder River country and Black Hills, attacking white settlements and army posts along the way. Early in 1865, bands of the Cheyenne, Oglala Lakota and Arapaho tribes set up huge camps on the Tongue and Powder rivers in northern Wyoming. That summer, thousands of warriors moved south and on July 26, 1865 attacked Platte Bridge Station, an army post where the emigrant road crossed the North Platte, and killed 26 men. Among them were Lt. Caspar W. Collins, for whom the city of Casper, Wyo., is named.

In hopes of protecting the Bozeman Trail, the U.S. military launched the 1865 Powder River Expedition, under District of the Plains Commander Brig. Gen. Patrick Connor, to subdue the aggressive Indian forces in the Powder River country. Three disorganized columns of troops marched north: one, accompanied by Connor, followed the Bozeman Trail, built Fort Connor on the Powder River east of present-day Kaycee, Wyo., and ambushed an Arapaho village on the Tongue River near present-day Ranchester, Wyo.

Connor’s party also had to rescue the Sawyers Expedition, attacked by those same Arapahos while trying to survey the trail to the Montana Territory gold fields. A second column, led by Col. Samuel Walker, made its way east of the Powder River toward Montana, and the third, led by Col. Nelson Cole, crossed Nebraska Territory and met up with Walker north of the Black Hills. Walker’s and Cole’s men suffered from terrible weather, dying animals, confusion in the badlands and demoralization, and limped into Fort Connor as “the sorriest army ever seen in Wyoming,” according to historian T. A. Larson.

In 1866, the U. S. Interior Department called upon thousands of Brulé and Oglala Lakota to meet at Fort Laramie for a treaty that would allow settlers and speculators safe passage on the Bozeman Trail. At the same time, the U. S. War Department sent Col. Henry B. Carrington into the Powder River Basin at the head of 700 troops. This move angered the Oglala leader Red Cloud, who refused to sign the treaty and instead, Oglala Lakota warriors with their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies in the Powder River country, launched what became known as Red Cloud’s War.

Carrington moved Fort Connor a few miles downriver and renamed it Fort Reno, and then went on to build Fort Phil Kearny on Little Piney Creek near present-day Story, Wyo. Later that summer, he also built Fort C. F. Smith in southern Montana Territory.

In December, a band of Oglala and Minniconjou Lakota warriors led by Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and High-Back-Bone lured Captain W. J. Fetterman over a rise near Fort Phil Kearny and into a trap. Within half an hour, Fetterman and all 80 of his men were dead. Their bodies were stripped, scalped and mutilated by the Indians.

The survivors at the fort feared another attack and a civilian scout, “Portugee” John Phillips, agreed to ride for help. Accompanied at times by various other riders, he traveled at night and reached Fort Laramie, 236 miles away, just four days later, on Christmas. It took a relief force until mid January to make its way to Fort Phil Kearny. Col. Carrington was blamed for the massacre and relieved of his command, although court hearings determined Capt. Fetterman had disobeyed Carrington’s orders and was at fault.

The Army the following spring began planning a large expedition into the Powder River country to whip the Lakota into submission. But Grenville Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, then building westward out of Nebraska toward Cheyenne, feared an expedition north would leave the railroad vulnerable to Indian attack. The U.P. reached what’s now southwest Wyoming by the end of 1868. While four military forts protected the railroad during construction, their purpose was as much to instill order into the railroad workers as to protect them from Indian attacks, infrequent along that route after 1866.

In the summer of 1867, meanwhile, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and High-Back-Bone led another attack near Fort Phil Kearny. This time, they ambushed a woodcutting party and its military escort about five miles from the fort. This fight turned out much differently than the Fetterman Massacre. Thirty-two men lifted the boxes from 14 wagons and arranged them into a makeshift corral. From this fortification, they fired new Springfield-Allen breech-loading rifles, much faster to reload than any guns the Indians had previously encountered. By the end of the day, only four members of the woodcutting party had been killed. Indians counted their own dead at six white estimates of Indian deaths in the fight ranged from 60 to 1,500.

After these battles and several smaller attacks, there was another treaty meeting at Fort Laramie. The 1868 treaty granted the land north of the Platte River from the Bighorns to South Dakota Territory to the Indians. Troops pulled out of Fort Phil Kearny and while they marched away, smoke billowed up behind them as Cheyenne warriors burned it to the ground, marking the end of Red Cloud’s War.

Authors Tell Untold Story Of Sioux Warrior Red Cloud

A new biography chronicles the extraordinary life of the Sioux warrior Red Cloud. In the 1860's, when settlers were encroaching on Sioux territory, he led — and won — a two-year war against the U.S. Renee Montagne talks with authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin about the book, The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend.

Not long after the Civil War, America waged another war, one that's almost been lost to history. It was 1866. Settlers were pouring westward in wagon trains to farm or mine for gold, pushing onto the land of the American Indians. That's when the great Sioux warrior Red Cloud decided: no more. His territory had already shrunk. At one point, it had spanned what is now Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and the sacred Black Hills, known to the Sioux as Paha Sapa, the heart of everything that is. In a stunning turn, the Sioux leader would battle and ultimately defeat the U.S. Army - two years of fighting - until the government appealed for peace on Red Cloud's terms.

The story of this remarkable man is told in a new biography. When authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin joined us, Bob Drury began the tale at the dawn of what would become known as Red Cloud's War.

BOB DRURY: General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was in charge of the army of the West, he issued an order. He said kill Red Cloud. Kill every Indian male over the age of 12. And, of course, Red Cloud knew about this, and he just said, OK, enough. He not only was able to unite the fractious and bickering Sioux bands and clans and tribes, but it was extraordinary that he got the Arapaho to become part of his union. He got the Cheyenne. He got some Shoshoni. Red Cloud had enough foresight to know if I'm going to fight the United States, I need every American Indian on my team, so to speak.

MONTAGNE: And the backdrop for this was something that Red Cloud had proclaimed. And go ahead, if you would, and read that quote.

DRURY: (Reading) The Great Spirit raised both the white man and the Indian. I think he raised the Indian first. He raised me in this land, and it belongs to me. The white man was raised over the great waters, and his land is over there. Since they crossed the sea, I have given them room. There are now white people all about me. I have but a small spot of land left. The Great Spirit told me to keep it.

MONTAGNE: One of the most important and dramatic battles in Red Cloud's War came just before Christmas, in 1866. The Bluecoats, as the U.S. soldiers were known, they were veterans, many of them, of some of the fiercest battles of the Civil War. But it turned they were out of their element with the Sioux.

DRURY: It was a guerrilla war. And the irony, I suppose, is we had become a nation by fighting a guerrilla war against the British, and we forgot what a guerrilla war was. And the American Indians, they knew the land. So they could fight from Butte to Coulee, from ravine to stream. The American generals were just stunned. They didn't know how to deal with this. And, for the first time, Red Cloud was able to coordinate attacks at the same time hundreds of miles apart. So, here's Red Cloud. He's drawn out the largest force, to this point, that has ever gone against an American army: 81 men and officers. And he's got 2,000, a multi-tribal army, coming behind them and he wipes them out, to a man - 81 men. It doesn't sound like a lot to us now, but back then, in 1866, it just rocked the Department of War, and it rocked the White House.

MONTAGNE: One thing you do not shy away from in this book is describing how vicious these battles could be. There were atrocities on both sides.

DRURY: Oh, Renee. That was one of the things that I think surprised us the most. Now, the Indians practiced this among themselves, in their own wars. The cliche, the happy hunting grounds, well, the Plains tribes actually believed that there was a happy hunting grounds, and that when you died, you went to this afterlife, so to speak, and it was full of clear-running streams and game and buffalo as far as the eye can see. And they believed that you went to this heaven in the same shape that you left this Earth. So, if you went there without eyeballs to see how beautiful it was, that was your disadvantage. If you went there without arms, so you could not pull back a bowstring, well, that was to your disadvantage. And when the white soldiers got out there, they could not believe how gory the Indians were.

TOM CLAVIN: Just as a footnote to what Drury just said, it didn't take the white soldiers and even some of the white settlers very long to adapt some of these techniques themselves. By the time of Red Cloud's War, there were quite a few of the white pioneers, mountain men, soldiers, they had become pretty expert in the ways to inflict torture and to mutilate bodies.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about Red Cloud himself. For one thing, he was not, as you might think, born into the role of a great warrior.

CLAVIN: A huge drawback that Red Cloud had was that his father died of alcoholism when Red Cloud was only five years old. And so that was a huge disadvantage, because with being a patriarchal society where you were able to advance thanks to your father's position and anything your father did that was of a heroic nature, Red Cloud had to go it on his own. He had to show that he was braver than everybody else, that he was stronger than everybody else.

DRURY: These myths sprang up around Red Cloud, where he could be at two places at once, where he could speak to the animals, where he could see in the night. And he knew this is only going to make the image, the myth, the cult of Red Cloud larger. He was a man ahead of his time when it came to politics. He knew that as the son of an alcoholic who had no great connections to warrior societies, he needed a leg up in Sioux society. And he married a woman whose father and brothers had that leg up.

MONTAGNE: This is quite a surprising part of his story, because there is a tragic love story at the center of his early life. Pretty Owl is the match that was going to help him politically. And then there was Pine Leaf, who was very much in love with him. Tell us that story.

CLAVIN: Pretty Owl had a father and brothers with many horses. But, you know, it wasn't like he was discarding Pine Leaf. The Sioux warrior leaders at the time could have up to five wives. After a certain amount of time, his intention was he would then marry Pine Leaf also, and bring her into his family. But the feelings that Pine Leaf had were so deep, that when the ceremony took place that married Red Cloud and Pretty Owl, Pine Leaf could not bear it anymore. And when he emerged the next morning after their honeymoon, basically, he found Pine Leaf hanging from a tree. It was a devastating loss for Red Cloud.

DRURY: He went back to his mother's teepee and just threw himself down. It was the only time in his life he didn't know what to do about a situation.

MONTAGNE: And, finally, great a warrior as Red Cloud was, the push west by settlers, the arrival of the railroad, there is this inevitable bad end. Read us the very top of your epilogue, which is a heartbreaking quote from Red Cloud.

CLAVIN: (Reading) The white man made me a lot of promises, and they only kept one. They promised to take my land, and they took it.

MONTAGNE: To this day, descendants of Red Cloud still live on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, one of America's poorest places. That's where the great Sioux leader is buried, between the Badlands and the Black Hills. Thank you very much for joining us.

MONTAGNE: Bob Drury and Tom Clavin are out with a new biography, "The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend."

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Remembering the Wounded Knee Massacre

Black Elk (left) and Elk of the Ogala Lakota touring with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

(Credit: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

For the entirety of his 27 years, Black Elk’s somber eyes had watched as the way of life for his fellow Lakota Sioux withered on the Great Plains. The medicine man had witnessed a generation of broken treaties and shattered dreams. He had watched as the white men �me in like a river” after gold was discovered in the Dakota Territory’s Black Hills in 1874, and he had been there two years later when Custer and his men were annihilated at Little Big Horn. He had seen the Lakota’s traditional hunting grounds evaporate as white men decimated the native buffalo population. The Lakota, who once roamed as free as the bison on the Great Plains, were now mostly confined to government reservations.

Life for the Sioux had become as bleak as the weather that gripped the snow-dusted prairies of South Dakota in the winter of 1890. A glimmer of hope, however, had begun to arise with the new Ghost Dance spiritual movement, which preached that Native Americans had been confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs. Leaders promised that the buffalo would return, relatives would be resurrected and the white man would be cast away if the Native Americans performed a ritual “ghost dance.”

As the movement began to spread, white settlers grew increasingly alarmed and feared it as a prelude to an armed uprising. “Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy,” telegrammed a frightened government agent stationed on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation to the commissioner of Indian affairs on November 15, 1890. “We need protection and we need it now.” General Nelson Miles arrived on the prairie with 500 troops as part of the Seventh Cavalry, Custer’s old command, and ordered the arrest of several Sioux leaders.

Frederic Remington illustration of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

(Credit: Yale Collection of Western Americana/Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

When on December 15, 1890, Indian police tried to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, who was mistakenly believed to have been joining the Ghost Dancers, the noted Sioux leader was killed in the melee. On December 28, the cavalry caught up with Chief Big Foot, who was leading a band of upwards of 350 people to join Chief Red Cloud, near the banks of Wounded Knee Creek, which winds through the prairies and badlands of southwest South Dakota. The American forces arrested Big Foot—too ill with pneumonia to sit up, let alone walk𠅊nd positioned their Hotchkiss guns on a rise overlooking the Lakota camp.

As a bugle blared the following morning�mber 29𠅊merican soldiers mounted their horses and surrounded the Native American camp. A medicine man who started to perform the ghost dance cried out, 𠇍o not fear but let your hearts be strong. Many soldiers are about us and have many bullets, but I am assured their bullets cannot penetrate us.” He implored the heavens to scatter the soldiers like the dust he threw into the air.

Red Cloud Mine Road

Depending on which poll you believe, 5 to 10 percent of Americans think the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. That observation might seem like an odd lede for a Scenic Drive, but as you head up Red Cloud Mine Road in the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, north of Yuma, the reference makes more sense. The views along this rugged, isolated back road are a different kind of scenic: There’s almost no vegetation, and the rocky buttes could easily pass for a moonscape with a little 1960s-era color correction.

It’s enough to get the gears turning in any conspiracy theorist’s head, and the fact that the route passes through a U.S. Army proving ground might make you wonder whether there’s something here that someone doesn’t want you to see.

Or, if you’re among the other 90 to 95 percent of the country, you could just enjoy this 16-mile drive, which starts at Martinez Lake, a popular destination for birders, photographers and anglers. The lake was formed in 1935, when Imperial Dam, on the Colorado River, was completed. About a mile in, you’ll get a good view of the lake — the greenery surrounding it is a striking contrast with the surrounding desert.

After that, the road narrows and gets rougher, so take your time around corners and over medium-sized rocks. You’ll be hard-pressed to find cellphone service out here, and even in January, this isn’t a place you want to have car trouble. At Mile 5, you’ll pass the trailhead for the Painted Desert Trail, one of two designated hiking trails in the refuge.

Shortly after that, the colors that give that trail its name — red, pink, yellow, black and several shades of brown — will begin to show themselves on the surrounding buttes. Once you enter the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground at Mile 7, you’ll start seeing signs warning you to avoid “unexploded ordnance.” It’s perfectly safe to pull over and make a few pictures, but don’t stray off the roadway.

Fourteen miles in, you’ll come upon perhaps the best views of the drive. Colorful buttes are everywhere as you descend into a small valley — you’re likely to see a hawk or two circling above. Just beyond there, you’ll see a small mining facility on your left. It’s the only significant sign of civilization on this route, and because Red Cloud Mine Road isn’t maintained beyond this point, it’s a good place to stop awhile before retracing your route back to Martinez Lake.

The alternative is to take along an all-terrain vehicle and continue north. If you do that, you’ll eventually end up in Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles the Arizona-California border. You could probably get there in a lunar rover, too. And who knows? There might be one from the Apollo missions stashed somewhere along the road.

Sand Creek Massacre

The Sand Creek Massacre (1864) occurred after about 750 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho led by Chief Black Kettle were forced to abandon their winter campsite near Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado. When they set up camp at Sand Creek, volunteer Colorado soldiers attacked, scattering them while slaughtering 148 men, women and children.

Red Cloud’s War (1866) began as the U.S. government developed the Bozeman Trail through Indian territory to allow miners and settlers access to gold in Montana Territory via the Powder River. For two years, an Indian coalition led by Lakota Chief Red Cloud attacked workers, settlers and soldiers to save their native lands. Their persistence paid off when the U.S. Army left the area and signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868.

The treaty established the Black Hills of western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming as part of the Great Sioux Reservation. After the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, however, the U.S. government began setting up Army posts there, leaving angry Sioux and Cheyenne warriors - led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse - determined to defend their territory.

The real history of Mount Rushmore

Those planning a trek to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore these last several weeks of summer will be among 3 million who annually visit the world-famous sculptures of U.S. presidents. Most will swell with patriotic pride as they stand on a marbled deck under flowing flags at the “shrine to democracy.”

The place brings Americans “face to face with a rich heritage we all share,” says the National Park Service.

The carved visages are iconic Americana, appearing in a gazillion media photos and books and travel features, in advertisements and promotions, on U.S. postage stamps in two eras, and on South Dakota’s license plate (“Great Faces. Great Places.”).

But the back story of Mount Rushmore is hardly a rich history of a shared democratic ideal. Some see the monument in the Black Hills as one of the spoils of violent conquest over indigenous tribes by a U.S. Army clearing the way for white settlers driven westward by a lust for land and gold.

As it was in colonial America, the young country’s expansion was fueled by “Manifest Destiny” — a self-supreme notion that any land coveted by Euro-Americans was, by providence, rightfully theirs for the taking.

Completed in 1941, Mount Rushmore has been wildly successful as originally intended: as a tourist attraction to draw visitors to a remote place that otherwise would be largely ignored.

The sculptures were chiseled by an imported Ku Klux Klansman on a granite mountain owned by indigenous tribes on what they considered sacred land — land that the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1980 was illegally taken from them.

In 2012, a United Nations human rights official endorsed returning the Black Hills (“Paha Sapa”) to resident Lakota, reviving a debate over whether eligible tribes should accept a cash settlement that tops $1 billion in an interest-bearing account. A prevailing response is that tribes want the land, a basis of the 1973 occupation of nearby Wounded Knee by the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement.

The presidents on Mount Rushmore reside in favored historical positions, of course: Their contributions to building America are amply documented and widely revered, even by young schoolchildren.

But the four also sanctioned, and themselves practiced, dominance over those with darker skin.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.

Abraham Lincoln famously emancipated slaves, but he supported eradicating Indian tribes from western lands and approved America’s largest-ever mass execution, the hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato for their alleged crimes in the 1862 war along the Minnesota River.

Teddy Roosevelt, in his “The Winning of the West,” wrote: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are … .”

The Black Hills story has many beginnings, but it was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that opened westward settlement that would seal the fate of Plains tribes, including Minnesota’s Dakota.

President Jefferson, bent on territorial enlargement to advance his vision of an agrarian empire, cut a sweet quick-sale with Napoleon, who urgently needed cash to support France’s wars against England and others. The U.S. acquired claims to territory occupied by indigenous people — 600,000 by some estimates — who were unaware that the familiar sod under their feet had passed from French to U.S. control.

The so-called “Indian wars” featured the U.S. Army aggressively enforcing America’s expansionist resolve by exterminating indigenous tribes who sought to stay where they’d always been. Indians would lose nearly every bloody battle that would follow.

Unlike Minnesota’s Dakota, also known as Sioux, the Lakota in the Black Hills and Powder River Basin were practiced warriors led by a savvy, unyielding chief, Red Cloud. They effectively fended off territorial intrusion by wagon trains of pioneers and prospectors.

Unable to root out Red Cloud, a humbled U.S. Army signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 granting Lakota autonomy over a broad, 60-million-acre region encompassing all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River — including the Black Hills — and parts of North Dakota and Nebraska. Lakota could also continue hunting migrating bison on a vast range of eastern Wyoming and Montana.

But like every tribal treaty before and since, the U.S. reneged on its Fort Laramie promises almost immediately by failing to prevent small-scale incursions into “The Great Sioux Reservation.”

Just six years after Laramie, Gen. George Custer led a U.S. Army expedition out of Fort Lincoln (present-day Bismarck, N.D.) into the Black Hills to explore suitable sites for forts and routes to them. The action was a purposely provocative treaty violation.

Another mission, to assess the presence of gold, would hasten the treaty’s demise. Custer rosily trumpeted that gold was found, unleashing a torrent of prospectors that the U.S. chose not to contain.

After a failed bid to buy the Black Hills, the U.S. determined to drive out the Lakota and simply take the area’s riches. Fierce resistance by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was worn down by the Army’s big guns and well-supplied legions, mostly dispatched from Minnesota’s Fort Snelling.

An impetuous Custer relished any fight, but his trademark careless aggression led to his command’s annihilation at the Little Bighorn in 1876. News of the “heroic last stand” prompted a redoubling of U.S. troops in fighting that now included shameless destruction of entire villages and even starving out resisters by wholesale slaughter of bison, the tribes’ staple food.

At war’s end, the “victorious” U.S. carved up the Great Sioux Reservation by first taking back the Black Hills and broad swaths of buffers. The Lakota were forced onto mostly useless land, including the Pine Ridge Reservation on South Dakota’s southern border.

For some years, the U.S. turned its attention to herding western tribes like the Navajo and Apache onto reservations by means as brutal as any of the Plains wars and “ethnic cleansing” of Native Americans in colonial America. But the dreaded Army would return to South Dakota.

The Lakota had taken to a spiritual “Ghost Dance” that promised to resurrect their dead to help retake lost land. Their frenzied gyrations while wearing white shirts, believed to deflect enemy bullets, unnerved settlers who requested, and got, Army protection.

On a bitter December day in 1890, a U.S. cavalry contingent intercepted a band of ghost-dancing Lakota and attempted to confiscate what few guns they had. A shot rang out, and panicked soldiers opened fire from all sides, killing 150 men, women and children before hunting down scores of unarmed Lakota and shooting them point-blank as they struggled in the snow.

The infamous Wounded Knee Massacre (incredibly, the U.S. called it a “battle” and awarded medals to its “heroes”) was the last of America’s long, violent campaigns to subdue indigenous tribes all across the continent.

Manifest Destiny has a long, sinister history that some say lives on today as “American exceptionalism.”

Three decades after Wounded Knee, in 1923, a South Dakota tourism agent advanced an idea for several large sculptures in the Black Hills. He enlisted the support of the renowned Gutzon Borglum, whose most recent work had been carving Stone Mountain, Ga., a grand gathering site for a white supremacist group Borglum belonged to, the Ku Klux Klan.

Borglum embraced the idea, but he wanted to go big. Rather than sculpting Western heroes including Red Cloud, as proposed, Borglum prevailed with a self-promoting plan to do busts of popular U.S. presidents. Crafting Mount Rushmore as we now know it began in 1927 and continued for 14 years.

If you go, there’s much to see in the Black Hills: Devils Tower, the in-progress sculpture of Lakota hero Crazy Horse, magnificent parkland with roaming buffalo, and historic Deadwood. It’s worth a side trip to the Badlands, and maybe a stop at Wall Drug, which got its start offering free ice water to overheated travelers en route to … where else?

At Mount Rushmore, you may learn that the sculptures are arranged for maximum sun exposure, itself a cruel irony: The faces of the four presidents (white conquerors) peer southeast toward a reservation housing vanquished Lakota, who mostly live out forgotten, impoverished lives in the shadow of their sacred Paha Sapa that, legally, still belong to them.


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  6. Wadsworth

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