Who was Red Cloud?
Red Cloud was a Teton Sioux war chief and leader. He led the Oglala branch. Red Cloud was born in 1822 in the place that is now known as north-central Nebraska. He was named Mahpiua-Luta at birth.
What was Red Cloud known for?
The war chief was special because he was the first Native American to win a war against the US government. He also successfully made successful negotiations that favored his people. Unfortunately, he was also the last Native American to achieve this success.
However, even his level of success was not enough to prevent the white settlers from seizing their territories.
His Indian name can be translated to “Scarlet Cloud,” but Red Cloud is a close enough translation. The name came from a unique crimson cloud formation seen during his birth.
What were Red Cloud’s younger years like?
Because his father died when he was still small, his mother’s uncle Smoke, an Oglala headman, raised him. At a young age, he learned how to hunt and fight, and had become very skilled in both.
When he was a little older, his tribesmen had recognized him for being brave and cunning. He had been known to raid enemy tribes and scalp them.
What happened to the Oglala tribe during Red Cloud’s time?
Even after the white settlers arrived in their territory, the Oglala enjoyed relative peace. It was only in 1865 that things started to change for the worse.
During that time, the US army built forts across the Lakota hunting grounds as a response to gold discovered in Montana. Forts were also established over Lakota hunting grounds, thus founding the Bozeman Trail.
The Bozeman trail connected with the Oregon Trail. It was through this path that immigrants, miners, and settlers traveled.
The settlers traveling through these trails and the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre caused unrest in the area. Red Cloud and Man Afraid of his Horses did not want to sign a non-aggression treaty. This treaty was supposed to ensure the safe passage of settlers across their lands.
The settlers needed to travel those trails to access food and gold. However, Red Cloud and his tribes were not cooperative. They even took over Fort Phil Kearney for a couple of years. They even attacked troops and settlers during that time, using guerilla tactics.
It was natural for the white settlers to think that they could do better because they arguably had better weapons. So, Captain William Fetterman felt confident about traveling through the Sioux nation in relative safety. In 1966, he came with a relief party comprising eighty-one men.
Fetterman never returned.
Because of Red Cloud’s persistent aggressive defense of his people’s land, the US government felt they didn’t have a choice but to sign a treaty with them in 1868.
The Fort Laramie Treaty emphasized that the Black Hills and the Powder River country would be reserved for Red Cloud and his men. In exchange for this assurance, the Lakotas should cease all raids.
Despite the seemingly fair treaty, the Native Americans were aware that the US government’s promise might not last forever as suggested. So, they continued the raids, burning down all the forts they could find along the trail.
Their mistrust was understandable because even with the treaty in place, the US government went against its promises as soon as gold became part of the deal.
What else did Red Cloud do?
Red Cloud did not limit himself to raids. He also went to meet with President Grant in Washington. He even made a speech in New York. He was serious about keeping Lakota property safe.
Eventually, he also sought peace. He spent the 1870s to 1880s mediating peace and cooperation between his people and the United States. Because of this change of strategy, younger Oglala tribesmen accused him of selling out to the government. At the same time, the government suspected him of helping not only Sioux tribes but also the Cheyenne in defeating General George Cluster and his men at Little Bighorn.
In November 1868, he signed the treaty. It was an important and heartbreaking act as it accepted the defeat of his people. He did it in exchange for promised benefits and annuities.
What happened to Red Cloud?
Red Cloud, during his lifetime, was the most successful Native American leader in terms of getting what his people wanted. He could fight when needed and negotiate when it was the safer choice.
Because he was generally a fighter, his later negotiations were seen negatively by all sides. His people saw it as selling out, while the white settlers thought he was merely strategizing against them.
In 1881, Red Cloud was removed as the chief of his people. Because of this removal, his importance had decreased significantly.
How did Red Cloud Die?
When Red Cloud was older, he lost his sight. He was also no longer actively involved in his people’s affairs. Blindness and his diminished status prevented him from being an active participant, anyway. Still, he had done a lot while still young and strong.
Even though his early years were violent and full of war and struggle, he died relatively quietly at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, in 1909. It followed the final Sioux War.
It was indeed a full life, with him witnessing his people’s successes. He was also witness to the complete seizure of their lands and the eradication of his people’s identity and autonomy.