Autobiography of Red Cloud
Red Cloud Book Tribute to Great Sioux Leader
The great Sioux chief Red Cloud, who forced the U.S. government to close the Bozeman trail in the 1860s, lived a life that has become legend to both those who loved and feared him.
The story of the man behind that legend is finally being told in a book from the Montana Historical Society Press—Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas .
The book, edited by R. Eli Paul, recounts the early years of Red Cloud's life beginning with his first war party at the tender age of 16.
The skills that would later result in Red Cloud being the only Native American to win a war against the U.S. Army were honed in conflicts against his tribe's traditional enemies—the Pawnees, Shoshones, Arikaras, and Crows.
Recounting a raid against the Crows when he and a friend made off with a huge herd of horses, Red Cloud talks of the stealth, tactics, courage, and luck needed to become a great warrior.
Lula Red Cloud, a descendent of the great chief, said she is happy that his story is finally being told.
"At long last a book has been published about my great-great-grandfather Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala without bias or a distortion of the facts," she said. "For this I want to say wopila lila wopila [with great thanks]."
In addition to providing rich detail on his and other tribes' raiding and war practices, Red Cloud also provides insight into domestic camp life.
In a tragic chapter Red Cloud tells of his marriage.
Already a man of high standing, Red Cloud had his eye on two women, Pretty Owl and Pine Leaf. While tribal custom allowed him to marry both, he could not do so at the same time.
Red Cloud decided to marry Pretty Owl first. Although he meant to do so, Red Cloud never had the chance to tell Pine Leaf that he intended to marry her as well.
Leaving his tent after his wedding night with Pretty Owl, Red Cloud, who already had taken many lives in war, was shocked to see Pine Leaf hanging, dead, from a nearby tree.
The suicide so affected Red Cloud that he vowed never to take another wife, and he never did.
The history of the document that is the basis for this work, a detective story in itself, is well documented by Paul, the book's editor and a historian at the Nebraska State Historical Society.
A manuscript thought to have been written in 1932, long after the death of Red Cloud, had languished on a shelf at the Nebraska historical society for many years.
New information and investigation revealed that the manuscript was based on an earlier text dating to 1893.
That document transcribed conversations between Red Cloud and his friend Sam Deon, a French Canadian trader who lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
After interviewing Red Cloud, Deon immediately reported the chief's stories to reservation postmaster Charles Allen, who wrote them down.
Paul concludes that it is now clear that the stories in the book are Red Cloud's and were recorded by people who knew him.
Red Cloud refused to talk with Deon about his war with the whites or events such as the Fetterman Massacre. As Paul puts it, the book deals with the "Indian part of the life of Red Cloud."
Each chapter is preceded by an editor's note by Paul explaining the context of the events and other information.
Alvin Josephy Jr., author of The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronical of American Indian Leadership , said of the book:
"[It is] an exciting addition to the rather slim literature of first person Indian accounts of what life was like before resistance to white aggrandizement became the plains tribes' number one concern."
This 234-page paperback book is available in bookstores or can be ordered directly from the Montana Historical Society for $15.95 plus shipping charges by calling toll free 1-800-243-9900.Read the excerpt!