Red Cloud: Warrior-Statesman of the Lakota Sioux


Perhaps no Indian leader of the mid-nineteenth century was as well known in his time as the great Lakota Sioux Red Cloud. Although his fame later was eclipsed by that of the legendary heroes who crushed Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn-Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse-Red Cloud's active leadership of his people, and his representation of the Sioux in vital negotiations with the U.S. government, survived the demise of the other leaders by many years.

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Perhaps no Indian leader of the mid-nineteenth century was as well known in his time as the great Lakota Sioux Red Cloud. Although his fame later was eclipsed by that of the legendary heroes who crushed Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn-Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse-Red Cloud's active leadership of his people, and his representation of the Sioux in vital negotiations with the U.S. government, survived the demise of the other leaders by many years.

Red Cloud was not born to leadership. He earned it. In his early years he gained a reputation for fierceness as a warrior and as a tactician against both whites and other Indian tribes. And in his middle years, his leadership against the U.S. Army in the Powder River country, his forcing the closure of the Bozeman Trail, and his strong pressure to negotiate the favorable outcome of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 made him the preeminent chief among the Sioux.

In his later years, Red Cloud was an intermediary for his people in their dealings with the U.S. government. Although his motives at times were questioned, he steadfastly resisted encroachments on Sioux land during the reservation period, and he consistently protested the pressure by market oriented whites to impose an agrarian economy on a people who had never farmed. Red Cloud's passionate belief in the values of his culture prevented him from acting as a culture broker; nevertheless, he remained an important figure of the Gilded Age.

Imbued with the new social and environmental historiography, this modern biography by Robert W. Larson is a valuable contribution to Sioux history and to our understanding of Indian-white relationships in the nineteenth century as well as political aspects of the Indian-white dialogue.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wielding the source material with muscular assurance and a judicious eye, historian Bray aims at nothing less than a definitive account of the great Oglala warrior and tribal chief. In painstaking detail, he paints a life and career of exceptional valor, skill and influence on behalf of the Lakota people. Though Crazy Horse was self-possessed and brilliant in battle, his tactical gifts were offset by the reluctant assumption of civil leadership, a role at odds with his taciturn and introspective nature. Bray carefully weighs the private and the political life to illustrate the interaction of Crazy Horse's personal experiences with larger historical events (including intertribal conflicts, fragile alliances, and clashes with American soldiers, among them the battle at Little Bighorn) all shaped by the mounting encroachments of white society in the 1850s-1870s. The author presents his account as a more historically accurate complement to the breathless, iconic portraiture of Mari Sandoz's long-standard biography, Crazy Horse, the Strange Man of the Oglalas. But Bray's compensatory rigor sacrifices some narrative flow to the exigencies of a detailed scholarly accounting. If general readers' eyes may glaze over at many of the particulars, this nonfiction debut promises to be a standard reference for many years to come. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Though the Sioux have long occupied a prominent position in the view of those interested in the Indians of North America, Red Cloud has not received substantial biographical treatment in the last generation. Chief in the 1860s and as renowned a Sioux warrior as Crazy Horse was to be, Red Cloud accomplished the rare feat of successfully facing down expansionist moves of the U.S. government by forcing the closing of the Bozeman Trail. In his later years, he did not join with Sitting Bull and others in the campaigns leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn but continued to be a significant figure in Sioux-U.S. relations. Larson (history, Univ. of North Colorado) has written a readable, fair, and carefully researched and documented biography of a fascinating leader. Highly recommended.Charles V. Cowling, Drake Memorial Lib., SUNY at Brockport
Dallas Morning News
Other books have been written about Red Cloud, the feared and powerful leader of the Lakota Sioux during the mid-19th century. But this solid and well-written work is the first to draw from the chief's long-neglected and unpublished authobiography.
Kirkus Reviews
A readable biography of Lakota chief Red Cloud that attempts to untangle the many conflicting accounts of this key figure in 19th-century America.

Larson, a retired professor of history (Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley), places the rather scanty and unreliable information we have about Red Cloud's life within the larger context of Indian tribal conflicts, the Anglo-Indian wars, and the eventual peace that was established between the Indians and the conquering Anglo-Americans. Born in 1821 to a Lakota Sioux band and well known for his valor on the battlefield (against both whites and other Indians), he became the acknowledged leader of his tribe. As he was nearing 40, however, and past his physical prime, Red Cloud was content to leave the fighting to younger warriors, such as Crazy Horse, and focus his attentions on political dealings with the US government. Representing the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, Red Cloud signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, making peace with the whites. But though he was a tough negotiator, the government was in fact heeding its own interests when it conceded to him many of his demands. It had discovered that supporting the Indians was more economical than fighting them, and determined to move the Lakota Sioux onto reservations. Red Cloud agreed to the condition—against the wishes of other Sioux chiefs—although it would not be until two years later, after his first visit to Washington to meet the "Great White Father," that he would begin his long career on the reservation. There he continued to be a vital spokesman for his people, helping to preserve their land and their heritage. He died in 1909.

A good start, although the man behind the legend still remains cloaked in mystery.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806131894
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Series: Oklahome Western Biographies Series
  • Pages: 354
  • Sales rank: 1,016,695
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert W. Larson is retired as Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Red Cloud: Warrior-Statesman of the Lakota Sioux. The Denver Posse of Westerners honored him in 2006 with its Fred A. Rosenstock Award for Lifetime Achievement in Western History.

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  • Posted December 23, 2008

    The Lakota Chief

    It was a wonderful study of the cerebral and proud Lakota chief. Long relegated to the ashes of history, Red Cloud could be self-serving, vicious, and clannish. However, Red Cloud was also diplomatic, bright, and perceptive about his realm of the Indian and the dominate whites. I recommend this biography because it shows the complexity of Red Cloud, not as a simple savage of the Right or the noble savage of the left. He was a very complex man with high native intelligence.

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