Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known - O. O. Howard

Red Cloud

Far away in Wyoming lived the Sioux Indians, a fierce and warlike tribe. They called themselves Dakotas; but their enemies said that when they fought they did everything in a mean, hidden way so that it was hard to know what to expect, and they called them Sioux, which means "snake-like-ones." To this tribe belonged a young brave who wanted very much to become a chief. His father was a fierce warrior and had taught him how to fight, but he was not satisfied to follow the leaders of his tribe, for he wanted to lead other Indians himself. When this young man was only eighteen years old he had already learned to use the bow, could ride Indian ponies and swim deep rivers, and was a great buffalo-hunter; besides, he often danced in war dances with older braves. In some way he managed to get a rifle which fired several times without reloading, and after that he began to feel of much more importance than other young Indians.

At first the young braves were angry with him, but he soon showed them that he was a skilful warrior, and before long many young Indians chose him for their leader. Now he could wear an eagle feather in his war bonnet, and was a real chief.

Red Cloud


At this time Uncle Sam had promised to give each Indian a good blanket, and they were glad to get them. The blankets were all bright red, and when this young Indian and his followers, each wearing a red blanket, rode rapidly past, some one said, "See the Red Cloud." From that time on the young leader was called "Red Cloud," and so far as I know was never after given any other name.

The Sioux Indians have a wonderful festival which they call the sun dance. At this time all the braves try to show how much pain they can bear without flinching, and some people say it makes them tender-hearted. Certainly "Red Cloud" always could bear more than any other warrior, and yet his heart was fierce and warlike. In time the Indians came to fear him, and little by little he was chosen war chief of all the wild Dakotas or Sioux. He hated the white people, and when other Indians tried to make peace Red Cloud always said: "No; war, war!" Perhaps he knew that just as soon as there was peace he would no longer be a chief, at any rate, he would not listen to any plan to stop fighting.

Port Phil Kearny in Wyoming was in the middle of the Indians' country. One day word came to the major there that a party of soldiers who had gone to get firewood had been attacked, and some were killed, the rest in great danger. The major at once sent out a rescue party under Captain Fetterman, but Red Cloud was waiting with two thousand warriors, and not one white man escaped.

Nobody could say now that Red Cloud was not a great leader, and even Uncle Sam, however much he feared him, had to confess that he was "Chief of all the living Sioux Indians." All the Sioux chiefs whose fathers had been chiefs before them were willing to give some Indian lands to the white people and live on a reservation, but Red Cloud said: "No, no; I want war," and the young warriors followed him in spite of the chiefs. He had many battles and would not stop fighting.

At last, in 1874, the Indians came to one of Uncle Sam's army posts for a "big talk." A Christian gentleman opened the talk with a prayer, and when he finished Red Cloud said that the Indians prayed to the Great Spirit too, so he would pray. Then he asked the Great Spirit to forbid the white men taking away the Indians' land, and from wickedly destroying their homes where they and their fathers had lived for years and years. It was a wonderful prayer, and when Red Cloud sat down, every one kept very still, for they did not know what to say. Well, after the big talk, the Indians agreed to give up the land they had fought for, and went to live on what was called "Red Cloud Reservation." But still peace did not come. They were always ready to break out, and every once in a while houses were burned, stages waylaid, and people killed. It was no use to wish for peace so long as Red Cloud wanted war.

At last, after many years, the war chief began to feel that he could not win his fight, so very sadly he buried his tomahawk and signed what he called "a peace paper." But he did not really love his white brothers, and when Uncle Sam wanted Indian scouts to help him fight in 1876, Red Cloud was angry, and sent some of his warriors to waylay the soldiers and Indian scouts. Then Uncle Sam said that Red Cloud could not expect to be a chief if he did such things, for the officers found that he was always planning to make trouble, and they put Spotted Tail, a chief who was frank and honest, in Red Cloud's place. But what good did that do when the young Indians loved Red Cloud and did what he said? And he kept them from working with their hands, and said braves must only hunt and fight, and would not try to keep peace or help Spotted Tail.

Red Cloud


Then at last, when Red Cloud was a very old man, more than eighty years old, he was sick for the first time in his life. He had to stay in his lodge and be taken care of, for he was too weak to move. Now he began to no- tice how kind every one was to him when he could do nothing for himself, and his heart was softened. When he was able to be up again and to go out into the woods, he was very happy, and began to be sorry for people who were not strong and well, though before he was sick he had always despised them.

He saw how Uncle Sam was trying to take care of everybody in this big country of ours, and he said, "Indians must take land like white men, they must work with a plow and hoe, and they must read books and study." Then there was peace in the north land, for the fiercest of all our Indian warriors had really surrendered.