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Book Review: Red Cloud: Warrior-Statesman of the Lakota Sioux (Robert W. Larson) : WW

Originally published on Published Online: August 12, 2001 
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Red Cloud: Warrior-Statesman of the Lakota Sioux, by Robert W. Larson, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1997, $24.95.

He was fierce in battle and negotiations, forcing the United States to close the important Bozeman Trail through Sioux territory in 1868. He fought for Sioux rights during his reservation years, and even though he survived Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, Red Cloud is often overshadowed by those Lakota warriors. Retired history professor Robert W. Larson, however, brings Red Cloud's life and accomplishments into focus in his biography of the Lakota leader.

Born in 1821 in Nebraska, Red Cloud overcame social barriers–he was the son of a Brulé but raised as an Oglala, and his father died of alcoholism–and distinguished himself in battle against the Pawnees and Crows. During the 1860s, in what became known as Red Cloud's War, he earned national fame by forcing a favorable treaty for the Sioux. The New York Times called him "a man of brains, a good ruler, an eloquent speaker, an able general and fair diplomat."

Larson's biography owes a lot to Red Cloud's 1893 autobiography. Although Red Cloud lacks the insight of Robert M. Utley's biography of Sitting Bull and the passion of Mari Sandoz's biography of Crazy Horse, Larson recognizes the Lakota's accomplishments and doesn't neglect his faults. Red Cloud was jealous and self-serving, and his part in Crazy Horse's death has tarnished his name.

Unlike Comanche leader Quanah Parker, Larson writes, Red Cloud "was unwilling to be the kind of intermediary who could successfully broker relations between his people and the outside world." Red Cloud died in 1909, outliving Crazy Horse by 32 years and Sitting Bull by 19. Larson writes, "To many nostalgic Americans who lamented the loss of the Old West, Red Cloud was one of the last of the legendary figures to pass from the scene."

Johnny D. Boggs

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