Letter from Wild West – April 2012

When Historians Recall Lakota Sioux Greats, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse Are in the Fore
But don’t forget that outstanding Oglala warrior-statesman Red Cloud

My first awestruck viewing of a “Custer’s Last Stand” painting at age 7 piqued my curiosity, so I cracked the World Book Encyclopedia to learn something about the brave “victim,” George Armstrong Custer, and the two fearsome Indians—Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse—most responsible for the “massacre.” As the years flew past like arrows, those two catchy names stuck in my head: Crazy Horse, the ultimate Sioux warrior; Sitting Bull, the ultimate Sioux leader. Even when I stopped seeing Custer as a massacre victim, I still viewed the pair as the foremost Lakotas. At some point I heard the name Red Cloud, but he had been on a reservation instead of at the Little Bighorn, so I dismissed him. Yes, the name was kind of cool, but it also called to mind a much-advertised commercial product. In my TV-addled brain I figured Red Cloud was a softie like White Cloud, the “ultra soft” toilet tissue introduced in 1958.

My tune changed somewhat in the 1960s when I learned Red Cloud had been tough enough 100 years earlier to defeat the U.S. government. Still, Red Cloud’s War did not impress me as much as Custer’s Last Stand. The 1866 Fetterman Massacre (later called Fetterman’s Fight) couldn’t hold a candle to what happened a decade later at the Little Bighorn. Besides, wasn’t Crazy Horse the clever warrior who made Captain William Fetterman pay the ultimate price for underestimating the fighting Sioux? Other Red Cloud tidbits filtered into my head, but they suggested an old, weakened villain of the Indian wars, bickering and compromising with Indian agents and his own tribesmen.

I knew nothing about Red Cloud’s early years until 1997, when I read his autobiography, edited by R. Eli Paul. Red Cloud’s shooting of fellow Lakota Bull Bear—which Red Cloud recounted, and which Paul writes about in this issue—was more than just a pivotal event in Red Cloud’s own life. “It is difficult to appreciate today just how important the killing of Bull Bear was to Lakota politics,” Paul says. “Imagine if Ronald Reagan had shot fellow Republican George Bush during the 1980 race for the presidential nomination rather than making him his running mate.” Like the autobiography, Robert Larson’s Red Cloud bio came out in 1997. “Together,” Paul says, “they helped present the ‘real’ Red Cloud, not the stereotyped villain found in Mari Sandoz’s popular Crazy Horse novel….Bob and I were present at the Nebraska Capitol in 2000 when Red Cloud was finally inducted into the state’s hall of fame. What a gratifying moment for us and for his descendants.”

While Red Cloud was the foremost Oglala Lakota warrior until surpassed by Crazy Horse, Paul contends that Red Cloud’s later years “may have been his finest hour,” contrary to those who contend he was “weak and compromising and desperate to cling to his rapidly dissipating power.” Paul explains: “The bravest thing a Lakota warrior could do was fight a rearguard action against overwhelming odds, holding back the enemy so that the women and children could escape. This is what Red Cloud did (metaphorically) for decades as he tried to confront the damage that U.S. officials inflicted on his culture.” He was the most photographed Indian of the 19th century and, unlike Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull, made the transition from war leader to political leader. “And not just for his people,” Paul adds, “but becoming the face of the ‘Sioux problem’ to the U.S. government.” Red Cloud lived until 1909. “As he aged, becoming an old, shrunken, blind shadow of his younger, energetic and immensely powerful self,” says Paul, “this one man almost came to symbolize the sad fate of an entire people.” No, Red Cloud did not fight Custer, but he was a formidable warrior and statesman. “I rank Red Cloud as first among equals,” says Paul. I agree. Heck, even old White Cloud was soft but strong.

2 Responses

  1. Heinz Gosepath

    Lieber Herr Lalire,
    sie Irren wenn sie Schreiben Crazy Horse war nicht an der Fetterman-Schlacht beteiligt: hierzu rate ich Ihnen mal die Arbeiten von Dee Brown,.Josepf M. Marshall, Mari Sandoz, Eli S. Ricker oder von Walter Mason Camp und auch George E. Hyde zu lesen. Außerdem gibt es zu der Fetterman-Schlacht noch Interviews von Augenzeugen, wie Red Feather, He Dog, Two Moon oder auch Horn Cips.Außerdem kann ich Ihre Meinug über Red Cloud nicht teilen.Er hat nie in vorderster Front bei den Schlachten gekämpft, im Gegensatz zu Crazy Horse. Red Cloud war außerdem bei der Fetterman-Schlacht selbst gar nicht anwesend. Dafür gibt es genug Augenzeugen.Durch intrigen und Falschmeldungen hat er auch zum Tod von Crazy Horse am 05.September 1877 in Fort Robinson beigetragen.Für mich ist und bleibt Crazy Horse,( und das ist auch die Meinung der meisten Sioux) der größte Kriegsanführer des 19.Jahrhunderts.

    TRANSLATION FROM BING:
    Dear Mr. Lalire,
    She mad if it wasn’t writing Crazy Horse at the Fetterman battle involved: to do this, I guess the work by Dee Brown, youVirupaksha M. Marshall, Mari Sandoz, Eli S. Ricker or to read Walter Mason camp and also George E. Hyde. Also there are even interviews with eye-witnesses, the Fetterman battle as red feather, he dog, two Moon or even horn CIPS. also, I can your opinion about Red Cloud did not share.He never fought in the forefront of the battles, in contrast to Crazy Horse. Red Cloud was also even not present at the Fetterman battle. There are enough Augenzeugen.Durch intrigues and he has Robinson hoaxes also contributed to the death of crazy horse at the Fort 05.September, 1877.For me, is and remains the largest war leader of 19.Jahrhunderts Crazy Horse, (and that is also the opinion of most of the Dakota).

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