State of Nebraska - Genealogy Trails



Famous Sioux Chief, Red Cloud, Lies on His Death Bed at Pine Ridge Agency



Written for the Sunday World Herald 

Pine Ridge Indian Agency, South Dakota. --  Old, decrepit, blind and almost penniless, Red Cloud, chief of the Sioux, lies dying in his little tent at his home, one mile from this agency.


Formerly the greatest of all Indian Chieftains, Red Cloud's glory has departed and he lies, a broken reed, dependant on the willing attention of the new generation of red men.


White physician have given up hope of saving the aged sachem's life, and state that dissolution may come at any hour; surely within a few weeks at the most.


The medicine men, however, still hold daily pow-wows over their dying chief, and make "good medicine in his behalf."


Red Cloud's career has been as remarkable as has that of any white man in the country.  Like so many of the nation's great men, he was born in obscurity, and by sheer force of will, bravery and intelligence, he rose, step by step, to be the chief of the greatest, most war like  and at one time most savage tribe of the American Indians.


In his thirty years' war with the whites, from 1845 to 1876, Red Cloud became known as the fieriest and boldest of the Sioux leaders, and it was during these years that he gradually worked his way forward until he was recognized as the big chief of all Sioux bands and tribes.  And the old man has been a diplomat of rare ability, also, and in councils and meetings, has ruled his people and gained his point in a manner which any white political boss might

well envy.  Never a forceful speaker, Red Cloud always employed some first class orator to represent him in debate, and even during the many trips he has made to Washington in the interest of the Indians, Red Cloud always refrained from making set speeches.  But with his counsel he instructed his mouthpieces just what to say and how to handle points under consideration, and woe unto the man who failed him.


When Red Cloud fought the whites he did so to the best of his ability.  Descending like a whirlwind of death on a settlement, his band left a gory path in its rear.  But when he signed the fire "peace paper" be buried his tomahawk and to his credit can it be said that that peace has never been broken.  Nay, more than that.  He has been one of the greatest civilizing influences among the Sioux, incurring the hatred even of some of his own people by his steadfast friendship for his white brothers.  Since the peace he has lived within the terms of the contract, and for twenty three years has lived at Pine Ridge Agency, a pensioner of the government, and has done much to hold the other Indians in check during excitable times.


But Red Cloud has never "buckled" to the whites, and to this day he insists that the Sioux is not receiving the full benefits of the "peace paper" which he signed years ago.  


The old man is still vigorously opposed to the new idea of the government in cutting off the rations of the younger Indians and in forcing them to work for their living.


Two months ago he sent out letters to the sub chiefs, instructing them to prevent the young men from working, and saying that the government would not see them starve; that the government owed them rations forever.  Realizing that death was at hand the old man has issued a short address along those lines, to the Sioux,saying:


"The government has never given us our rights.  It has not lived up to the contract.  But the Sioux can no more fight for their rights.  Their fighting days are over.  They must not quietly accept this situation and become practically slaves, working by the day for a master, when they should be supported forever by a government which has taken their hunting grounds from them.  Therefore, the young men must refuse to work, and the white people everywhere will see the justness of their cause and will then take care of them.  And I would advise Indians of other tribes and nations to do likewise.  Should all Indians refuse to accept work, they will remain as Indians, but should they follow in the paths of the whites, in years to come there will be no Indians, but instead, will be a lot of slaves."


Although at one time lord of all Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota and parts of Iowa, Wyoming and Montana, ole Red Cloud is today actually penniless.  When the Indians were placed on the Dakota reservations, Red Cloud was given a small piece of land immediately adjoining the agency, in order that he might be near to assist the government agents in preserving order.


Gradually, this little body of land has been sold to the government until today only about ten acres remain to the old owner.


Three months ago, becoming convinced that death was near, Red Cloud called his children around him and divided all his property.  Including $600 in cash, which the government had just paid him on a claim for horses.  But he lingered longer than he expected and is now almost dependent on charity.


Two weeks ago, while still able to talk, Red Clouds mind went back to the days when he was a young man, more than half a century ago, and the old man told several of the young men of the most dangerous position he was ever in, and the one which gained for him his first  title as "chief".  


It was a tale of one man against seven and the seven were all killed.  A well known warrior was jealous of Red Cloud, and together with six of his followers waylaid the young brave.  Two were armed with rifles while bows and arrows along were carried by the others.  Red Cloud was armed with a Winchester.  Red Cloud fell with a bullet through the thigh at the first fire, but from where he lay in the tall grass he succeeded in killing all of his assailants.  


Soon followers gathered around him, and as wars broke out with the whites his followers increased in number.  He joined the various secret orders; passed through the fearful agony and torture of the sun dance, and when in 1866 the other chiefs signed a "peace paper," ceding valuable lands to the whites Red Cloud refused to make peace but instead declared war.


Immediately all the fighting men of the tribe flocked to his standard, leaving the hereditary chiefs without followers.  Then came the Fort Phil Kearney massacre in which the Indians were led by Red Cloud, who displayed the greatest bravery and recklessness the battle ending in the extermination of the soldiers.  The it was that Red Cloud proclaimed chief of all the Sioux tribes, which office he has held for nearly forty years.


As Red Cloud grew old he became childish and returned to many of the habits of his younger days.  Deserting the little old house which had been erected for him by the government, he now lives in a tent in a corner of his yard.  With him lives his aged wife, Mary, and among those who know it is said that she  is the real ruler of the Sioux, that her word is law with the old man whom she rules with a rod of iron.  Although old and feeble, he keeps in close touch with the affairs of the tribe and through his private secretary, Cut Meat, learns the details of all happenings in the most remote part of the reservation.  And through Cut Meat his orders are transmitted to the sub chiefs.


With the passing of Red Cloud will disappear the last of the great Indian Chieftains, whose names are written on every page of the history of the west.


But Red Cloud will survive in history long after the names of the officers who fought him have passed into oblivion.  During the early days Red Cloud and his band may have passed like a whirlwind, carrying death and destruction, but his was war, and doubtless uncalled for atrocities were committed on either side, but when the true history of Red Cloud is finally written, and his character understood and given due weight, his name will be found very close to many of the greatest names of the country.


And in the meantime, the old man is lying in his tent, practically a prisoner where one he ruled, waiting for death which must soon overtake him.


T. R. Porter



Omaha World Herald - August 9, 1903