During his life, Red Cloud, also known as Maȟpíya Lúta, was a household name. Almost everyone in the country knew of the Native American’s resistance against the expansionism of the white man, but by the end of his life Lúta feared for what was going to happen. Lúta played an incredibly critical role in resisting white expansionism. The Second Treaty of Fort Laramie is especially notable for being one of the few instances when the United States was forced to remove their soldiers from Native land, but inevitably most of this ended up being a delay rather than a cessation.
Throughout his life, Lúta continued to campaign to improve the lives of Native people in the United States. Lúta continued visiting Washington, D.C., until his final visit in 1897. During one visit in 1889, he said "When I fought the whites I fought with all my might. When I signed a treaty of peace I meant to do right, and I have often risked my life to keep the covenant."
Unfortunately, Lúta was unable to keep white invaders out of his land no matter how many treaties they signed. While he kept his promises, he spent his life watching the United States break theirs. These are some tragic details about Red Cloud.
Red Cloud’s early life
Maȟpíya Lúta, also known as Red Cloud, was born around May 1821, near where the North and South Platte Rivers unite in what was considered Nebraska Territory. His father was a Brulé Lakota and his mother was an Oglala Lakota, and together they belonged to a subdivision of the Oglala known as the Bad Face band.
There are conflicting accounts about Lúta’s early life. According to Red Cloud: Photographs of a Lakota Chief, Lúta’s father died of alcoholism when Lúta was young, and as a result, he was brought up by his mother’s brother Šóta, also known as Old Chief Smoke. But according to "Red Cloud, as Remembered by Ohiyesa," Lúta’s father survived until Lúta was 28 and died during a disagreement with Bear Bull, an Oglala leader.
However, one of the earliest events in Lúta’s life is relatively well-documented. According to the Autobiography of Red Cloud by Red Cloud, Charles Wesley Allen, and Sam Deon, when Lúta was 16 he joined a raid party against the Pawnee, who had recently slain his cousin. The raid was successful, and Lúta had soon made a name for himself after another successful ambush against the Crows. By 1850, Lúta had married Pretty Owl, also known as Mary Good Road, and they remained together until his death in 1909. She later died in 1940 at the assumed age of 104.
The United States finds gold
Before the 1860s, the Sioux had relatively few contacts with white people. But once gold was discovered on their land, white people started flocking across the country. According to Representative Americans: The Civil War Generation, the South Platte River valley had seen an earlier gold rush in 1859, and once gold was found in Montana in 1862, the Bozeman Trail was promptly established.
According to Northern Plains Reservation Aid, the Bozeman Trail was a pre-established trail that had been used for thousands of years by different Native groups in North America. Such roads were incredibly common across the North American landscape prior to colonization, and according to An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, "many have noted that had North America been a wilderness, undeveloped, without roads, and uncultivated, it might still be so, for the European colonists could not have survived." The Bozeman Trail also connected with the Oregon Trail, bringing "miners, immigrants, settlers, and wagon trains directly through the buffalo feeding areas."
As white settlers started moving down the trail, forts were built along the Bozeman Trail by the U.S. Army to protect the settlers, with little concern for the fact that the trail "passed through territory inhabited by the Shoshone, Arapaho, and Lakota nations." And since the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty had established Powder River county as hunting land for the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Oglala and Brulé Sioux, the Bozeman Trail was a clear treaty violation.