12×18 graphite on tinted pastel paper. Edward S. Curtis photograph used as reference. Original unavailable.
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Red Cloud was born close to the forks of the Platte River, near the modern-day city of North Platte, Nebraska. His mother, Walks As She Thinks was an Oglala Lakota and his father was a Brulé Lakota Chief Lone Man, two of the major seven Lakota divisions. As was traditional among the matrilineal Lakota, Red Cloud was raised by his maternal uncle, Old Chief Smoke (1774–1864), who played a prominent and major role in his early-mid life and brought him in to the Smoke Household when his parents died around 1825. At a young age, he fought against neighboring Pawnee and Crow, gaining much war experience.
Red Cloud continued fighting for his people, even after being forced onto the reservation. In 1889 he opposed a treaty to sell more of the Sioux land. His steadfastness and that of Sitting Bull led government agents to obtain the necessary signatures for approval through subterfuge, such as obtaining the signatures of children. He negotiated strongly with Indian Agents such as Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy. In 1887 he opposed the Dawes Act, which allocated plots of land to heads of families and broke up communal tribal holdings, generating “excess land” which the US government sold to emigrant settlers.
Red Cloud became an important leader of the Lakota as they transitioned from the freedom of the plains to the confinement of the reservation system. His trip to Washington, DC had convinced him of the number and power of European Americans, and he believed the Oglala had to seek peace.
He outlived all the other major Sioux leaders of the Indian Wars. He died in 1909 at the age of 87 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he was buried. Announcements of his death and recognition of his contributions were made in major newspapers across the country. As had been typical of the US perception during Red Cloud’s prominence in war, the article in The New York Times mistakenly described him as leader of all the Sioux bands and tribes. While he was a prominent leader, the Lakota were highly decentralized and never had one overall leader, especially of the major divisions, such as Oglala and Brulé.
Red Cloud was among the Indians photographed by Edward S. Curtis. In 2000, he was posthumously selected for induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame. He has been honored by the United States Postal Service with a 10¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
Note: Chief Red Cloud’s reign; 1868–1909, Chief Jack Red Cloud’s reign; 1909–1928, Chief James Red Cloud’s reign; 1928–1960, (to his Brother, Charles) Chief Charles Red Cloud’s reign; 1960–1979, Chief Oliver Red Cloud’s reign; 1979–present.
Oliver Red Cloud (90 years old), is the fourth generation direct descendant of Chief Red Cloud (1822–1909). Oliver is the head Chief of the Oglala Lakota Sioux people and respected Spokesman for the Lakota Sioux Nation. He also is the Chairman of the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council of today.