In 1821, two events occurred that would lead to the only chapter in U.S. history in which the nation would sue for peace with any of the Native American nations. Along the Platte River in Nebraska a comet was sighted, leaving a red trail behind it, and a child was born into the Sioux Nation. This was seen as an omen as chronicled in "The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend" by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. The rise of Red Cloud to prominence is not just Sioux history but American history, too.
Simon & Schuster ($30).
When he was 4, Red Cloud lost his father to alcohol poisoning, which was at that time akin to being born out of wedlock in Victorian society. His mother then moved back to her people.
Red Cloud was taken under the wing of two prominent male family members to educate him in the ways of the warrior, hunter, tracker and, ultimately, leader. The advent of the horse and gun came next in helping to extend lands controlled or fought for. This further shaped Red Cloud's use of tactics in counting coup and distributing the spoils of victory throughout the village.
Another event that shaped Red Cloud was the advance of the white man and his broken promises. As settlers and soldiers continued moving into his territory, it forced Red Cloud to act. As a leader, he was shrewd. Displaying many traits admired in his society, he also knew the value of making the correct political moves through marriage, sponsorship of a highly placed medicine man and by distributing the prizes of a good hunt or from a victory against an enemy.
In the Sioux society, a good hunter or warrior was expected to help care for the poor, widows and orphans, and Red Cloud saw the value of providing for them. In battle he was a tactician who studied his opponent and would plan attacks accordingly. Red Cloud also studied the use of weapons so that he knew how best to neutralize or at least minimize his opponent's effectiveness. A favorite tactic was using small parties to lure bigger opponents into traps sprung by hidden forces.
In a period of just over 18 months, he had brought the U.S. Army to a standstill and could have possibly inflicted greater damage had he pressed his advantage. Even though he did not do that, it did force the United States to sue for peace and meet his demands, which included the closing of three forts.
As in earlier treaties, this was not a lasting one and was ultimately broken by the United States again, the difference now being that even Red Cloud recognized the futility of fighting. Red Cloud's later years were spent in the role of a statesman. He made many trips to Washington, D.C., to plead the case of his people and argue for better conditions. His legacy still lives among the Oglala Sioux with his son, grandson and great-grandson rising to become the leader.
The authors fall a bit short in the end. Much of the book details the outside influences such as a treaty ceremony in 1851, the construction and personnel of Fort Phil Kearny and the lengths to which the migration and changes from use of horse and gun were discussed.
While each of these things is of some importance to the story, none really makes up a significant portion of Red Cloud's life. For being a story on Red Cloud, there is too much additional detail that is not Red Cloud's untold story. Not much is known of Red Cloud in part because the Oglala were very casual about written records and histories.
Many interesting things are discussed in detailing portions of Red Cloud's life, but too little of his war with the United States is told, with the exception of his initial victory. With an abundance of sources available during this time one would think that it would merit better than an honorable mention.
Robert Ursin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer living in the South Hills.