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Preface from...
Autobiography of Red Cloud, War Leader of the Oglalas


Red Cloud
Red Cloud (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2063.ph)

On a library shelf at the Nebraska State Historical Society rests a bound manuscript titled, "Life of Red Cloud." The author of the manuscript is Addison E. Sheldon, a former director of the Society. The 1932 manuscript, which consists of 134 typed, double-spaced pages, purports to be the life story of the Lakota chief, Red Cloud, one of the West's most famous Native American figures. Historians have generally remained unaware of the Sheldon manuscript or have given it little credence, perhaps for good reason--until now.

"Life of Red Cloud," it turns out, was not written in 1932 but rather in 1893. Furthermore, the author was not Sheldon, who had only a passing acquaintance with the famed chief, but was instead Charles W. Allen, who had resided with Red Cloud on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota. The 1932 date appears because that was the year the manuscript was typed by Mari Sandoz, at the time Sheldon's assistant at the Nebraska State Historical Society and later a noted western writer. The document has a complex genealogy, which, using previously overlooked or restricted material in the Nebraska historical collections, can be traced with some certainty.

The document's saga began in 1893 at the Pine Ridge post office, where Red Cloud and Sam Deon, his longtime friend, would sit and reminisce. Deon easily coaxed from the old man stories of his early years. Then, without Red Cloud's knowledge, Deon repeated the stories to Allen, who wrote them down. Allen's efforts during the decade to find an eastern book publisher came to nothing, and he turned to Sheldon, a former associate.

Sheldon received a typescript from Allen as early as 1902 and agreed to shepherd it through to publication, a promise he never kept. The 1902 transcript, which has not survived, was retyped by Sandoz in 1932. Portions of Allen's 1893 handwritten manuscript appeared in an obscure South Dakota magazine in 1895-96, however, and provide an invaluable comparison to the surviving document. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Allen's original notes and manuscript are unknown today, but the details of the time, place, and persons involved in writing the "Life" are known and lend credibility to the surviving typed manuscript, annotated and published here under the title Autobiography of Red Cloud.

This title was chosen advisedly, for although Sheldon's involvement clouded the fact, "Life of Red Cloud" is more than a narrative biography. Rather, it is Red Cloud's autobiography, defined here as the story of one's own life written by oneself or dictated to another. Such an expansive definition is necessary when considering Native American autobiographies, a genre that has depended largely on narrators who did not speak English, interpreters of varied skill as cultural intermediaries, and white authors as often heavy-handed editors. As a result, some observers of the genre ignore entirely the distinctions between biography and autobiography, and in this instance that seems fair.

These considerations help address a problem that all of Charles Allen's potential publishers and modern historians encountering the document have faced, for the autobiography has seemingly lost its native voice and with it the opportunity to contribute significantly to our knowledge of Red Cloud's life. An examination of the history of Red Cloud's story and an understanding of Native American autobiography show otherwise.

R. Eli Paul
Nebraska State Historical Society


Table of Contents

Editor's Introduction

1. The Coming Chief. A teenage Red Cloud goes on his first raid, which is successful, against the Pawnees of Nebraska.

2. Ambush. Warned of an approaching Crow raid, Red Cloud joins the men of his village to surprise and kill them. He counts three coups.

3. War with the Omahas. Camps of the Sioux and Omaha tribes encounter one another on disputed hunting grounds. Red Cloud and four companions charge the Omahas, and Red Cloud helps a wounded comrade from the field of battle.

4. Raid on the Crows. Red Cloud shows great initiative and bravery as a member of a successful horse raid.

5. Shoshones. Leading a party of twelve men, Red Cloud captures sixty Shoshone horses. He counts coup on one adversary and kills and scalps him.

6. Shooting Bull Bear. A deadly tribal feud climaxes in the killing of the Oglala chief Bull Bear by Red Cloud.

7. Raid on the Pawnees. During an attack on a Pawnee village Red Cloud is wounded. His comrades help him return home safely.

8. Marriage. In love with two women, Red Cloud chooses one to marry.

9. Failure. Black Eagle, an Oglala rival, leads a raid against the Crows. The foray meets with disaster.

10. Scalped Alive. Red Cloud leads an avenging party to Crow country, where he finds a village and captures a nearby herd of horses. Red Cloud scalps an apparent Crow sentry.

11. The Pipe Dance. Red Cloud participates in a series of ceremonies that mark his entry into the upper echelons of Sioux society.

12. To Whip a Dog. Red Cloud beats a Cheyenne man accused of abusing a Sioux woman.

13. Decoying the Crows. After a Crow party steals many Oglala horses, Red Cloud and his men pursue and recover them. Knowing the Crow will retaliate, Red Cloud conceives the ruse of leaving a decoy herd of worthless horses near his village as bait.

14. Escape by Boat. A distant raid goes awry when members of the Gros Ventres tribe warn an Arikara village of the Sioux approach, and Red Cloud must escape an ambush by boat. He travels alone for several days down the Missouri River.

15. Revenge. Still stinging from the failed Arikara raid, the Oglalas take their revenge on an Arapaho village. The Arapahos are kinsmen of the Gros Ventres.

16. The Snake Fort. A large contingent led by Red Cloud runs into a Shoshone war party, which takes refuge at a natural, hilltop fortification of rocks.

17. Traders. Sam Deon, along with his competitors, appears in Red Cloud's village with wagons full of goods.

18. The Whiskey Peddler. A drunken spree creates turmoil in the Oglala village. Red Cloud protects Deon from the anger directed at another, offending trader.

19. The Lost Children. An old man recounts a story on the origins of the Western Sioux.

20. Sword's Death in Battle. On the heels of Crow raiders, Red Cloud slays one, but a Crow chief kills Sword, a relative.

21. End of the Story. The traders are told to leave the village because the Sioux are considering war against the whites.

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