Connect with us

Thai Life

Books: Powwow with Chief Red Cloud



PHUKET: The histories of wars are told by the victors.

We have Caesar’s Gallic Wars, nothing by Vercingetorix. Entire libraries are devoted to the white man’s wars against the American Indians, whose leaders remain largely mute.

The exception is Red Cloud, the war chief of the Sioux. His war in 1866-1867 resulted in victory, withdrawal of the United States Army and the burning of three forts along the Bozeman Trail through Wyoming to Montana. He left behind an autobiography, dictated to a friend in 1893, which was only recovered and published a century later.

This is the core source for The Heart of Everything That Is (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013, 414pp), subtitled “The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend”. The authors are a war historian team, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, who provide 17 pages of scholarly notes and an eight page bibliography – though, as they maintain, ‘we are primarily interested in telling a good yarn’.

They have succeeded splendidly. They first provide a detailed historical-cultural background to Red Cloud’s successful campaign against white encroachment on his land and traditional way of life: happily feasting on game and massacring enemies.

The Sioux originated in the Carolinas or the Gulf of Mexico and made their way up the Mississippi to the Missouri. Armed with muskets and mounted on horseback, the western branch moved across the High Plains to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, displacing the tribes that got in their way, the Crows and the Shoshone, and allying themselves with the Cheyenne and the Arapaho.

Red Cloud was born in 1821 and grew to early fame as a warrior and buffalo hunter. He maintained his band in the lush hunting country of the Powder River valley, far away from the diseases and whiskey of the whites. It was only when the whites came to him along the Bozeman Trail, to the gold fields of Montana, that he gathered together a war party of 3,000 – uniting even warring tribes like Tecumseh did a half century earlier – and struck back.

He was outnumbered and outgunned. Behind their forts, the US Army had Colt revolvers and Spencer repeating rifles.

Aside from a few muskets, the Indians were armed with lances, war-clubs and bows and arrows. So Red Cloud avoided direct battle. Instead, he imposed guerilla tactics and a strategic vision, put into action by the martial discipline of tribal warrior societies, the Strong Hearts of the Sioux and the Dog Soldiers of the Cheyenne.

He was aided by the stupidity of the blundering whites. His raiding parties picked off stray soldiers, stole horses and pillaged supply trains.

When punitive columns set off in pursuit, they found nobody. When Red Cloud was ready, he pounced, ambushing and overwhelming his enemies and leaving behind their naked and horribly mutilated bodies.

The authors are very good at battle scenes: “Two thousand warriors rose as one. A trembling war cry borne by the wind echoed through the hills, a curdling primal scream… The Indians rolled toward the soldiers like a prairie fire. From the left, Cheyenne horsemen charged from clusters of dogwoods and cottonwoods. From the cutbank on the right, Lakota and Arapaho on foot scrambled from the tall grass. Arrows blackened the sky, killing and wounding both friend and foe. Fetterman’s commands could barely be heard amid the shrieks and shrill whistles.”

Thus 80 troopers of Civil War hero Captain William Fetterman met their doom. They had been led into ambush by a few taunting Sioux warriors, including a young Crazy Horse who mooned them in

A decade later, the same tactic led to the Custer massacre at Little Big Horn. By then, Red Cloud was out of the fight, settled down in a reservation, living in a house and sending his children to school. He had met President Ulysses S. Grant and toured the teeming cities of the East, and knew the game was up. The buffalo were gone and the whites were there to stay.

“The white man made me a lot of promises, and they only kept one.” Red Cloud would say. “They promised to take my land, and they took it.”

— James Eckardt


Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Crime4 seconds ago

1 dead, 4 injured as gunman rampage at a Bangkok wedding

Crime15 mins ago

Tenant fined 140,000 baht for keeping dog in Bangkok condominium

Pattaya29 mins ago

Speedo-wearing middle-aged joggers in Jomtien cause uproar

Sponsored2 hours ago

British International School Phuket: Reflecting on 25 years of world-class education

Thailand43 mins ago

Thailand No.1 in the world for a wellness retreat

Health45 mins ago

Which type of health insurance do you need in Thailand?

Thailand1 hour ago

Gunman wounds 8 in Jerusalem, 48 dead in Israeli Gaza strikes

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Thailand2 hours ago

Thailand among top 5 destinations for Chinese travelers | GMT

Travel14 hours ago

Where to find underrated international cuisines in Bangkok

Bangkok15 hours ago

Chinatown manhole covers to use art, tech to become cultural map

Transport16 hours ago

Man fights Indian Railways for 22 years for justice (and 9 baht)

Events18 hours ago

Tourism Minister visits Full Moon Party, supports later curfew

Crime18 hours ago

Thais cautioned against fake government websites

Thailand19 hours ago

Another Thai boxer dies from brain injury after fight in Malaysia

Thailand19 hours ago

Expats in Thailand, Cartoon characters & Letting Loose | Thaiger Bites

Pattaya19 hours ago

VIDEO: Young Thais have a blast at Pattaya Music Festival weekend 2

Thailand11 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism1 year ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11