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America 1820-1890 (Fall 2002)

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Nathan Crum
04:12 PM ET (US)
      The discussions in class today about Red Cloud raised an interesting contradiction that I would like to further detail. The stories in the “autobiography” were obviously centered around battles, raids, and conflicts. Most of these events were depicted as random and unprovoked, which would lead one to believe in the savageness of the Sioux as a tribe and people, but it is doubtful if this was Red Cloud's goal in telling the stories. Therefore, the war topics discussed, both vivid and descriptive, serve to make a point for both the Native American and white settler side of an interprative issue.

      For Red Cloud, these stories were boasted about in his old age as an attempt to glorify his pride and courage in his younger years. The status of a man in the Sioux tribe was determined by his actions on the battlefield, so it was essential to Red Cloud that he be depicted as having deserved his position as a respected leader. For the most part, however, these stories were for simple bragging rights, not much unlike those of a group of modern drinking buddies crowded around a bar table, bragging about and exaggerating the glory days of their younger lives. The pure element of machismo is completely relevant, and what is I believe the major theme of the stories for Red Cloud.

     On the contradictory side, war stories that depict unlawful raids and killings give every white frontiersmen his excuse to invade Indian land. It was assumed that if imperialistic ideals had been a core value in Sioux society, then the law of natural selection was simply inevitable. This inevitableness allowed white men to do the same type deeds to the Native Americans that they believed the Native Americans had done to others. The depicted war journals gave settlers more of a peace of mind in doing it, too. It’s easier on the conscience to steal from a thief or kill a murderer.

     This contradiction of themes was not clear to either side at the time of Indian land removal, but in hindsight, we can see things differently. Thus raises a segment of the question that we have discussed over and over again. When looking at a historical document, what determines how it is to be interpreted? And is it our interpretation that we should take from that document, or should we try to objectively view the issue from the author’s (or in this case, the orator’s) point of view? In other words, who plays a larger role in creating the essence of history – the author or the reader?
Edited 12-05-2002 04:15 PM
Cal Leipold
10:19 AM ET (US)
Sorry for the late post

I agree with the statements of most of the class about how easy to read this book was for me. I found to be quite interesting and informative. Leanna mentioned that she had never heard of Red Cloud, and I was in the same situation before reading the book. This suprised me because of the many exploits of Red Cloud. As the only Indian to win military victories over the United State, his place in the historical record seems somewhat neglected. This may be because the fighting between the Indians and U.S troops is often mentioned briefly in history classes.
I think this book has value in that it gives it's reader an insight into Indian culture and customs. The book often portrays Red Cloud, as Brittany mentioned, as a mere savage. Allan's account of Red Cloud is understandable due to his postion and the time in which he wrote, and once the reader seperates the bias in the writing from the facts of the story many things of intrest come up. Allan goes into detail on Red Cloud's political skills and I found this to be one of the better parts of the book.
Becky Lane
08:49 PM ET (US)
I, too, apologize for the late posting. I also thought that the posting wouldn't be due until our class discussion.

I agree with Jake that Red Cloud is portrayed out of context in comparison to other tribes. You know that he was not the only Indian that acted in this manner. To the 'white men', his actions may seem irrational or savage, but when you turn your preconceived notions of proper behavior upside down, to an Indian, his actions may have made perfect sense. When you think that the Americans were pushing their way west and taking over Indian lands, you have to wonder how the Americans would react if, say, the Canadians tried to take them over. You can bet that they would react fiercely to protect what was theirs, and rightfully so. I think Red Cloud acted the same way, in a manner of speaking.

I enjoyed the book, as it seems most of the class also did.
Edited 12-02-2002 08:51 PM
Ashley Carroll
04:43 PM ET (US)
Very sorry for the late post-didn't realize we needed to have posted by classtime today.

Anyways, as has been mentioned several times, I felt the book did center around the various rivalries between and sometimes within a tribe. While this was easy to read, I thought it became somewhat tedious after a while. I realize this book was written to give an accurate portrayal of Native Americans, but the massive amount of time spent on fighting just serves to perpetuate what I think to be an inaccurate stereotype.

I enjoyed reading about the customs more than anything else-especially with marriage and social hierarchy(I thought this idea was especially interesting since, as the author noted, Native Americans were viewed to be very democratic). Red Cloud was certainly an interesting man, but as the author points out, a man with faults. By noting these faults it is much easier to picture Red Cloud as an actual human being instead of this magnanimous leader that some biographers would have a tendency to do.

Overall I found the book to be very interesting if a bit too concentrated on war.
Brittany Thome
02:37 PM ET (US)
Sorry for a late posting- I thought since our discussion was delayed so was our posting.
 I personally have always found Indians very captivating. As a youth I read many books about Indians, heard stories from my grandad who is part Cherokee, and visited many Indian villages. Each experience left me with a deep interest in a culture that was so swiftly and decidely removed/ compartmentalized in American society. Therefore I found Red Cloud to be a fascinating person. However I was a little disappointed in how the book portrayed him. He was seen as a savage that had little better to do then create a disturbance with other tribes. The book makes comment that after a long winter of no fighting that Red Cloud and his men simply set out fight surrounding Indians. The book does take note to descibe his bravery in fighting, but does little to explain the motivation behind such fighting. Try as they may, Red Cloud comes off looking like a savage with an over aggressive approach to life. Certainly Red Cloud isn't in the world of the white men and will not work according to white man's standards. I wish the book would have provided a wider base and understanding of Indian culture that would have brought better understanding of the man Red Cloud.
On a positive note, I found what the book did include to be fascinating. The accounts of his fightings, marriage, etc. were great insights into Indian culture. The book was both descriptive and concise in its treatment of such events. You could imagine him sneaking up on unsuspecting enemies, or walking through his village. I had a sense of being there with him. The easy-read style was great for reading over break too!
Red Cloud's story is one that vividly portrays an important era in our history and overall I would recommend this book to anyone.
Lloyd BensonPerson was signed in when posted
01:02 PM ET (US)
The presentation page for today's treatment of the new urban environment can be found at:
Andy Gould
11:55 AM ET (US)
I've always been interested in Native American culture as it progressed throughought American history, and this book fulfilled that desire to learn about the state of affairs for the Indians. Like Ensley said, the way that battles and savagery was focused on was a little disappointing because I wanted to learn more about their family traditions and other subtle things. I was thankful for the ease of reading this over break, but I have to question the author's motives in writing this book, and I would love to know what was left out in the process of putting this together.
Andrew Carson
11:52 AM ET (US)
  In regards to the attention to deatil and the easy reading of Red Cloud's Autobiography, I believe that they both added to the purpose of the book as a whole. The fact that the book was an easy read pevents a reaction like many of us had to other books we have read where we became disinterested and lost focus on the topis of the book. The presentation of the biography in a mini-series style seemed really interesting to me and, in contrast to past readings, presented an entertaining approach to history rather than a simple, though informative, documentary.
   The militaristic perception of Red Cloud did not seem barbaric or "uncivilized" to me when taken in context with other historical events. I particularly enjoyed the unique insight into the rituals of native american life and the intra-tribe relations. I feel like I was pretty uninformed about many aspects of Native American and I really felt this reading gave me good insights into the life on Native AMericans.
Ensley Parkinson
11:35 AM ET (US)
Like many of my classmates I enjoyed this book and found it interesting. Like Leanna I had never heard of Red Cloud before reading his autobiography and after reading it I am wondering why I hadn't. I enjoyed the attention to detail on Native American life. One thing I didn't like about the book is how it tended to reenforce many people's stereotypes that native americans are savage, barbaric murderers. What I think people need to realize is that in the time this book was written native american life was based alot around fighting between the tribes to protect the individuals of each tribe. All this shows is the differance in the NAtive American culture and the American culture and how at this time there was such a difference in the ideals of the cultures. Again I did enjoy this book and I found its attention to detail very enlightening, however I don't feel that I got the whole story because I found the book so biased.
Liz Moore
11:32 AM ET (US)
I think I'll have to agree with Paul when he said that of course the book centers around war and killings. First of all, Red Cloud was daily sitting down with Deon and telling stories of his life, without a clue that Deon was turning around and writing down the stories with the purpose of publishing a book. Think about it, what kind of stories do people tell today when they're just chillin? Picture a big group of people. The person in the center of attention isnt going to tell about their trip to Publix or about how they did their laundry that day. That person is going to tell funny stories, adventerous stories, romantic stories. And two, Deon and Allen were trying to record what would sell. Remember how Allen sent the manuscript off to publisher after publisher, but they wouldnt publish it because it "dealt little with events deemed important to the winning of the West" (16) (more on this later!)? This means that even if Red Cloud had told about how he painted his plate with tribal patterns, Allen wouldnt have included it because he was looking for the $ale. And what sells? barbarians and killings! Think about movies today.... what would Braveheart be without a single battle? Imagine going to a movie and watching Indians paint pottery and washing their clothes in the river. Combined with what sells and what Red Cloud the warrior was most likely to talk about, is the white American hatrid of Native Americans, which is definitely a large reason that Native Americans are depicted as nothing but barbarians and warriors in The Autobiography of Red Cloud.
Something else that struck me as I was reading the Introduction is what is not covered in the book. Like I said before, publishers wouldnt publish the book because it did not cover the events of Red Cloud defeating the United States. Why is Red Cloud famous? Because he was "the only Indian leader to win a war against the United States" (6). The single greatest incident in his life, according to whites, is not included in Red Clouds autobiography. He talked easily about his wins over other tribes, yet refuses to talk about fighting the whites. Does this mean that Red Cloud was not proud of his victory over the whites?
Jake Murtiashaw
10:57 AM ET (US)
Despite the fact that Red Cloud's Autobiography was written in a rather simplistic manner, it did not fail in presenting me with some very strong themes; and therefore, as Catherine said, I have mixed feelings towards the book. First of all, it was rather easy reading and aesthetically pleasing. The book was very entertaining and interesting. I really enjoyed the detail provided for each account of Red Cloud's bravery. I particularly liked the account of the Sioux's failed raid on the Gros Ventre tribe, and Red Cloud's subsequent escape by boat. Another aspect that I enjoyed from this autobiography were the stories of Native American--whats the word-- politics, I guess. For example, Red Cloud's rivalry with another Sioux warrior, Black Eagle, due to his attempt to create a mutiny against Red Cloud within the tribe. I guess I liked this passage because of the illustration that human nature does not change and that similar themes occur throughout history and civilizations.

As enjoyable a read as this was though, I definitely had some problems with it. I did not like how Red Cloud was portrayed almost exclusively as a brutal warrior. I really believe that in order to understand the story you need to realize that the Native American lifestyle was extremely different than any other ever seen in North America. If Red Cloud is compared to Robert E. Lee, for example, he looks to be a disgusting, savage murderer. However, after considering his natural suroundings, he is almost immediately promoted to brave warrior. I don't think that this book did a particularly good job of putting the story into it's cultural place. Overall though I definitely enjoyed the book and would recommend that it remain on the curriculum.
Michael Parker
10:52 AM ET (US)
I felt this book was interesting if not a little slow at times because of the immense detail (which I admit was probably necessary). Chris Cox made an excellent point about what else could we have expected Allen to focus the book except warfare. Through this focus the bias and perceptions towards Native Americans as savage people becomes abundantly clear to the reader. I feel that seeing potential bias and being skeptical is helpful to our understanding of society at this time. Through this book I received a healthy look into how Native Americans were perceived at this time. I like many people felt that discussing the daily life of the Native Americans may have been a beneficial addition to the book, but it is one of those requests where you need to be careful what you ask for because you just may get it. I do not know that I would have wanted to read more about daily life when the book was tedious at some spots anyways.
Leanna DuPree
10:37 AM ET (US)
     After reading the postings of my fellow classmates, I feel just slightly ignorant in revealing that, before reading this book, I had never heard of Red Cloud. It is entirely possible that I did learn about him at some point and just was not paying attention (whoops!), but I would think that I would have recognized at least the name of the only Native American to lead his people in "military victory against the United States Army" and actually negotiate with President Grant face-to-face (p 8). Reading this book interested me in large part because I was learning about someone, of obvious importance, who I had never heard of before. This being the case, I do think about how the slant of the transcribers of this autobiography influce my idea of Native Americans.

     Several of my classmates have pointed out the bias present against the Native Americans, portraying them as war mongers and savages uncapable of successful negotiations. I think that Paul made a very good point, though, in that the different fighting tribes are parallel in many ways to the "bickering nation states" of the Western world. They also made me think of stories I've seen on the news about African tribes killing each other today. As "civilized" Americans we gasp at the brutality and inhumanity of such stories, but I definitely think, too, about the atrocious things Americans have done, as Jefe pointed out. I thought it was apparent, though certainly not emphasised, that alcohol and firearms introduced through Westerners decreased quality of life and increased mortality rates for the Native Americans, as shown in chapters 6 and 18 for alochol and throughout the narrative for guns. This just reminded me of learning about these devastating affects of white western expansion in a more modern-day setting in the story, _Ceremony_ by Leslie Marmon Silko, that I had to read junior year, probably because it is the only other Native American book I've read.

     Unlike some of my classmates, though, I think this book does include information about the "daily life" of the Oglala people, depending on what one's definition of "daily life" is. True, it does not venture into the actual day to day goings on of the people, but it does give informative accounts of the rituals surrounding important events of marriage, death, war, and feasting. As Rusty noted, this book is very detailed. I, for one, know this book benefitted me by informing me of who Red Cloud was. Yes, one does have to face the question of objectivity in this as with all historical books, and passing through several hands cans reduce a story's integrity, but what else can one do but take in as much information as is available from various sources and from them piece together a history to the best of their ability (like we did with our term projects)? Though I wish Red Cloud had chosen to relate stories of his later interactions with Americans, such as his travels to Washington, I can see where these would not be the glorious type of story he would like to keep remembering; nontheless, this book added to my knowledge of Native Americans.
Chris Cox
10:36 AM ET (US)
Should we really be surprised that Allen focused on mainly on fighting when writing about Red Cloud and the lives of the Oglalas? During the time of the original writing, there was still an obvious perception of Native Americans as savages merely impeding American Manifest Destiny. Fighting was the only thing of importance (in the minds of many living in that time) that the Native Americans ever did. As David pointed out, why would anyone at that time care what Red Cloud did when he wasn't fighting off rival tribes? The result of such writing is that we witness Red Cloud and the Oglalas through the lense of a culture that did not hold them in high regard. This is certainly history, but it is not the complete story (history rarely is). I also plead ignorance on the subject matter with which The Autobiography of Red Cloud dealt. Given that I found the book interesting as it did give some, though skewed, insight on an era to which I have paid much attention.
Daniel Martin
10:28 AM ET (US)
I like many others thought that The Autobiography of Red Cloud was definitely biased against the Indians. However, I thought it was quite interesting as to the way in which the Indian communities were depicted. It made me think back to another book that I had read during a religion class and I drew quite a few parallels to this book. The Autobiography seemed to be one big ongoing war between tribes. I don’t think that this makes them barbaric, it just shows that the culture of these people included conquering other tribes and using their resources. The religion book that I had read, the name of which escapes me now, concentrated of course on the religion of the Indians, but it did have a major emphasis on the battles of the tribes. The fighting and war among these tribes were all about resources, I believe. In retrospect, if the tribes had some system of organization where all the resources were shared, the prospect of attack from European powers might have been slimmer.
Sam Wells
10:26 AM ET (US)
Like everyone else in the class, I enjoyed this autobiography of Red Cloud because of how easy it was to read. There is no way my attention would have been kept if there had been long chapters on the everyday social habits of the Lakotas. Like David Gladden said, no one wants to read about how a bowl was made. Fighting and wars sells books, and I believe Allen, Sheldon, and even Eli Paul realized this. Reading things like the Pawnee village raids, the war with the Omahas, and the killing of Bull Bear is what readers would like to see. However, that made me think of the absence of Red Cloud’s scuffles with white men.

White men would be the ones reading these books, and does anyone think that a white man would like to read about other white men being brutally killed by Red Clud and the rest of the Bad Faces? Would a white reader be interested in hearing a story about a white man being scalped alive, or a dead white man having his arm cut off? One would certainly think that Allen and Sheldon would carefully avoid any gruesome stories about the slaying of white men, but Paul should have dug deeper and tried to find some accounts of conflicts between Red Cloud and whites. Why is there not a more insightful look into the Fettermen Massacre? I don’t necessarily believe that Red Cloud did not wish to discuss conflicts with white men “because they were friends”. Maybe Allen and Sheldon were the ones who did not wish to discuss the issues. If they had, I don’t believe American readers of the early 20th century would have enjoyed reading about the killings of whites.
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