In June 1870, the most powerful American Indian leader in the country, Red Cloud, arrived in Washington with a contingent of Oglala and Brule Sioux. He was treated as a head of state, given tours of the Capitol and the Washington Navy Yard — where he witnessed a gunnery demonstration — and was feted at a White House reception hosted by President Ulysses S. Grant. The former commander of the Union armies may have recognized the significance of Red Cloud accomplishing in two years what Robert E. Lee could not in four: defeating the United States in a war.
What is called Red Cloud’s War officially began in 1866 when the Sioux leader could no longer abide the relentless incursions, including the building of U.S. Army forts, into his people’s territory. The high point of the war occurred when he and his field commander Crazy Horse wiped out an Army troop of 81 men. President Andrew Johnson’s stunned administration sued for peace. In November 1868, Red Cloud signed a treaty to end the fighting — only after burning the Army forts to the ground.
Less than two years later, Red Cloud was in the nation’s capital. “He became stunningly famous,” historian R. Eli Paul wrote. “Newspapers recounted his every word and deed, and large crowds of onlookers gathered at every public sighting .”
It is time for Red Cloud to return to Washington — on the professional football team’s jerseys and in its fighting spirit.
In an Oct. 9 letter to Washington Redskins season-ticket holders, owner Daniel Snyder reiterated his pride in the team and resisted calls to change its name, which Indian groups and others have proclaimed offensive. Snyder emphasized: “Our past isn’t just where we came from — it’s who we are.”