The Heart of Everything That Is

The Heart of Everything That Is The Untold Story of Red Cloud,  An American Legend  by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

Red Cloud was a tragic star in a long, long story of dispatching the Indians from the American West.  Momentum drove them toward the setting sun with the development of the railroad.

The beginning of the end for Red Cloud’s Lakota, and all Plains Indians, had actually arrived…in 1869…when the Union Pacific Railroad was completed across southern Wyoming and northern Utah, with a spur line running north to western Montana goldfields. Once the final spike was driven the old overland trails–the Oregon and the Mormon, the Santa Fe and the Bozeman were obsolete. And with the railroad arrived an army of buffalo hunters, whose deadly accurate 50-caliber Sharps rifles would soon wipe the prairie clean and do what no battle commander had ever been able to accomplish–drive the starving, destitute Lakota onto the white man’s reservations.    p. 359.

I grew up in Dakota country, a short distance west of the Minnesota River Valley.  The old prairie can be imagined out there still, in patches between the corn and soybeans. A sea of grassland.

Modern Americans living in an irrigated and fertilized West would find it difficult to visualize the stark contrast to the early eighteenth century between the green, forested land and what lay beyond when it more or less ceased to exist around the ninety-fifth meridian west-a line running a roughly southerly course from modern-day Minneapolis to San Antonio. the sere, harsh, timberless prairie that stretched westward from that line was as great a barrier as any ocean. Even the grass bending and rising uniformly with the wind gave an impression of waves rolling in from the sea. …The decision to venture into this emptiness called for either extreme courage or supreme foolhardiness. The Sioux had ample streaks of both. p. 39

It wasn’t until casino gambling came to the agency of the Lower Sioux (the French name for the Dakota) that the agency became visible to most people I knew. Now Dakota Ridge Golf Course and Jackpot Junction Casino are destinations for busloads of gamblers with buffet appetites from Minneapolis and Chicago. The modest Indian houses were resided. Foreign cars, never before seen on those gravel roads, appeared.

The Indian Wars of the mid 1860s were still a distant, ghostly memory to me when I was young, commemorated here and there with a roadside plaque.  There is an old farm house less than a mile from my house, up high on the southern bank of the cottonwood river. It has a little lookout on top. I was told that it was a lookout for Indians coming up from the river or across the prairie fields.  Dakotas attacked settlers until the US Army subdued them in Minnesota and drove most of them west. On December 26, 1862, at the direction of  President Lincoln, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, on the Minnesota River, the largest mass execution in American history. Witnesses reported that some of the Indian men held hands as they were killed. Drury and Clavin write that “Most died wearing war paint.” p. 166

The execution of 38 Indians at Mankato Minnesota, 1862.

Most of the Sioux were sent into exile in the Dakota Territory, where their ancestors are today. The fight to pursue the Sioux moved west with those exiles, to the Great Plains.  The sacred Black Hills (The Heart of Everything That Is) were a flashpoint. Red Cloud was the chief who gathered the Sioux factions to defeat the United States Army (1866-1868), the only Indian in history to do that.

In 1866, at the height of Red Cloud’s War, fewer than 2 million whites populated the West; twenty-five years later, with a grid of iron rails crisscrossing the prairie, the number had risen to 8.5 million. Today it is 86 million.  p. 365.

Red Cloud



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