Red Cloud 18211909

Charles M. Bell (18481893)
Albumen silver print, 1880

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

“I have tried to get from my Great Father what is right and just,” exclaimed Red Cloud to government officials at the conclusion of his first trip to the East in 1870. Two years earlier the celebrated Lakota leader had forced U.S. authorities to abandon a series of newly constructed forts meant to protect settlers moving across traditional Native lands.

Beginning in 1870, however, Red Cloud would choose diplomacy, not warfare, to protect the Lakota’s land base and to ensure the tribe’s political and cultural independence. Although the westward migration of American settlers would continue largely unabated, Red Cloud remained dedicated to the future welfare of the Lakota, meeting with five different U.S. presidents over a period of thirty years.

Washington photographer Charles M. Bell seated Red Cloud next to a papier-mâché rock and a painted seascape backdrop for this portrait taken during one of his many trips to the nation’s capital.