Address at Cooper Union

Image: Headdress. National Museum of the American Indian.
What misconceptions about his people did Red Cloud want to dispel in his brief remarks? What was his purpose in addressing a white audience in New York?
How similar was his purpose to Elias Boudinot’s in his Address to the Whites?

No related resources


Red Cloud (1822–1909), an Oglala Lakota chief, was one of the most prominent Indian leaders in the second half of the nineteenth century. He led the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho in the war that bears his name, defeating the U.S. Army in the only war it had lost. The resulting Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 secured for the Sioux a huge reservation, which included the Black Hills, their most sacred site. After the defeat of the Sioux following the Battle of the Little Bighorn (June 25, 1876; known to the Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass), Red Cloud played a pivotal role in the transition to confinement on the reservation. He was the most photographed Indian of the nineteenth century.

Cooper Union, founded in 1859, is one of the nation’s most distinguished institutions of higher learning. Its founder, Peter Cooper, was an ardent abolitionist and an advocate for women’s and Indians’ rights. Activists Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at Cooper Union, as did writers Henry James and Mark Twain. Cooper was instrumental in urging President Ulysses Grant to pursue a peace policy with the Indians (See Letter to Harriet Converse).

In this brief speech, Red Cloud sought to dispel misconceptions about Indians and asked sympathetic whites to help the Indians pursue their grievances against the federal government.

—Jace Weaver

Red Cloud, Address at Cooper Union, New York Times, June 17, 1870,

My Brothers and my Friends who are here before me this day:

God Almighty has made us all, and He is here to bless what I have to say to you today. The Good Spirit made us both. He gave us lands and He gave you lands; He gave us these lands. You came here and we received you as brothers.

When God Almighty made you He made you all white and clothed you. When He made us He made us with red skins and poor. When you first came we were very many, and you were few; now you are many, and we are getting very few, and we are poor.

You do not know who appears before you today to speak. I am a representative of the original American race, the first people of this continent. We are good and not bad. The reports that you hear about us are all on one side. You are told that we are traders and thieves. We are not so. We have given you nearly all our lands, and if we had any more land to give we would be very glad to give it. We have nothing more. We are driven into a very little island, and we want you, as our dear friends, to help us with the government of the United States.

The Great Spirit made us poor and ignorant; made you rich and wise and more skillful in things which we know nothing about. The Great Father, the Good Father in Heaven, made you all to eat tame game and us to eat wild game.

Ask anyone who has gone through our country to California; ask those who have settled there and in Utah, and you will find that we have treated them always well.

You have children. We, too, have children. You want to raise your children and make them happy and prosperous; we want to raise and make them happy and prosperous. We ask you to help us to do it.

At the mouth of the Horse Creek, in 1852,1 the Great Father made a treaty with us by which we agreed to let him pass through out territory unharmed for fifty-five years. We kept this treaty. We never treated any man wrong. We never committed any murder or depredation—until afterward when the troops came. The troops killed our people and ill-treated them, and thus war and trouble arose. But before that we were quiet and peaceable and there was no disturbance.

Since then there have been various goods sent from time to time to us, but only once did they reach us. And soon, the Great Father took away the only good man he had sent us, Colonel Fitzpatrick.2 The Great Father said we must all go farming, and some of our men went to Fort Laramie and were very badly treated. We came to Washington to see the Great Father in order to have peace continue. The Great Father that made us both wishes peace to be kept; we want to keep peace. Will you help us?

In 1868 men came out and brought papers.3 We could not read them, and they did not tell us truly what was in these papers. We thought the treaty was to remove the forts, and that we should cease fighting. They said we had bound ourselves to trade on the Missouri, and we said, no, we did not want that. The interpreters deceived us. When I went to Washington I saw the Great Father.4 The Great Father showed me what the treaties were; he showed me all these points and showed me that the interpreters had deceived me and did not let me know what the treaty truly stated. All I want is right and justice. I have tried to get from the Great Father what is right and just. I have not altogether succeeded.

I want you to help me get what is right and just. I represent the Sioux Nation and they will be governed by what I say and what I represent. I am no Spotted Tail,5 to say one thing one day and be bought for a pin the next. Look at me. I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches, but we want our children trained and brought up properly. We look to you for your sympathy. Riches will do us no good. We cannot take away into the other world anything we have here. We want to have peace and love.

I was brought up among the traders and those who came out here in those early times. I had a good time for they treated us nicely and well. They taught me how to wear clothes and use tobacco, and to use firearms and ammunition, and all went on very well until the Great Father sent out another kind of men—men who drank whisky. He sent out whisky-men, men who drank and quarreled and cheated, men who were so bad that he could not keep them at home, and so he sent them out there.

I have sent a great many words to the Great Father, but I don’t know if they ever reach him. They were drowned on the way; therefore I was a little offended with it. The words I told the Great Father lately would never come to him, so I thought I would come and tell you myself.

And I am going to leave you today, and I am going back to my home. I want to have men sent out to my people whom we know and can trust. I am glad I have come here. You belong in the east and I belong in the west. And I am glad that I have come here and that we could understand one another. I am very much obliged to you for listening to me. I go home this afternoon. I hope you will think of what I have said to you.

I bid you all an affectionate farewell.

  1. 1. The Horse Creek Treaty, signed in 1851 in what is now eastern Wyoming, recognized Indian Territory. (For the later Fort Laramie treaty, see Document 21.) In return for an annuity, the Indians agreed to let settlers travel west on the Oregon Trail.
  2. 2. Possibly Thomas Fitzpatrick (1799–1854), a fur trapper and Indian agent who helped negotiate the Horse Creek Treaty.
  3. 3. Fort Laramie Treaty.
  4. 4. The president of the United States, in this case Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885).
  5. 5. Spotted Tail (c. 1823–1881) was a Brulé Lakota chief and a rival of Red Cloud’s.
Teacher Programs

Conversation-based seminars for collegial PD, one-day and multi-day seminars, graduate credit seminars (MA degree), online and in-person.

Our Core Document Collection allows students to read history in the words of those who made it. Available in hard copy and for download.