“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 the Lakota leader’s many trips to the nation’s capital.
Frank Goodyear, associate curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, recently discussed Red Cloud at a Face-to-Face portrait talk. This 1880 portrait by Charles M. Bell is on view at the Portrait Gallery, in the exhibition “Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845–1924,” on the museum’s second floor.
Listen to Frank Goodyear's Face-to-Face talk on Red Cloud (33:03)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, October 8, when NPG’s Maya Foo speaks about Joshua A. Norton. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Red Cloud 1821–1909 / Charles M. Bell (1848–1893) / Albumen silver print, 1880/ National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C