In the spring of 1869, Red Cloud and a thousand Oglala tribesmen traveled to Fort Laramie. There, the traders warned him that they’d be unable to trade with him at Fort Laramie in the future—Red Cloud would have to trade at Fort Randall, hundreds of miles away. Red Cloud was furious, since he’d earned the right to trade at Fort Laramie.
Even after signing agreements with the U.S. government, Red Cloud faced opposition when he tried to trade (as he’d been given the right to do). This only confirmed Red Cloud’s initial reluctance to negotiate with the U.S.—clearly, the U.S. was unwilling to honor its own agreements.
Around the same time, President Ulysses S. Grant was taking office. He appointed a Native American to be the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. While many Native Americans were happy with this news, they were worried by rumors of a massacre—allegedly, troops had shot an entire village of Piegan Blackfeet. In the weeks following the massacre, Native Americans became more aggressive in negotiations. They burned two government agencies.
Even as positive changes seemed to be coming to the government (a Native American Commissioner of Indian Affairs), Native Americans remained rightfully suspicious of the government’s intentions. With evidence of more massacres, Native Americans could not be pacified by simply having a Native American bureaucrat.
The new Commissioner of Indian Affairs was an Iroquois man named Donehogawa, also known as Ely Samuel Parker. After three months in office, an army officer submitted a report on the Blackfeet massacre. Donehogawa ordered an investigation. Donehogawa was familiar with racial prejudice. As a child, he’d attended missionary school, and later he went to law school. White people ridiculed him for his ambitions and refused to allow him to take the bar exam, but he refused to give up. By the age of thirty, he’d worked as a civil engineer on the Erie Canal, and during the Civil War he’d served under Ulysses S. Grant.
Donehogawa is an anomaly in Native American history—a man who managed to achieve great success among white Americans. He learned about U.S. culture and got a traditional American job as an engineer, helping to build one of the most important American infrastructural projects of the nineteenth century and fighting to protect the union during the Civil War. However, even after he’d done all of this, he continued to face prejudice from his white peers.
By 1870, Donehogawa was afraid of a widespread rebellion among the Native Americans, in retaliation for the massacre. He invited Red Cloud to visit the White House, and Red Cloud agreed. In Washington, D.C., Donehogawa bargained with Red Cloud. He tried to convince Red Cloud that his people would be given supplies as soon as they promised peace. In response, Red Cloud explained that the U.S. was hurting his people, depriving them of land and food.
Donehogawa was a Native American, but he was also loyal to the president, and this meant that his priority was preserving peace, not supplying Red Cloud with food (even though he tried to do both).
On June 9, Red Cloud met with President Grant. He explained that his people were being denied their trading rights—rights which had been given to them in the treaty of 1868. Grant knew that the treaty Congress had ratified was different from the one Red Cloud agreed to. The next day, Donehogawa read the terms of the new treaty to Red Cloud, who angrily insisted that he’d never agreed to anything of the kind. Donehogawa was able to persuade Grant to rewrite the treaty in Red Cloud’s favor, giving his people the right to trade at Fort Laramie.
Grant is another anomaly in American history of the time—he was a powerful politician and veteran of the Civil War, but he also seems to have been at least somewhat concerned with the status of Native Americans. Grant went beyond what earlier American presidents had done by rewriting the treaty to reflect Red Cloud’s terms and complaints.
Red Cloud returned to his home, where he began working closely with white administrators to set up additional trading posts and government agencies. Sitting Bull believed that the U.S. government had put “bad medicine over Red Cloud’s eyes.” But in fact, Red Cloud continued to be a shrewd leader who protected his people’s interests.
In negotiating so closely with the U.S., Red Cloud faced a classic problem: his own people began to view him as a traitor. This was darkly ironic, since Red Cloud 1) had held out against negotiations for a long time, and 2) was working night and day to protect his people’s interests.
Meanwhile, Donehogawa’s power was waning. By 1871, he was out of Washington, meaning that he couldn't protect the Sioux territory from the onset of white settlers and miners. White settlers built new camps and forts near the Sioux, paving the way for “the troublesome years ahead.”
Donehogawa couldn’t protect the Sioux after leaving office, suggesting that he didn’t even have useful contacts and connections in government. This further suggests that, as a Native American, he was never truly allowed to be part of Washington.
During his time in office, Donehogawa was instrumental in protecting Native American land from railway and mining agencies, but he made many enemies in Washington. In 1870, his enemies embarrassed him by delaying food shipments to Native American reservations. Donehogawa was forced to break regulations in order to ensure the shipments arrived on time. Then, his enemies accused him of taking the law into his own hands. Humiliated, Donehogawa resigned from office in 1871. He moved to New York City and spent the rest of his long life as a wealthy financier.
Donehogawa was, in short, pressured out of office because he was a successful Native American man who “dared” to look out for Native American interests. Even so, his success in life is, in some ways, an achievement for all Native Americans.