By PATRICIA DANNATT, North Platte Telegraph
The hood of Henry’s vehicle dipped downward into the Platte Valley as he drove south on Highway 83. When North Platte and the valley came into view, Henry felt a stirring in his chest. There was a feeling of coming home, he said, even though he had never been in North Platte. “I felt as though I had made a full circle and I was home,” said Henry John Red Cloud of Pine Ridge, S.D.
Henry was in North Platte to participate in the second annual Pow Wow the weekend of Oct. 22-24. A part of his trip was a pilgrimage to find the place where his great-great-great-great-grandfather was born, a site east of North Platte where the North and South Platte rivers converge.Chief Red Cloud was born around 1822. According to family legend, he was born in the winter camp of the Sioux at the fork of the North and South Platte rivers.
Early in the morning of Oct. 22, Henry sought his way to where the rivers meet. A heavy fog lay over the valley and Henry inched his way through the fog until he came to the fork of the rivers.He sat along the riverbank, meditating as he took in the beauty, the calmness. “The water was almost still. With the trees and vegetation, it was so soothing,” Henry said. And, as he sat there, he heard – in his head or in his heart – the cry of an infant child over the waters. “It was heart-comforting. I received guidance and healing from being there,” he said. “If I could be born all over again, I would like to be born there,” he said, in his soft voice. As he lingered in that mystical spot, watching and listening to the songs of the birds and the sounds of animals nearby, sunrays broke through the fog and Henry could see the other side of the riverbank.
“This is a very historical place in our culture, to me and to my family. Ever since the birth of Red Cloud, generations have always talked about the fork of the two rivers.” Henry was raised by his grandfather, who was Red Cloud’s grandson, and his grandmother. Their stories are not written but are passed down orally from one generation to another. “They always spoke so gentle and so warming, that you remembered what they said,” Henry said.
Henry related the history of Red Cloud traveling on the “iron horse” for five days to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Great White Grandfather (the president). Red Cloud saw the great numbers of white people – “like ants living on top of each other” – and when he returned home to his people he told them of the great numbers of white people he had seen and that the Lakota people must make peace with the white people or be annihilated. “He envisioned the Lakota as we are today, the two nations coming together and living in harmony,” Henry said, clasping his hands to make one.
Henry said he feels that Red Cloud looks upon this generation and generations to come to continue on this path of peace and living in harmony with the earth, sun, wind and water and other nations.
Most people have tunnel vision, Henry said. “We get only a birds-eye view. We need to be open and see with the mind’s eye and heart and let the healing begin.” Henry speaks of an eternal dream to go back to the old way of life, where families lived self-sufficiently from the land, with organic gardening and herds of buffalo. “The buffalo are sacred in our culture,” Henry said. He believes the buffalo kept his ancestors healthy. Red Cloud died in 1909 at the age of 89.
Henry sees the Colorado organization Village Earth as a way to bring about the dream of returning to the old way of life.The organization helps not only with restoring buffalo to the families on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but provides help with other programs promoting self-sufficiency. For more information on the project, go to www.villageearth.org and click on Pine Ridge Project.
Helping improve life for families is not a choice for Henry and his family but an inborn belief. “We are visitors. We come to this world and we must leave it better for generations to come,” Henry said. Henry’s one regret from his visit to Red Cloud’s birthplace is that there is not a marker noting the significance of the site.
A marker or monument, Henry said, would help others seek Red Cloud’s birthplace and to find the peace and healing he found.