Book: Red Cloud and the Indian Trader

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John William Dear was born in 1845 into a close-knit farming family in Northern Virginia. After the Civil War, when he fought as a Confederate soldier with Mosby's Rangers, he went West. For fifteen years, until his premature death, Dear lived a tumultuous life in the West as one of the last fur traders on the Upper Missouri and as the longest serving, government-appointed Indian Trader to Red Cloud's Sioux. But misfortune struck time and again: he was stripped of his lucrative tradership by a corrupt Commissioner of Indian Affairs and a former Governor of Nebraska and he lost his trading business when the President changed the border between Dakota Territory and Nebraska to prevent JW from trading with his Indian clientele. His is an authentic Wild West story, true and tragic.

In the summer of 1871 JW met Red Cloud, the powerful leader of the Oglala who at that time was probably the most respected Indian chief in America. For the next twelve years the two men lived alongside each other on the vast Northern Plains. This was one of the most turbulent, violent, and controversial periods in the history of the American West. The end of the Civil War saw tens of thousands of emigrants brave the 2,000-mile journey across Indian territory in search of a better life in California and Oregon. It saw the coming of the trans-continental railroad across Indian land; the wanton slaughter of millions of buffalo the Indians depended upon for survival; the end of the fur trade; the emergence of cattle barons and open range ranching; the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota; the Great Sioux War of 1876; Custer’s last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn; and the forcing of the Lakota onto reservations.

This book is about two men caught up in these momentous events—Red Cloud, whose life has been well researched, and JW Dear, whose story has never been told. It is a story about the opening-up of the West and the process of nation building, driven by great vision, sacrifice, and human endeavor. But it is also a story of mismanagement, avarice, corruption, bigotry, extreme violence, and injustice. It is a very personal story of how Red Cloud and JW became caught up in these life-changing events, which bound the two men together as they fought for their survival. The book covers twenty-five tumultuous years of American history that includes the Civil War, the abolition of slavery, and the opening up of the West.


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Marilyn Dear Nelson & Chris Nelson
Book Details:
paperback, 2023, 385 pages