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Wonah’ilayhunka, Class of 1910

In the late 1800s, when Henry Roe Cloud was in his teens, he read the 19th-century bestseller Self Help, by Samuel Smiles. It made “a profound impression on me,” Cloud wrote later, and “led me to resolve to earn my way through school and to stay away from Government institutions.”


Cloud tacked Greek grammar notes to the plow so he could study as he followed the mule team.

Cloud was a Native American, and the best he might have hoped for from the government was vocational school. Instead, he earned his way through prep school and then through Yale, becoming its first Native American college graduate in 1910. Ironically, Cloud then spent much of his successful career at the Bureau of Indian Affairs—the very institution he had railed against. John Collier, the BIA’s reform-minded commissioner, once called his colleague “the most important living Indian.”

Born in 1884 on the Winnebago reservation in Nebraska, the boy who would become Henry Cloud was named Wonah'ilayhunka (War Chief). At seven he left home to attend a government boarding school. He changed his name at thirteen, when he became his tribe’s first convert to Christianity.

Following the deaths of his parents in 1896 and 1897, Cloud went to the Santee Mission School and from there to the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, founded to provide young men of all races and classes with a first-rate secondary education that could be paid for through a work-study program. At Mount Hermon Cloud worked summers on a farm—tacking Greek grammar notes to the plow so he could study as he followed the mule team.

Cloud entered Yale when he was 22. In his freshman year he attended a lecture on American Indians by missionary Mary Wickham Roe, and he became a friend of Mary and her husband, the Reverend Walter C. Roe. Eventually, Mary and Walter adopted him, and Henry took Roe as his middle name.


While at Yale, Cloud supported himself partly by selling Indian crafts and artifacts.

While at Yale, Cloud supported himself partly by selling Indian crafts and artifacts. During Christmas vacation of his sophomore year, he made $200—more than a year’s tuition—selling Winnebago love charms, a Buffalo headdress, and a history stick. “I have a Crow Indian scalp taken by the Winnebagoes, and I shall get fifty dollars for this,” he wrote.

A fine student and debater, Cloud was known for his Bible group work and Dwight Hall activities. He wrote and lectured often on Indian affairs. In the Yale Courant in 1910, he criticized the vocational schools he'd left behind: “Had the Indian been taught chemistry, physics, astronomy, and geology, he would have gone home with some light. He would have been a light to his people.”

Cloud went on to found the Roe Indian Institute, the first college preparatory school for Indian boys. As a principal investigator for the landmark 1928 Meriam report, The Problem of Indian Administration, he documented the abysmal living conditions on the nation’s reservations. He also helped secure federal laws that reconstituted tribal governments, granted citizenship to Native Americans, and improved education and health care. Cloud is memorialized today by a residence hall named after him at Haskell Indian Nations University, where, in 1933, he served as the first Native American superintendant.  the end


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