Henry Roe Cloud was the first known Native American to graduate from Yale College (BA 1910, MA 1914), a campus celebrity and member of the Elihu Club. Roe Cloud, a Ho-Chunk Native American, has a remarkable history as described in Joel Pfister’s The Yale Indian: Henry Roe Cloud (2009).
There is an extensive collection of “Roe Family Papers” at the Yale Library which includes letters between Henry Roe Cloud and his adoptive mother, Mary Roe. Joel Pfister states, “Again, it must not be forgotten that Roe Cloud wrote many of his letters to a white woman whom he admired and whom he wanted to admire him, and thus may have excised or modified some of what he could have told her about his daily life.”
Pfister also writes, “It is important to keep three things in mind when taking stock of the Roe family archive and its focus. First, there is no Roe Cloud archive per se at Yale … he did not give Yale reams of his private letters. Many of these, no doubt, would have been sent to and received from family members and Indian friends (Roe Cloud was often on the road, especially in the 1920s and 1930s).”
I first learned about Henry Roe Cloud after stumbling across an Elihu Club silver tray from a leading auction house. Elihu is one of Yale’s senior societies (aka secret societies). Some of the senior societies used to send a group gift when one of their graduates (before the early 1970s, all men) were married.
The silver-plated Gorham presentation tray was from the Elihu Club Delegation of 1910. The auction house’s archivist graciously included the names and significant research about the members of the delegation. In addition to Yale’s 1st Native American student (engraved “HR Cloud“), the delegation also includes the co-author of the Whiffenpoof Song (Meade Minnigerode). Frank Thayer Nelson won a silver medal for pole vaulting at the 1912 summer Olympics. Hildreth Benner was reported an usher at Teddy Roosevelt Jr.’s wedding. (TR lore: the ushers walked in their khaki uniforms and the 26th President of the United States (Teddy Sr) stood up and bowed). Charles Carroll Glover Jr. is credited with the layout of the main boulevards in Washington DC. A jovial lot for sure.
(Regarding the archivist’s notations: the New York Times (May 29, 1910) reported on Theodore Roosevelt Jr. wedding. Alas, Hildreth Benner was a groomsman in the Bowen-Stevens wedding (Column 3) and not TR Jr.’s nuptials (Column 1-2, in which TR Jr.’s groomsmen are reported to be mostly Harvard classmates). Both appeared under the three column headline “Society Home and Abroad” which may explain auction house error. In addition, the Washington boulevard credit belongs to Glover Sr. and not Elihu man Glover Jr.).
Yale’s second oldest senior society, Scroll & Key, gives beautiful silver bowls to a member of its “College Street crowd”, etched with members names, bridal couple, date and the society’s symbol with “CSP/CCJ.” Secret society “neutral” Lyman Bagg (Yale grad but not a secret society member) reports in Four Years at Yale of the Keys’ motto as, “Collegium Sanctum Pontificum / Collegium Conservat Jupiter.”
A former Keys member told me that “CCJ” is the more venerated motto. Delegation leaders, known as Z’s (Zanoni (1842 novel) or Zeus?) take members along a journey well described in Gurney’s 1992 Keys’ history True Fellowship in All Its Glory. (The phrase “true fellowship in all its glory” also appears in an 1889 Yale class decennial report in which one of the three authors (WL Armstrong) is a Keys member. Love Google Books.)
The Yale Art Gallery owns a Scroll & Key wedding bowl — donated by Philip Skinner Platt, B.A. 1912 and gorgeous in its own right.
I was also interested in Roe Cloud because I once owned another item with a Yale – Native American connection. My Yale collection includes a 1719 letter by Joseph Willard (1714). Willard was named one of Yale’s 30 most prominent graduates at Yale’s 300th Anniversary by the Yale Alumni Magazine in 2001 (one per decade which includes Princeton founder Jonathan Dickinson, Noah Webster of Webster Dictionary, US Presidents George HW Bush, WH Taft, and Bill Clinton among many). Willard was skinned by Indians in 1723 and this is the only letter I’ve been able to locate by him anywhere. (And thus more rare than Declaration of Independence Signer Button Gwinnett 50+ known signatures in existence, though my appraiser would likely not see the relevance of my argument).
A year after purchasing the Elihu Club tray, I purchased the Henry Roe Cloud papers from one of his direct descendants. In November 2014, the items were donated to the Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives and are part of the Ravi D Goel Collection on Henry Roe Cloud. I timed the gift to mark the 2014 centennial of Henry Roe Cloud’s graduation from the 1914 Yale Masters program.
The finding aid summarizes the collection’s provenance: “The Ravi D. Goel Collection on Henry Roe Cloud was originally the possession of Cloud’s daughter, Marion Roe Cloud Hughes. After the death of Marion Roe Cloud Hughes and her husband, Edward Hughes, their grandson Shahn Hughes inherited the materials. They were then sold to Dr. Ravi D. Goel with the understanding that they would be donated to Manuscripts and Archives at Yale University.”
The collection includes Roe Cloud diplomas from 1906 Mount Hermon School, Yale 1910 BA, 1912 Auburn Theological Seminary, and 1914 Yale MA. Almost all of the letters were addressed to his fourth and youngest daughter, Marion Roe Cloud Hughes. The candor is extraordinary and defines Henry Roe Cloud’s view on Native American issues through the 1930s.
Collection highlights include Roe Cloud’s candid thoughts on many Indian tribes, leading figures and the state of US-Indian affairs. A detailed April 1937 letter addresses Cloud’s views on the Crees, Joseph Dussome, Baptiste Samatt, and Rocky Boy Superintendent Earl Wooldridge.
In a February 14, 1938 letter, Cloud writes about a reunion with his Yale 1910 classmate and then Chinese Ambassador to the United States Wang Zhengting. He states in a most breathtaking letter, “In the next room stood the Ambassador and a long line of Chinese – the receiving line. I stepped up with my heart in my throat, when the Ambassador said, ‘Henry Cloud, how stout you are! What have you been eating?’ I replied ‘Wild Turkey and Buffalo meat.’ The dainty sweet pretty daughter standing next to him on the receiving line said sweetly ‘And butter, perhaps.'” Roe Cloud goes through receiving line “feeling fatter than ever.” (See also Yale Manuscripts and Archives April 2015 blog, “Party Diplomacy: The Ravi D. Goel Collection on Henry Roe Cloud.”)
In a January 12, 1939 letter, he writes of the opportunity to see his Yale classmate and US Senator Robert Taft on his upcoming visit to Washington, DC. U.S. Senator Taft was Skull & Bones 1910 and was at Yale while his father William Howard Taft (Skull & Bones 1878) served as 27th US President (and Yale Corporation trustee!). The younger Taft was instrumental in the young Roe Cloud meeting President Taft. Roe Cloud represented as head of a Winnebago delegation at the White House meeting. (See Pfister, The Yale Indian, page 44). (Both Robert A. Taft (philosophical oration stand) and Henry Roe Cloud (first dispute) are mentioned in the 1910 NY Times article on Yale Commencement honorees.)
My collection also includes the original manuscript of his most famous 1915 essay, “From Wigwam to Pulpit: A Red Man’s Own Story of His Progress from Dark to Light.
The original From Wigwam to Pulpit manuscript is a more genuine read in Cloud’s own words versus the edited version that appears in The Missionary Review of the World (1915). This is one of the cornerstone gems of this collection, and mesmerizing in every word as he describes his childhood, Indian life, and conversion to Christianity. This 11-page manuscript autobiography is 97-98% complete with only 2-3 sentences and the post-script missing. The NY Times honors Roe Cloud’s essay as his 1950 obituary begins, “Dr. Henry Roe Cloud, a Yale graduate of 1910, who was born in a wigwam on the banks of the Missouri River, died on Thursday of a heart attack in Siletz, Ore.”
Yale is in the process of digitizing many of these documents for access globally. The Native American Cultural Center at Yale hosts a Henry Roe Cloud conference. The Yale Group for the Study of Native America (YGSNA) also supports the Henry Roe Cloud Dissertation Writing Fellowship in American Indian and Indigenous Studies.
The Henry Roe Cloud collection is referenced in Kipling collector, Yale Library Development Council vice-chair, and Skull & Bones Trustee David Richards ’67 upcoming book, “Skulls & Keys: The Hidden History of Yale’s Secret Societies.” Richards is reported in a June 19, 2000 NY Times article as the outgoing senior who tapped 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 for Skull & Bones (no Bones wedding trays that I’ve been able to find, though Scroll & Key alum Alexandra Robbins reveals intriguing wedding rituals in her book Secrets of the Tomb).
David Richards’ extraordinarily well written and researched 800 page book will soon become the starting point for future generations interested in Yale history. I was delighted to review early drafts. He mentions Henry Roe Cloud’s 1910 Elihu Club photo.
Here’s what I believe is the Elihu Club Delegation of 1910 photo:
I include a 2014 YouTube video of an excited overview I created during the process of documenting the collection for my appraiser (he’s “Bob” in the narrative):
I hope that these items will help spark more research and understanding of Yale and Native American history.
The documents may have increased interest with the August 9, 2017 Yale Alumni Magazine Daily Snap entitled “Disarmament.”
See also :
1. Yale Daily News (August 22, 2017), “Yale to remove offensive stonework from library entrance.”
2. Artnet (August 21, 2017): Yale University Altered a Campus Sculpture Depicting Violence Against a Native American