Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown's eloquent, fully documented account of the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century. A national bestseller in hardcover for more than a year after its initial publication, it has sold almost four million copies and has been translated into seventeen languages. For this elegant thirtieth anniversary hardcover edition, Brown has contributed an incisive new preface. Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown allows the great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes to tell us in their own words of the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that finally left them demoralized and defeated. A unique and disturbing narrative told with force and clarity, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee changed forever our vision of how the West was really won.
Despite the depressing nature of the book and stopping mid-way to read Harry Potter, I was able to finish it. I'm glad I did, but I didn't enjoy it.
How can you enjoy a book like this? Sure, I like History as much as the next guy (probably more), and I have always known that what the white settlers and the US Government have done to the Indians* was horrible and reprehensible. I know that what I've learned until now is one-sided: it's the same old story - "History is written by the victors". So going into this, I thought I'd be disturbed and saddened, but probably not surprised.
This book made me realize a few things about myself and prejudices and skepticism. So, my ugly middle-class-white-privilege shows through. And I hate that. I feel ill typing that. But there's nothing I can do: if I ignore it, it remains and I remain a product of my freaking aristocratic roots. If I try to work past it, I have to deal with it and its ugliness. It's no-win.
I found myself being skeptical of what I was reading as I read it. Cold hard facts are hard to deny. e.g.: These people and those people fought, those people lost 30% of their warriors and these people imprisoned the rest. Those are the kinds of things that I can relate to on a purely logical level. But when dialogue and characterization is introduced, I start to lose my even perception a bit. I thought that Dee Brown was slanting it the other direction, going on and on about the white people's trickery, theivery, and murder; and portraying the Indians as simple pacifists who never retaliated, or even provoked a little trickery, theivery, and murder themselves. Reading something that I know is slanted usually bothers me. Reading somthing that I know is slanted against what I have been taught bothers me a lot, and that made me approach this book with a stand-offish attitute. As the book went on I like to think that I started to lose that attitude...or maybe I just became desensitized to the atrocities Dee Brown was describing. They never use the word "genocide" in the book, but the word "extermination" was tossed around a few times. I guess "genocide" was too human a term for the white settlers and Government to apply to the Indians.
I did a bit of research as I went along. I went to the internet and some image databases to see if any images existed of Red Cloud, Kicking Bird, Sitting Bull, whomever I was reading about. It was hard for me to realize that this didn't happen that long ago. This might be something obvious to most people, but I'm a student of Classical History. When I hear "long ago", we're talking 2,000 years. This is within just a handful of generations. The book covers just 30 years: 1860-1890. That's all it took and the continent was drastically changed. Entire nations were wiped out. People were herded and scattered. They never saw their homes again. Their children died. Not just their people, but their way of life was attacked. This all happened within the last 150 years.
"California Indians were gentle as the climate in which they lived. The Spaniards gave them names, established missions for them, converted and debauched them. Tribal organizations were undeveloped among the California indians; each village had its leaders, but there were no great war chiefs among these unwarlike people. After the discovery of gold in 1848, white men from all over the world poured into California by the thousands, taking what they wanted from the submissive Indians, debasing those whome the Spaniards had not already debased, and then systematically exterminating whole populations now long forgotten. No one remembers the Chilulas, Chimarikos, Urebures, Nipewais, Alonas, or a hundred other bands whose bones have been sealed under a million miles of freeways, parking lots, and slabs of tract housing." Brown, pg.214
One day I was reading this on the bus and a Native American woman sat down next to me. I instantly felt uncomfortable and put the book away. I don't know why. I havent' sat and thought about that.
So, here I am, not sure what to think. I am glad that I read this book, even though it revealed things about my country's recent history and about myself that I was relatively blissfully unaware of.
*PC? Not PC? That's what they refer to themselves as throughout the book, so I'm using it here, within context.
By 1860 the die was cast for the native peoples of the Plains. The railroad was coming, the buffalo on its way to extermination, their way of life destroyed. And yet, none of it had quite happened yet. The denouement was startlingly swift. Still there were heroic episodes - Red Cloud's War (which wasn't really Red Cloud's, but that's another story), Little Bighorn, Chief Joseph's rebellion, Geronimo's resistance, and the Cheyenne exodus. With the exception of Red Cloud's War and the forced retreat of the US Army from three forts on the Bozeman Trail, these efforts were of the tragic heroic variety with very short-lived success. For example, Crazy Horse surrendered within a year of Little Bighorn. In just a few decades the reader witnesses the fall of the tribes from a state of nomadic freedom to utter subjugation.
Highest recommendation. Very well-written and essential.
This is a book that everyone should take the time to read. There is so much more information in this book then in any American History book you will ever read. We owe those Indians a lot. As I was reading the book I was talking to my husband's one uncle and he said that I would be shocked by the truth. He was right. And to think that all these years I never knew what I know now. I am glad to say that my kids are part Indian/Native American on their father's side. My son has been told that he looks like a Native American even with is red hair and blue eyes.
I loved this book and I am going to be looking for more books about Indians/Native American.
reader: Grover Gardner
published: 1970 (with preface from 2000)
format: Overdrive digital audio, 14:21 (~398 pages)
listened: Sep 12-27
I know the record with Native Americans in the US is bad, really bad, but still, this leaves a discouraging and strong impression.
So I picked this from library after recently doing a quick search for books on Native Americans (while driving through South Dakota and the Black Hills and 5000 miles of other places), and this book came up lot and was first on many lists, and it has a memorable title. So actually when I saw it on my library's audio list, I was really excited.
I don't know what I was expecting, but I was surprised by Grove Gardner's old documentary-serious voice that I usually associate with stodgy old history books and, well, old TV documentaries. And then I was surprised by how much this book resembles a stodgy old history book. It just lays out the facts, and sticks to well-known well-documented info. It's a straightforward narrative. There is no analysis and no exploration of the surrounding stories. No penetrating insight into Native American culture - or even an effort at trying to do that. And then I was surprised at the limited scope. The first chapter takes place in the 1940's, but mostly this book is about a short era from 1860 to roughly 1890 - the era when the Indians on the Great Plains were wiped out, survivors sent to starve on reservations. So, early on I was kind of discouraged by what it might cover.
But the book carries on, grinding from tribe to destroyed tribe, from massacre to massacre. The old and young die off from exposure, massacres or starvation in reservations. The warriors, hopeless from page one, try many different strategies, but they are all, everyone one hopeless. The leadership of each tribe tried to find their own way to manage white incursion, attacks, massacres and oppression, all were left desperate and all saw their tribes brought down, and eventually survivors were starved on a reservation.
The repetitive nature leaves a mark. Each native tribe was forced by desperation to fight, waging a short brutal vengeance on the US military and then succumbing to complete defeat. Every native victory was a Pyrrhic one, especially that of Crazy Horse over Custer - one of many unprovoked US attacks on native villages of women, elderly and children. Custer was done, but the Sioux were left without ammunition and unable to fight further.
No tribe will remain free, none will keep any of the land they want and need, and all faced, eventually, massive die-offs. And this happens over time, tribe by tribe, relentlessly - Santee Sioux, Navajo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, Nez Perce, Ute, Paiute, Oglala Sioux, other Sioux, Modoc, etc
One big thing that struck me was how the reservations were such a death trap. Once there, tribes withered from exposure and lack of food, their numbers whittled away right in front of the Americans responsible for supplying them. The supply train was mainly a source of profit and mass corruption for the suppliers with often little or nothing actually supplied. I hadn't realized this.
While this was not really the book I was looking for, it has its place as a classic and it has importance in the weight of injustice - and it's just one window, all perpetuated over just one small well-documented era, in plain sight. There is no mist of history here.
Two things probablly kept me from being locked away in a looney bin after that. The first was that I was only 16 years old and 16 year olds of course are able to act silly, socially awkward or whatever, without getting thrown in a looney bin. The second thing was that I would have an accomplice, a peace-loving hippy chick that thought in abstractions and spoke in poems. Together we began our quest to live the Indian Way...
The American government in Washington, distant from the frontiers, was sympathetic to their cause and often pleaded their case in fine speeches. Society at large may have regarded the native American cause as tragic but certainly lost. Settlers and prospectors on the frontier saw only free land and the natives occupying it as a dangerous hazard, disregarding every invisible line the government sought to hold them apart with. A great proportion of the military on the frontier were rabid racists who felt it their duty to exterminate the native 'threat' regardless of any peace overture or what any scrap of paper said. Make a treaty, callously disregard it until you've provoked a war, blame the "savage" natives for the violence, sue for peace via another treaty to please Washington - around and around.
Some of the policy reversals are liable to inflict whiplash where it is almost literally a case of shaking hands on the left and cocking a gun on the right. Individual outrages are horrific in their details, but it is their sheer volume that really begins to tell on the senses. The clichéd homily about 'worthless treaties' undergoes a transformation: it sounds flat at the start of the book, then gathers increasing power with every instance until finally it does not even begin to speak to what continues to be done on every page. If any book can make you cheer for Custer's downfall at Little Bighorn, it'll be this one.
Some maps would have been welcome. Dee Brown's writing is plainspoken and often just-the-facts, doing very little to dress up or frame events and often omitting much examination into the "why". From a scholarly point of view this feels lacking, but it does lend some of the period's popular sense of inevitability. The writing's blunt nature can add to the force of its punch. Shortly after Sheridan's infamous quote about his believing the only good Indian is a dead one, the author simply lists with little commentary a number of famous chiefs whose stories he had sympathetically told: "Now they were all good Indians."
This is not the scholarly, literary classic that the subject matter still demands and deserves, but it is moving, essential reading.
Excellent narration by Grover Gardner.
to wilt, Dee Brown reconstructs the history of the removal of Indians
from their lands by a careful examination of contemporary documents.
Curiously, even the "white man's" own compilations of the Indian's experience -- soldiers' memoirs,
journalists, and a wealth of State and US Government materials -- prove
that Indians were cheated, defrauded, and imprisoned on remote reservations by means of force. [Bibliography with Notes, and Index] We also note that this "point of view" of the Indians was gentle, prescient, and rational.
Although Brown omits many reliable source documents -- for example he does not reference the accounts by Ely Parker (Donehogawa), reform
Senator Henry Dawes, and the Sioux physician Eastman and his wife, Elaine Goodale -- his conclusions are all the more unimpeachable for
relying on "government" or even anti-Indian materials.
"Wounded Knee" of the title refers to the Massacre -- it was by no definition a "battle" -- of 350 unarmed people near the confluence of a
creek of that name. Chief Big
Foot was attempting to take his people the Pine Ridge reservation to join the last great chief, Red Cloud, in total surrender. 150 Indians
were slaughtered by almost point-blank carbine fire and the camp was raked by rifle-barreled Hotchkiss guns. 25 soldiers were killed and 39
wounded, almost all of them from shrapnel and carbine shot from their own cross-fire. This was the last military expedition against the
Sioux, and it has become the symbolic end of freedom in the West.
In Chapter 1, Brown provides a thumbnail overview of the American conquest of the Indians, starting from Columbus. The remainder of the book follows the Civil
War, in the period from 1860 through 1890. Brown provides a detailed history drawn from an abundance of primary source materials with the words of those who were vanquished in this 30 year period.
Although Brown covers many other nations -- the Navaho, Cheyenne, Modoc, Nez Perce', Apache -- the narrative emphasis is drawn to the
Sioux, who were the most numerous and formidable warriors of this period.
I have to admit that I thought the book would be nothing but a big “downer” or worse, a propaganda piece, crying about how badly Native Americans were treated by the awful white men who stole their lands.
While it is true that the Indians had their lands stolen and that they were lied to, cheated, and mistreated – and much worse -- by the whites who dominated, the book is not just a continuous white man bashing. Although few and far between, it seems, there were some good whites and some who were bad, over time, changed from “bad” to “good,” General George Crook, for example. Not all Indians were “good” either.
The book consists of nineteen chapters and each one is indeed a tale of conquered Indians and conquering whites, covering roughly the years 1860 to 1890.
The author is not an Indian, but writes from the perspective of a sympathetic human as he relates one injustice after another that whites perpetrated upon the Indians.
The book has an index and is enhanced by the inclusion of 49 photos or paintings of Indians of the period. While I am late in reading this book, which has become a classic, I am glad to have finely read it and have it in my library.
I have to admit that I was surprised and disappointed that William F. M. Arny, appointed Indian Agent for the New Mexico Territory in 1862 by President Lincoln, and who succeeded Kit Carson, was not mentioned in the book.
The first is how little it surprised me. All crowing aside, with only a few exceptions (these mostly concerning events/personages in Arizona where I happened to live for years) I couldn't have said a particular tribe or leader was in that specific area or recounted how this area of land was swindled away while that land mass over there was taken away through the implementation of direct force. I'm not sweating those details now either. I know they'll get mixed-up and blended in my mind in short order anyway. No, what gratifies me is that, at least according to Dee Brown, I intuitively had it right from the beginning. And by this I mean simply my prior references are in accordance with the book. The final part of this chain is that I think the book has it right.
The second impression is a reflection of how ironic a term "illegal alien" is when used in the USA.
And finally there is this quote from the introduction: "It was an incredible era of violence, greed, audacity, sentimentality, undirected exuberance, and an almost reverential attitude toward the idea of personal freedom for those who already had it."
I would love to read a book written by a really knowledgeable author that's a reimagining of history. How should the clash of the settlers and the Indians have been handled? Was there a more humane solution? Or was might makes right the only way?
The life stories of the Chiefs Crazy Horse, Gall, Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Sitting Bull will be eye-openers to readers who are not familiar - with the other unfamilar part - of the tale of how the United States America came into existence.
This book is upsetting, yet enlightening - squeamishness due to the information this book reveals must be put aside.
The author shows his appreiciaton of the subject matter with the evidence presented via careful research.
This book is a classic that stands the test of time. There is not a lot of analysis in it, which allows the voice of the Aboriginals centre stage. With so much of history told by the victors, this is an important perspective to deepen our understanding of history.