Review of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Posted on 04/07/2019. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |

The book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a classic.  First published in 1970, it caused a perception change in the minds of many Americans of the history of the interaction between the western Indians and United States government, white settlers and the US Army. 

The history of that period was described in history books and articles written by non-Indians authors, written from the perspective white people who viewed Indian land as an opportunity to bring white law an order to a disorderly virgin land where a few nomadic Indians roamed about and to convert it into to a better and more profitable use. The white people populated the land they claimed, they surveyed it, divided it into parcels, attached titles to the parcels that proved ownership that and could be bought and sold. In the Indian world the land belonged to everyone to be used as needed.  

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was written by the Author Dee Brown to view the history of that period from the Indian’s perspective. The Indians had resided in North America for thousands of years before the white men appeared and invaded the land that Indians considered to be their land. The Indians were tribal and fought each other over who controlled parts of the land, but it was all Indian land. However, when the white men came, they began appropriating the land for their own use. The Federal Government made the land takeovers ligament by persuading the Indians to sign treaties in most cases. If that wasn’t successful, white settlers, miners often ignored Indian land boundaries and if the Indians attempted to drive them out the US Army would protect the settlers or miners. The Indians were often given gifts, money and the promise that Indians would retain a portion of the region for their own use forever. Maybe the people signing for the government believed what the treaty stated. The Indians may have trusted the US Government. It would have had to be trust because, with few exceptions, the Indians could not read or understand what they were agreeing to.  Whatever the treaties stated; in the end it didn’t matter since the United States government broke its promises in every treaty that it signed with the Indians.

As the white men pushed westward, establishing farms and cities, the Indians retreated until there was no room to retreat further.  For the Indians it became a matter of resisting or capitulating, giving up their lands and freedom to be confined to reservations that provided neither game for hunting or land fit for growing crops. The Indians choose to fight and though they won battles despite fighting an army better trained and armed, the Indians couldn’t and wouldn’t win. The plains wars ended with the battle of Wounded Knee where the US Army massacred an Indian encampment on December 29, 1890 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, killing three-hundred men, women and children.

Dee Brown used carefully researched history to tell the story from the Indians perspective in third person, while adding the authors thoughts in first person. This book is a must read for those interested in American history.    

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