Native American History: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Michael Blake reviews Dee Brown's book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", the books provides a detailed look at the real history of Native American Indians and the American West.

| November/December 1971

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    Michael Blake on the Indian history of the American West. Dee Brown's book is the first detailed chronicle of the destruction of a people, its saga is so complete in its grisliness, its horrors of inhumanity, and its sweeping injustice..  

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"The whites told only one side. Told it to please them selves. Told much that is not true. Only his own best . deeds, only the worst deeds of the Indians, has the white man told." 

Yellow Wolf of the Nes Perces  

Yellow Wolf was so right it hurts. And now that Dee Brown has written Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee it hurts even more because the saga is so complete in its grisliness, its horrors of inhumanity, its sweeping injustice.

We all know the Native American Indian was ripped off but Bury My Heart is the first detailed chronicle of the destruction of a people and for those who read it the opening of the "American" West will never be what it was in high school. In fact, this "glorious chapter" of American history should be more than equal to Germany's World War II period and for those with any dignity at all our "American heritage" is the antithesis of "great." Of all the skeletons in the American closet, those of Satanta, Kicking Bird, Crazy Horse, Black Kettle, Dull Knife, Cochise, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Standing Bear are the most prominent.

It is exceedingly difficult to read Brown's book, not because the language is awkward or the sentences long, (which isn't the case) but because each chapter, page and sentence will surely leave all but the most callous with a profound sense of woe, disgust, and shame. Brown deals with all of the major and most of the minor actions that involved almost all Native American tribes and the scenario is always the same.

The Indian roams his tribal lands peacefully and simply, with great reverence for the country and its inhabitants. Then the white man comes, stumbling all over himself to reach the gold fields of California or the rich farmland of the high plains. The Indian is no more than an irritation, a bothersome barrier that must be moved to one side if manifest destiny is to be realized. Lands are stolen and reservations, the land that the white man has already passed up or plundered, are assigned. 'Those who will not go to the reservation are hunted down mercilessly. Sometimes even those who have agreed to come in are attacked (Sand Creek for example) and massacres take place with cover-ups which make My Lai look like a really amateur job. Once on the reservation the Indian is often forced to move again, farther away from his ancient homeland, after gold is discovered or a convenient road to the West Coast is planned. On the reservation he is fed scraps of the white man's food by corrupt, unscrupulous overseers, and discouraging words mean death.

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