Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee Helps Put “Manifest Destiny” In Perspective
“All we wanted was peace and to be left alone.” — Crazy Horse
I first read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee 45 years ago as part of a Native American anthropology class during my senior year at Ohio University. At the time I was unaware of how recently it had been published. Now, it is nearly a half century since Dee Brown wrote this remarkable book documenting a tragic history of the relations between the European settlers and the indigenous peoples who once lived free, in harmony with the land.
While growing up in suburban Cleveland and later New Jersey, I had little to no awareness that these lands had once been wide open and homelands for another race of peoples. There is little to no visible evidence in the Eastern regions of our country. The high school I attended in New Jersey was Bridgewater-Raritan and I was oblivious to the fact that the Raritans were the native peoples in that region at one time.
Since the late Seventies I have lived primarily in Minnesota where there is a much more visible Native culture. For those desirous to learn more it’s a rewarding and revealing experience. In addition, the history here is much nearer than when I grew up in Washington Valley in Bridgewater. Within our lifetimes we would have been able to talk with the children of people who had seen Custer’s assault on the Sioux at Little Big Horn.
I’m guessing that most Americans are oblivious to the history presented in Dee Brown’s narrative. For myself it reads like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, except instead of Protestants being burned alive and suffering all manner of abuse, it is the Native tribal peoples being repeatedly pushed around, starved and slaughtered. It is unbelievable how many treaties were signed only to be broken by our government. It’s equally unbelievable how much suffering the “civilized” descendants of of Europeans inflicted on the “uncivilized” native peoples.
Here are some reviews of the book that resonated with me.
“Shattering, appalling, compelling…One wonders, reading this searing, heartbreaking book, who, indeed, were the savages.”
―William McPherson, The Washington Post
“Extraordinarily powerful.” ―Nat Hentoff
“Original, remarkable, and finally heartbreaking . . . Impossible to put down.” ―The New York Times
Dee Brown’s meticulous research comes across as a fair and reliable presentation of what actually happened. I personally disliked the movie Dances With Wolves because the Hollywood version of this story had no good white people (except Kevin Kostner) and no bad Native peoples.
Brown presents a true history where there were officers sympathetic to the tribal peoples, and occasionally young Native peoples who lacked discipline (after being starved) and in anger did things they ought not to have done, with absurdly harsh suffering inflicted in return.
Sometimes bounties were given for gathering Native’s scalps. Naturally, this inspires the wrong type of people to get into the “Indian hunting” business. It’s hard to to live free when there’s a price on your head, just for being born. It makes my stomach churn, and all readers with a conscience will feel a measure of pain. Here are a few reviews from readers at Amazon:
R. Lee: A tough read not because it’s not excellent, but because it is painful. The clearest picture it paints is that the most ever enduring and quintessential American values are greed and consumption at the expense of the less powerful… My heart hurts for the injustices meted out by the American government.
Craig Wood: Each of the chapters — covering different tribes and historical events — is thoroughly researched. Dee Brown clearly spent years researching his subject, and his diligence is evident throughout the text. It’s a weighty topic, and the author pays due respect to it through his thoughtful and meticulous work.
Robert Maley: Good to look back on our history, so we keep things in perspective. What whites did to the Native Americans is shameful and should never be forgotten. Hard to believe that our society was so capable of such cruelty.
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FWIW, I am listening to the audiobook, narrated by Grover Gardner.
The history of suffering is the history of our human race. The Cold War Killing Fields reveals the untold suffering inflicted by American on civilians from WW2 to end of the Cold War. Sadly, when you consider slavery, and our treatment of the proud, indigenous peoples who were this continent’s first caretakers and conservationists, it’s incomprehensible that these things were done by people who went to church on Sunday.
I’m reminded of the Barry Maguire line, “Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace.” It’s all too sad.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com on January 27, 2019.