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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West Paperback – May 15, 2007
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“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
About the Author
A librarian for many years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dee Brown was the author of over twenty-five books on the American West and the Civil War. His Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, considered a classic in its field, was a New York Times bestseller for over a year, and has been translated into many languages. Dee Brown died in 2002.
Hampton Sides is editor-at-large for Outside magazine, and the author of Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder. He won the 2002 PEN USA Award for nonfiction.
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This book is not a page turner, though it is interesting. Honestly, it's often difficult to read the accounts of treachery upon treachery. Yet, it is as important as anything I've read about the fallout of European colonialism, capitalism before humanity, and the making of this nation. The accounts are straightforward and never maudlin, yet I cannot imagine reading it carefully without sorrow or finishing it without a more thoughtful, critical view of US history. Bitter medicine.
Then, last week, I read "Bury My Heart..." I thought I had read the worst stuff, but I had not; in this beutifully-researched book, I read of the most inexcusable atrocities, read of the repeated land-grabs and treaty-breaking moves whenever gold, silver, water, or simply more land was desired. I knew that horrible things happened because there was no respect for the signed government contracts (treaties) or the general ethics and morals in the treatment of the millions of mostly-peaceable people who whose sole "crime" was to be here in North America first. I never knew, however, how direct the President and many Generals, such as Sheridan and then Sherman (he of the notorious and unnecessary "March to the Sea" near the end of the Civil War), constantly set up roadblocks to decent land even when tribes or sub-groups of tribes were willing to sign treaties and go to a reservation - Sherman often demanded death for chiefs as well as capitulation of all of the people under them. The famous "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" has been attributed to Gen. Sherman, as well. Brown's research brought me more surprises, in that I learned that President Grant was far more reasonable and even sympathetic to the Plains Indians than his generals, and he countermanded many orders resulting in saving the lives of well-loved Chiefs. Grant wisely appreciated that working with the chiefs would save lives, and pain of many kinds. (By the time Grant was Pres., most of the eastern and midwestern tribes had been subdued and driven onto reservations, fled to Canada, or were killed by European diseases or bullets).
The most shocking passages in this book need not be reviewed here; they are many, far more than I had ever imagined. At the slightest provocation, whole villages ( women, children, even unborn babies) were slaughtered while the adult male warriors were ready to do battle at a specific place arranged for, or at least well known by, the American troops, sometimes with paid enemy Indian agents' help. It was common, when the men came back to their village to see the horrors done to their families, for the soldiers to surround them and attack again, either to slaughter once more or take the Indians as prized slave-prisoners. Wounded Knee and Sand Creek, both named for peaceful little streams where Indians liked to set up camp, were two sites of such slaughter, and they are certainly not the only ones where any American Indian would want to bury his or her heart. What a book. Just the photographs are hauntingly beautiful. Every white American should read it. The problem is, the ones who need the education it offers the most would never, ever, read it. Too bad...
I'll leave you with one of the many great quotes to be found found within this book.
"I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. I will tell you in my way how the Indian sees things. The white man has more words to tell you how they look to him, but it does not require many words to speak the truth. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian... we can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike.... give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who is born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. Let me be a free man...free to travel... free to stop... free to work... free to choose my own teachers... free to follow the religion of my Fathers... free to think and talk and act for myself." - Chief Joseph