Customer Reviews: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
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on December 29, 2000
Be prepared to be affected by this book. I guarantee that you can not read it without being emotionally touched and moved by this account of the loss of a beautiful land, the demise of a conscientious and spiritual way of life and finally the extirpation of a nation of people; or at least their ceasing to exist as free, independent, proud and noble individuals.
The book had a profound impact on readers when it was first published in 1971 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it took a unique perspective. Reports of Treaty meetings, tribal histories, Congressional findings and interview transcripts have all been distilled to provide the Indian point of view. Indeed the books' subtitle is 'An Indian History of the American West'. The second factor has to do with when the book was published. Interest in environmental issues was growing and the accounts of the destruction by the settlers of the Eastern forests, the soiling of the rivers and the slaughter of the Buffalo herds struck a chord, especially when contrasted with the practices of the Indians. Readers began to see Indians in a different light, as the first conservationists.
The period of history covered is short. From about 1860 to 1890. The first chapter briefly sketches the interactions between Eupopean and Indians from the formers' arrival in Massachusetts in 1620 up to the setting up of the 'permanent indian frontier' west of the Mississippi in 1847.
The 'frontier' lasted no time at all. Gold was discovered, land was sought and settlers flocked west. To cover this in legitimacy it was necessary to invent 'Manifest Destiny'. The Indians were now doomed as history has shown that this policy made it manifest that the Indians were destined to be swept aside by the white man. All that we have left is their legends, their magical placenames and some works like this book that provides insights into how the West was really lost.
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on July 14, 2000
Nothing could prepare me for the emotional effect that "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" would have on me. Dee Brown brings us the history of the white settlement of the American West as told by the people who were there, both white and Indian. This is not the history we learned in school, and the book will shatter the images of many of our heroes, but the story is important enough that I think every American should read it.
I also recommend "The Trail of Tears", by Gloria Jahoda, which is the history of the removal of the eastern tribes to the west. These two books are neccessary if you, as an American, want a complete education of American History.
Beyond education, these books present a people who loved the earth, trusted and respected mankind, and lived honorable lives. I trust that these stories of the near annihilation of our native people at the hands of our forefathers will effect you in unexpected ways, and that you will come away from the experience with new heroes, and a broken heart.
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on February 3, 2010
Saw this book at the Smithsonian Indiian Museum in Washington DC. My husband couldn't put it down. This is the one with the illustrations which really brings home the story. Great read, great book. Anyone interested in learning the other side of the Indian story needs to read this.
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HALL OF FAMEon December 29, 2001
Since its publication in 1970, Dee Brown's well-documented history of American Indians from 1860 to 1990 has sold more than 5 million copies. Mr. Brown quotes from original documents, including translations of the actual words of the Indians as they made their eloquent pleas for justice in the many councils they attended and where they were deceived again and again by white men who robbed them of their land. Even though there's a certain sameness to the outcomes, each tribe had a different experience. The Indians didn't have a concept of ownership of land. To them, it belonged to everybody. As they couldn't read, they didn't know what they were signing, but even when they did understand, it was just a matter of time until new laws took even more land away. And then there were the massacres. I had tears in my eyes while reading about them, especially in the descriptions of the cruelty to women and children. The Indians fought as best as they could, but they were no match for big guns and well-equipped armies. It was an awful time in our history, one of shame for Americans.
Throughout the book I couldn't help thinking about the real stories it contained that would make great movies. There's the story of the Seneca Indian who took the name Ely Parker and studied to be a lawyer. Because he was an Indian, he was not allowed to practice and so he became an engineer. During the Civil war he was Military Secretary to U.S. Grant. Later, he was appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs. How that all played out is a fascinating story. And then there is the story of the Ponca Indian, Standing Bear, who left the reservation in the late 1870s with a small band of people. Because of some helpful white men, his case was argued in the courts. The issue was whether or not an Indian could be considered a "person" and thus be able to live where he chooses. He won his case. But, alas, the outcome was ruled to just apply to his band and not to all Indians. There was often dissention within the tribes themselves. And deception and intrigue. In one case, a chief was bullied by his people into murdering a white man. Later, the very people who had forced him to do this turned him in to be hanged. And then there is the story of the white man married to an Indian and their half-breed children. The children all were able to read and write and there is a lot of documentation about what happened to all of them.
I just wish that somebody would write these screenplays. Surely they would be better than some of the make-believe hogwash about Indians that we've all seen. It seems they're either depicted as savage villains or subjected to too much political correctness. And talking about political correctness, I'm not sure about whether the term "Native American" is appropriate. As Mr. Brown's book was written in 1970, he referred to them as "Indians". Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is a well written and worthwhile book. It's upsetting of course, but I am glad for the perspective it gave me. I think it should be required reading in American History classes in high school. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon March 26, 2009
The strength of "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" is also its weakness: Its commitment to telling an ugly truth about American history so searing as to become numbing after a while.

It's impossible to consider fairly this, Dee Brown's 1971 examination of the Indian Wars of the American West, without remembering how much it cut against what was then still the mainstream thinking and literature regarding just what happened. The Indians were often bloodthirsty, it was alleged, and our American forefathers imbued themselves in the pioneer spirit by bringing the red man to heel. Brown took an entirely different course.

"Americans who have always looked westward when reading about this period should read this book facing eastward," Brown writes in his preface.

And that's how he writes it, from the perspective of displaced Navajos, Utes, Sioux, Apaches, and more than a dozen other American Indian tribes who were the victims of Manifest Destiny. As Brown tells it, their story is one of being washed away by the greed and savagery of white Americans.

The book is often strongest when that savagery is at its ugliest. At Sand Creek in 1864, a regiment of Colorado volunteers under the command of an American Eichmann, one Col. John Chivington, rode into a peaceful village of treaty-abiding Cheyennes and gunned down more than a hundred men, women, and children. Asked about the children, Chivington replied: "Nits make lice!"

It's a raw tale that sits like lead in the stomach of any decent-minded American. But for Brown, that's all you need to hear. The fact that Chivington was cashiered for his murdering, and Colorado's governor cast from office for his part in the massacre by President Andrew Johnson, is not mentioned here. Instead, Brown says the Chivington slaughter was received with satisfaction by whites in toto, as a way of getting Indians out of Colorado.

Brown's storytelling is often one-way like that. His exactitude regarding white atrocities is impressive, but when he notes the Apaches' attacks on Mexicans, he claims imprecise records make blame hard to apportion. When young "dog soldiers" leave the reservation to steal cattle and attack settlers, then run back home to be covered for by their elders, their actions are excused as an understandable response to being cooped up in a plot of land just a few hundred square miles in size. The fact this might have made whites less respectful of treaty conditions is not explored.

Brown isn't entirely dogmatic like this; he understands the history well enough to allow for the occasional humane impulse by a white man, or an Indian who goes too far, like Captain Jack of the Modocs, a normally peaceful chief goaded by his juniors into killing whites around a peace table. He doesn't use the politically correct term "Native American", though that is probably because the book was written long before it came into vogue.

The narrative echoes the terse stylings commonly associated with the voice of the Indian, but it becomes colorless and drab reading after a time. None of the Indians really come alive as characters, or as people. They speak to the white man's greed, and exit stage left. Occasionally we learn that this one had a pendant mustache, and that one wore a plugged hat. But they lack vibrancy. Even Sitting Bull, one ornery cuss in life, is here reduced to a stoic sufferer.

Brown's book is real history, powerfully told, and you will not forget, nor should forget, the gist of what you read. But it reads too much like history in service of a cause.

"There are bad white men and bad Indians," the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle is quoted observing in one early chapter. "The bad men on both sides brought about this trouble." It's a point that speaks both to Black Kettle's noble perspicacity and the truth of the matter, but one Brown prefers to ignore, to the detriment of this solid if skewed book.
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on April 23, 2006
Let me first say, Dee Brown's book, BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is a well written classic that flows nicely. It contains great structure and is a pleasure to read. Certainly no right thinking person would disagree that the American Indians were used and abused by the government at every turn. The treaties the Indians signed were more often than not, not worth the paper they were written on. Murderous cowards like Chivington betrayed those who declared themselves peaceful and friends of the whites, like Black Kettle and the Cheyenne atrocity at Sand Creek. While still under British rule, Indians of the Ohio Valley were victims of one of the first instances of bio-terrorism when the British knowingly and deliberately infected them with small pox.

So while it is safe to say the sentiment of Brown's book is clearly accurate and justified, for the overall scope of the book, exception must be taken by anyone seeking the cold hard truth. Since Brown's book was published, and quickly popularized, most historians have followed Brown's approach to viewing the Indian wars of the American West from a strictly ethnocentric viewpoint. To them, the term "Indian wars" has come to mean only "Indian - White wars", fought primarily to interrupt the flow of the expansion of white settlement. Paul Wellman began this trend in 1934 with his publication of the account of the 1862 Minnesota Massacre, DEATH ON THE PRARIE. However, what Wellman began, Brown perfected, until we have now reach, in this country, where the history of the American Indian is involved, a sort of Zinnian approach (a phrase I coined myself after revisionist historian Howard Zinn) to the re-writing or revision of American history, in this case specifically, the history of the American West.

I come to this conclusion for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is Brown's subtitle, "An Indian History of the American West". If that is, indeed, what he is seeking to fully examine, then Brown ignores the fact that Indians of different tribes held very different views of that history. He sought to interpret the Indian wars of the northern plains only as "Indian-white" wars and described them only from the viewpoint of the Sioux hostiles. Brown brushes off as "mercenaries" those tribes that became allies to the whites against the Sioux.

To view the Crow (who white trappers and traders had predicted in the 1830's would soon be extinct due to their far more numerous red enemies) and the Arikara (who also lost their land to the Sioux) as white "mercenaries" is far beyond simplistic reasoning and completely overlooks the long history of Indian warfare in the region. The Crow, Arikara and many other tribes had been fighting the Sioux (and losing, for the most part) for generations before they received any effective aid from the whites. Brown is shortsighted in his work to attempt to lend understanding of the plight of the Indian without an awareness of the history of intertribal warfare.

The Sioux migrated south and west to the Missouri around 1750. In the century preceding and following that movement, the Sioux engaged in war with at least twenty-six other Indian tribes, as well as the River Metis and the U.S. Army. Brown also fails to note that the most dramatic battles fought between the army and the Sioux were on lands the Sioux had taken from other tribes since 1851. Also overlooked is that the Arikara and Hidatsa chiefs who had signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 had both been killed by the Sioux when in 1864, the Arakara Chief White Shield petitioned the army to uphold its treaty and punish the Sioux.

Brown's book, as I said earlier, is well written, and parts of it are quite accurate. However, portraying history from only one viewpoint is shortsighted and often has dangerous consequences. Such is the case here. Brown's book has been accepted as gospel and has since led the way to even further revision of the truth.

Monty Rainey
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VINE VOICEon October 26, 2002
If you're looking for a narrative of the struggles between the various native tribes of North America and european settlers, there probably isn't a better place to go.
I read this book on my way to Wounded Knee this summer. There was so much I didn't know about the expansion of the United States (and much I still don't know, I'm sure) that my mouth gaped with horror throughout every chapter. The account of how the very laid back friendly tribes of California were mowed down by settlers without a second thought was particularly chilling. As the book itself says, no one remembers these tribes of California because they didn't put up a fight. They were simply swept aside.
Reading this book also filled gaps in the stories I had heard: Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, The Trail of Tears, the Lakota Uprising, Little Big Horn and of course Wounded Knee. All of these and other stories you probably haven't heard before are put together in chronological order. It is a very comprehensive and readable book, but it does tell of an unreconcilable tragedy.
When I finished this book, one day before arriving at Wounded Knee, I was overcome with the feeling that europeans can never make up for what they did to the people who were here before them. What happened is forever unreconcilable. But self-flagellation and reproach will not undo anything, nor help either side as they currently stand. What most european descendants can do is read this book to know what happened, and then visit Wounded Knee to see where it all ended and observe. Only then will one be on the road to understanding, as inevitably incomplete as that understanding must be and remain.
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on January 14, 2002
What can one say? This work, first printed in 1971, is still in print and still widely read, and it very much deserves to be. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is probably one of the most eloquent, intense and moving works of exposition I've ever read.
For the most part the author, Dee Brown, lets the records and the personal reports of the various participants in the events of the American Indian wars of the 19th Century speak for themselves. He creates thereby a narrative that is more riveting than any modern adventure novel and more poignant than even the finest of the Greek tragedies. The work is very well researched, with an excellent bibliography of the author's sources. It is also well illustrated, with photos or paintings of the various leaders of the native American tribes of the time. It is a veritable who's who of the native west. There are short biographies of many of the more important individuals. Names like Black Kettle of the Cheyennes, Little Crow of the Santee Sioux, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces ("I will fight no more forever,") Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Sioux, and Cochise and Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apaches are among those most likely to be recognized by non-native Americans.
What I found most interesting was the extent to which the various tribes were able to hold out against the odds, even resoundingly defeating the US military that hounded them nearly to extinction. It is evident from even a quick reading that it was less military superiority than the policy of starving out the people by destruction of land, animals, and other property that brought about defeat of the tribes. The US military of the time made a war on women, children and the elderly, slaughtering even infants in surprise raids made in undeclared wars or in provoked confrontations. Starvation, freezing weather, and disease brought these proud people to their knees, not military might.
In these times of international conflict the tragic treatment of the native American population should be a cautionary tale of what can happen when the self righteous, the culturally narrow, the ambitious, and the greedy use the military to achieve their own agenda. The types of people responsible for the near eradication of a race of people in the 19th Century are still common enough today. In my opinion this book should be required reading for any American history course from junior high school level and beyond it. Only by raising the consciousness of the average citizen from youth onward can the specter of racism on this scale be avoided.
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on June 19, 2002
It is axiomatic that history gets written by the winners - the losers are invariably made to look like bad men or natural losers or both. The point of "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" is to take a history that most of us know only from the winning perspective, and narrate it from the point of view of the losers.
Brown accomplishes this objective with considerable grace and beauty in spare, elegant narrative prose and verbatim quotes from key historical personages. Not a single word is wasted on description, sermonising or misguided attempts to explain the unexplainable. The mind-boggling amount of research Brown must have undertaken into state, federal and tribal records over the years is placed entirely at the service of the narrative. This story is broken up into episodes of just the right length and pace, each one revolving around a particular campaign or leader. The author never tries to manipulate the reader's emotions, but then he never has to.
Sadly, I think (with respect) that some readers and reviewers have missed the point of this sublime work. Of course it is not objective, and of course it is not the whole story. There are two sides to every conflict, and in the so-called "Indian Wars" there were rights and wrongs committed on both sides. But it is in our nature to be partisan, to want closure to a debate, to hold a clear judgement on the heroes and villains of the piece with no shades of grey to blur our moral certainties. The popular "Cowboys and Indians" culture of our parents' and grandparents' day was secure in its belief that civilised Christian values had won the day. The more politically sensitive consensus of our own day all too easily falls into the equal and opposite error of glorifying alternative cultures at the expense of our own.
If only real life worked in such simple black-and-white terms! To treat Brown's book as the definitive history of the West - especially as a school history text that at last sets the record straight and for the first time tells it like it was - would be (almost!) as misguided as basing your view of history on Hollywood blockbusters like the Cinerama epic, "How The West Was Won". The value of this book is quite different. It is an unashamedly subjective account of the sufferings endured by the First Americans at the hands of the European settlers and their government. It should be read in conjunction with the standard histories, and (in the mind's eye of the reader) juxtaposed on the images of White American legend.
Only thus, by embracing the tension between these different perspectives, can truth be served. Ultimately, Brown's book serves two valuable functions: Firstly, it provides a necessary antidote to the decades of triumphalist legend that depicted the Native Americans as little more than vindictive savages. But more than that, it gives America a record of what it lost through the destruction of such a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Given the simultaneous loss of innocence and the environmental damage that went hand in hand with the destruction, it is clear that the "winners" lost more than we have commonly grasped.
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on August 25, 2010
The original is a very well written book, nearly every chapter is a story in itself. Together they give an overview of the partail genocide and internment in concentration camps/reservations of some of the most prominent "Native American" tribes, along with other interesting facts and fantastic photos. My only gripe with this latest edition is that many of the original photos have been deleted, most of them are replaced with alternates of the same subject, but not all. The pics. of Roman Nose and Wovoka are gone replaced only with charcoal drawings. One of my favorites, Big Eagle brandishing his war club is gone, replaced with a photo that does'nt jump of the page the way the original does. This new edit. has a number of essays interspearsed through the chapters, an infomitive preface, many new photos and two maps, all of which are welcome. I was hopeing the maps would be of more assistance, they date from 1852 which is well before the 1860-1890 time-line of the narrative. They leave alot to be desired for answering questions like: Where is the "Smokey Hill"?...refered to with great frequency in the early chapters. If you've not read this book I suggest an earlier edition as it should have a better flow reading it as it was first intended, then since the vast majority of readers will be compelled to reread this classic, buy the expanded version for an even more enjoyable reread. A sample of the interesting facts aforementioned: (July 1860 the repeating rifle invented)...To me this shows that the Union Army finally had the ability to wage war with the confederates, carry on their genocide doctorine of free peoples, while standing ready to defend against a potential foriegn invader like Great Britten. The union could'nt have done all three without repeating rifles, so as soon as they had them they wasted no time forceing their agenda. Consider: What if slaves had been granted freedom while tribal Americans were free? Drums, danceing, tribal religion...these two tribes of man flurishing stood firmly in the way of corporate America and still do, as propaganda wars are as prominent as ever.
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