Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
|Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee|
|Subject||United States History, Native Americans|
|Publisher||New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|LC Classification||E81 .B75 1971|
- This article is about Dee Brown's 1970 book. For the eponymous 2007 film, see Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (film) and/or George S. Clinton's soundtrack. In other eponymous music, see: Buffy Sainte-Marie's 1990 song (perhaps better known by the Indigo Girls 1995 cover), Gila's 1973 album, Yoriyos' 2007 album and/or other music pertaining to the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, by American writer Dee Brown, is a history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century. The book expresses a Native American perspective on the injustices and betrayals committed by the US government. Brown describes Native Americans' displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States federal government. The government's dealings are portrayed as a continuing effort to destroy the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples. Helen Hunt Jackson's A Century of Dishonor is often considered a 19th-century precursor to Dee Brown's writing.
Before the publication of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown had become well versed in the history of the American frontier. Having grown up in Arkansas, he developed a keen interest in the American West, and during his graduate education at George Washington University and his career as a librarian for both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he wrote numerous books on the subject. Brown's works maintained a focus on the American West, but ranged anywhere from western fiction to histories to even children's books. Many of Brown's books revolved around similar Native American topics, including his Showdown at Little Bighorn (1964) and The Fetterman Massacre (1974).
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in 1970 to generally strong reviews. Published at a time of increasing American Indian activism, the bestseller has never gone out of print and has been translated into 17 languages. The title is taken from the final phrase of a 20th-century poem titled "American Names" by Stephen Vincent Benet. The full quotation, "I shall not be here/I shall rise and pass/Bury my heart at Wounded Knee," appears at the beginning of Brown's book. Although Benet's poem is not about the plight of Native Americans, Wounded Knee was the location of the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and American Indians.
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Key Characters
- 3 Historical Context
- 4 Reception of the book
- 5 Adaptations
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 External References
In the first chapter, Brown presents a brief history of the discovery and settlement of America, from 1492 to the Indian turmoil that began in 1860. He stresses the initially gentle and peaceable behavior of Indians toward Europeans, especially given their apparent lack of resistance to early colonial efforts at Europeanization. It was not until the further influx of European settlers, gradual encroachment, and eventual seizure of American lands by the "white man" that the Native people were shown to exhibit forms of major resistance.
Brown completes his initial overview by briefly describing incidents up to 1860 that involve American encroachment and Native American eradication, beginning with the defeat of the Wampanoags and Narragansetts, Iroquois, and Cherokee Nations, as well as the establishment of the West as the "permanent Indian frontier" and the ultimate breaches of the frontier as a means to achieve Manifest Destiny.
In each of the following chapters, Brown provides an in-depth description of a significant post-1860 event in American Western expansion or Native American eradication, focusing in turn on the specific tribe or tribes involved in the event. In his narrative, Brown primarily discusses such tribes as the Navajo Nation, Santee Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota, Oglala Lakota, Cheyenne, and Apache people. He puts less emphasis on the Arapaho, Modoc, Kiowa, Comanche, Nez Perce, Ponca, Ute, and Minneconjou Lakota tribes.
Brown discusses the plights of Manuelito and the Navajo people in New Mexico, who make treaties and other efforts to maintain peace with the Americans despite their encroachment upon Navajo land, stealing livestock and burning entire villages as punishment for misbehavior. The Americans occupy land in Navajo country not only to build their own forts, the first of which was Fort Defiance, but also claim rights to the surrounding prized Navajo lands as pasture for their livestock. Various disputes occur between the Navajo and the Americans, culminating in a horse race between Manuelito and an American lieutenant who wins as a result of dishonesty and trickery. The upshot is a massacre of the Navajo bystanders.
The American general James Carleton attempts to order the Navajos to relocate to a reservation at Bosque Redondo, where the Apaches had recently been moved, but he meets with resistance. Employing a scorched-earth campaign, Kit Carson and Carleton force a large majority of resistant Navajos and Apaches to surrender and flee to the reservation. Manuelito and few others Navajo leaders refuse to surrender, but finally agree to relocate to the Bosque in 1866 "for the sake of the women and children", signing a peace treaty on June 1, 1868.
The narrative of the Sioux people begins with Brown's discussion of the Santee Dakota tribe after their developing anger toward the white people in the early 1860s following a poor harvest and lack of promised support from the US government. Following the murder of a few white men and women by young Dakota, the frustrated Santee tribe, led by Chief Little Crow, attempted and failed an attack on Fort Ridgely and a nearby town. When the Santees refuse to surrender white hostages to Colonel Sibley, they are forced to fight a battle at Yellow Medicine River, losing and resulting in the execution of over three dozen tribe Santees in December 1862. Santee Chiefs, including Chief Little Crow, were killed within the following six months and the remaining Santees are removed to a Missouri River and Crow Creek reservation.
Brown's discussion of the Oglala Lakota begins with the US Army's invasion of the Powder River country in 1865 Montana, who faced opposition from the local Lakota and Cheyenne tribes before annihilation and forced removal of a local Arapaho tribe. This and other skirmishes led to heated conflict between the Army and the local Oglala Lakotas, led by Chiefs Red Cloud and Roman Nose, forcing the American Army to retreat for the winter. The death of a great proportion of troops brought great confidence to the Natives, who began a move to the Black Hills.
By the Army's request, the local Chiefs and approximately 2000 other natives arrived at Fort Laramie in May 1866 for treaty talks until the tribes learn of the Army's intent on building trails and railroads through their land. Work on the road progresses as the natives plan an attack on the white men and begin harassing the traffic through the Powder River country. Red Cloud leads approximately 3,000 Lakota in what becomes known as the Fetterman Massacre, an ambush at Peno Creek killing 81 white men and 200 natives. In the following years conflict continues between the American Army and Lakota, as peace commissions continue to be sent to the Powder River, until 1868 when the Army retreats and signs a mutual peace treaty with Red Cloud.
In 1869 Red Cloud is asked to come to Washington D.C. to speak with Donehogawa, an Iroquois Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the US government. The chief and his tribe member express with their discontent with the 1868 treaty which defined their agency on the Missouri River instead of Powder River, which Donehogawa corrected by declaring the Powder River country as reserved Lakota hunting grounds. Donehogawa's agency, after being accused of having the qualities of a "savage Indian," was disallowed from purchasing supplies for the reservations and subsequently forced the resignation of the Commissioner.
When rumors of gold in the Black Hills return with Custer to the white settlers in the plains in 1874, miners and panhandlers flood the area, angering the Lakota and Dakota living there. A peace council in 1875 arranges for the American purchase of either mineral rights or outright ownership of the Black Hills, both of which are rejected by the Natives in favor of resistance to the Army. In 1876, a series of battles occur between the Natives and US troops, with neither side gaining an evident lead until the Native defeat of General Custer and his troops at The Battle of Little Bighorn on June 29. The infuriated American Army sends a peace council to sign a treaty that forces the Sioux out of the Black Hills to the Missouri River. The troops follow this treaty with various attacks on Lakota villages and Chief Crazy Horse's army of Lakota, ultimately resulting in the stabbing and death of the Chief.
Hunkpapa and Minneconjou Lakota
Following the removal of the Lakota from the Black Hills to the Missouri River reservation, Sitting Bull, still in exile in Canada participating in multiple unsuccessful peace talks, rides to Fort Buford to surrender, resulting in his placement at the Hunkpapa reservation at Standing Rock and his travelling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The Lakota were ultimately forced to sign a treaty in 1890 that divided their reservation. Following the acceptance of the Ghost Dance religion among the Lakota people, Sitting Bull is arrested in an attempt to quell the religious disturbance. The two Indian policemen sent to seize him immediately kill the Chief.
The Minneconjou named Kicking Bear was the originator of the Ghost Dance religion. Stating that he saw a vision of Christ in Nevada who taught him the Dance of the Ghosts, he told that in the next year a new Earth would arise for all men dancing the Dance of the Ghosts, concealing the terrors of the white man and reaping buffalo, wild horses, and new trees and grasses. Following the death of Sitting Bull, a battle arose that resulted in the collaboration of the fleeing Hunkpapas and Minneconjous at Standing Rock. Deciding against resisting the army, the tribes fled to seek Red Cloud's assistance at Pine Ridge, encountering Major Whitside on the way in late December 1890. The tribes were directed to Wounded Knee, where a refusal of a Minneconjou called Black Coyote to hand over his rifle results in the massacre of approximately 350 Indians and 25 troops. Those remaining injured Lakota fled to Pine Ridge, returning to bury their comrades the following day.
Cheyenne and Arapaho
The 1858 Pikes Peak gold rush brings a swarm of white settlers to Cheyenne and Arapaho lands in Colorado, which instigates treaty talks that result in an established Cheyenne and Arapaho territory between Sand Creek and the Arkansas River. When the Civil War brings the Army into their territory, conflict occurs that are followed by a proclamation calling for the murder of "hostile Indians". When a peace talk results in a brutal attack on the Cheyenne tribe, the Cheyenne respond with various strikes on the Army's outposts. Black Kettle then leads his tribe south to hunt buffalo, encountering several battles on the way until a mutual peace treaty is signed allocating the Cheyenne tribe land South of the Arkansas River.
The Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, hunting for buffalo in Kansas in early 1866, are asked to sign the treaty that would remove them to the South with Black Kettle and his tribe. Upon their refusal, Roman Nose organizes an attack which is thwarted by the coming of winter. In the following year a peace council occurs between the General Hancock's army and the natives resulting in the burning of the Cheyenne camp when they refuse to cooperate with Hancock. A series of Native attacks lead to the eventual signing of a treaty by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes relocating them to the reservation south of Arkansas. Roman Nose, neglecting to sign this treaty, leads a series of attacks in the following years with his army of Dog Soldiers which result in the death of Roman Nose, the burning of Black Kettle's village by Generals Custer and Sheridan, and the ultimate death of the remaining band of Dog Soldiers.
In response to their deteriorating health due to the unfit land at Fort Reno allocated to them upon their surrender, the Northern Cheyenne tribe led by Little Wolf and Dull Knife journey North to hunt buffalo in 1877. Returning from the hunt unsuccessful, the tribe suffers severe losses due to health problems, especially due to a measles epidemic. The two chiefs make the decision to travel North, journeys that force them into various battles with Army soldiers and deplete there tribes to nearly ten percent of their previous populations. Dull Knife and his tribe, with aims of reaching Red Cloud's agency, rebel against orders to return to their southern, buffalo-depleted reservation. Battles ensue, and Dull Knife's tribe is pursued North until the majority are killed in battle, the remaining few taking refuge at Red Cloud's reservation.
The friendly relations between the Apaches and American that were once signified by the Apache allowance of American to pass through their land began to diminish as the result of the imprisonment of Chief Cochise after his tribe allegedly stole both cattle and a boy from a settler's farm. When Cochise escaped imprisonment, he and his warriors killed three white men, to which the Army responded by hanging Cochise's male family. In 1863 Cochise spends two years leading attacks on the Americans as a means to avenge the murder of another Apache chief. In 1865, after Cochise refuses a treaty designed to relocate his Chiricahua tribe to a reservation, the Apaches gradually remove themselves from contact with the white men until 1871, when a group of white, Mexican, and other Indians massacre an Apache tribe. Cochise and his tribe then retreats into the mountains until he makes an agreement for an Apache reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains and soon dies in 1874.
The Apache nation becomes divided following Cochise's death and they become renowned for raiding white settler villages. The Chiricahua Apaches, absconding attempts to relocate their reservation, flee to Mexico. Victorio and his Warm Springs Apaches are removed to the San Carlos agency in 1877 until they escape to the mountains, the band killed in its entirety after making habits of killing and torturing settlers. Geronimo and his tribe leave their reservation only to return with weaponry in hopes of freeing their fellow Apaches, resulting in the stationing of Apache guerillas in Mexico. Negotiation attempts with Geronimo and the guerillas continue to take place over the next few years as alleged stories of brutalities and atrocities of the guerillas continue to circulate. In 1886 Geronimo is asked to surrender, only to flee once again before being incarcerated and sent to reservations in Florida with the remaining Chiricahua Apaches.
Captain Jack, the Chief of the Modoc tribe located in Northern California, is described as a Native American friendly to the "white people" who settled in his country. Upon a larger influx of settlers and small disputes between the Modocs and settlers, a treaty was signed which relocated the Modocs to a reservation in Oregon to be shared with the Klamaths, despite Captain Jack's reluctance. Conflicts between the two tribes arose on the reservation which forced the Modocs to return South, resulting in a small battle between the tribe and an American battalion in 1872 before retreating to the California lava beds. Another group of Modocs, led by Hooker Jim, murdered 12 settlers and forced Captain Jack to lead his tribe into a battle against the American army. A peace commission arrived, led by General Canby, to begin talks with Captain Jack who eventually, under persuasion from Hooker Jim's Modocs, agreed to kill Canby should the original Modoc land not be returned to the Natives. Canby refuses the land to the Modocs and is killed by Captain Jack, who is then betrayed to the American Army by Hooker Jim and sentenced to hanging on October 3, 1873.
Kiowa and Comanche
After the Battle of Washita in 1868, General Sheridan ordered all involved to surrender at Fort Cobb, an act which is refused by the Kiowa tribe. The Kiowa chiefs are arrested and the Kiowa and Comanche people are forced onto the Fort Cobb reservation. The Kiowas and Comanches, led by Satanta and Big Tree, decide to attack the white men and kill 7 teamsters, resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of the two chiefs. Lone Wolf, another Kiowa Chief, arranges for the release of the two chiefs for peace talks at Fort Sill and, ultimately, on parole in time for the Kiowa and Comanche tribes to lead an attack against the white men to preserve the buffalo in early 1874. The tribes then flee their reservations and are hunted by the American Army, only to surrender early 1875 and face exile to Florida.
Despite maintaining peaceful relations with whites, the Nez Perces signed a treaty in 1863 relocating them to a small reservation in Idaho, finding insult in what Chief Joseph and his tribe designated the "thief treaty". Taking great offense to the treaty and sudden influx of gold miners and cattle farmers in their land, the tribe refused to move to the Lapwai reservation and fought the American Army at White Bird Canyon in June 1877. Winning that battle, the tribe chose to flee to Canada with Sitting Bull, losing a battle at Big Hole River in August and surrendering along the way. Some members of the tribe manage to find refuge in Canada, while those who surrendered are split between the Lapwai reservation and the Colville reservation in Washington.
Despite having previously signed treaties guaranteeing their ownership of the land on the Niobrara River, the Ponca land was given in treaty to Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes just before being included in 1877 on the list of tribes to be exiled to Indian Territory following Custer's loss. Chief Standing Bear was arrested along with other chiefs for refusing removal due to its violation of treaty obligations. Along with their tribes they were forced onto the Quapaw reservation, where over one quarter of their population dies before being moved further to a new reservation. Standing Bear returns to the Niobrara a takes his case to court in 1879 with the argument that he is a person protected by the Constitution. Standing Bear wins the case, but is informed by General Sherman that the case is specific to him and does not maintain validity for the other Poncas, who are forced to remain in Indian Territory.
The Utes are a tribe in Colorado whose land gradually began to be encroached upon by mineral and gold miners. Chief Ouray signed a treaty in 1863 allowing settlers to mine their lands and relinquishing all mineral rights, and further signed another treaty in 1868 that allotted 16 million acres of forests and meadows in the Rockies as a personal reservation, disallowing whites from trespassing. When disputes arose, Nathan Meeker attempted to assimilate the Utes into Christianity and American culture, but William Vickers opposed the idea and started "The Utes Must Go!" campaign in 1879. Vickers called on American cavalry to prevent a hostile outbreak occur amongst the Utes, to which the Utes reply by killing all of the white men at the White River agency. In 1881, as a result of outrage in regards to the White River Massacre, the Utes are removed to a marginal reservation in Utah.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published less than three years following the establishment of AIM, the American Indian Movement, formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1968. AIM moved to promote modern Native American issues and to unite America's dividing Native American population, similar to the Civil Rights and Environmental Movements that gained support at that time. The publication of Brown's book came at the height of the American Indian Movement's activism. In 1969, in AIM occupied Alcatraz Island for 19 months in hopes of reclaiming Native American land after the San Francisco Indian Center burned down. In 1973, less than three years after the book's release, AIM and local Oglala and neighboring Sicangu Lakota took part in a 71-day occupation at Wounded Knee in protest of the government of Richard Wilson, the chairman of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which resulted in the death of two Indians and injury of the U.S. Marshal. The resulting 1974 trial ended in the dismissal of all charges due to the uncovering of various incidents of government misconduct.
At the time of the publication of Brown's book, the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War. The actions of the United States Army in Vietnam were frequently criticized in the media and critics of Brown's narrative often drew comparisons between its contents and what was seen in the media. The primary comparison made was the similarity between the massacre and genocide of the Native American population in the late 19th Century as portrayed by Dee Brown's book and the 1968 massacre of hundreds of civilians in Southern Vietnam at My Lai for which twenty-five U.S. Army members were indicted. Native American author N. Scott Momaday, in his review of the narrative, agreed with the viability of the comparison, stating "Having read Mr. Brown, one has a better understanding of what it is that nags at the American conscience at times (to our everlasting credit) and of that morality which informs and fuses events so far apart in time and space as the massacres at Wounded Knee and My Lai." Thirty years later, in the foreword of a modern printing of the book by Hampton Sides, it is argued that My Lai had a powerful impact on the success of Brown's narrative, as "Bury My Heart landed on America's doorstep in the anguished midst of the Vietnam War, shortly after revelations of the My Lai massacre had plunged the nation into gnawing self-doubt. Here was a book filled with a hundred My Lais, a book that explored the dark roots of American arrogance while dealing a near-deathblow to our fondest folk myth."
Reception of the book
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee received ultimately positive reviews upon its publication. TIME magazine reviewed the book saying: "In the last decade or so, after almost a century of saloon art arse operas that romanticized Indian fighters and white settlers, Americans have been developing a reasonably acute sense of the injustices and humiliations suffered by the Indians. But the details of how the West was won are not really part of the American consciousness ... Dee Brown, Western historian and head librarian at the University of Illinois, now attempts to balance the account. With the zeal of an IRS investigator, he audits U.S. history's forgotten set of books. Compiled from old but rarely exploited sources plus a fresh look at dusty Government documents, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tallies the broken promises and treaties, the provocations, massacres, discriminatory policies and condescending diplomacy." The Pulitzer-Prize winning Natve American author N. Scott Momaday noted the book contains strong documentation of original sources, such as council records and firsthand descriptions. Stating that "it is, in fact, extraordinary on several accounts," he further complements Brown's writing by saying that "the book is a story, whole narrative of singular integrity and precise continuity; that is what makes the book so hard to put aside, even when one has come to the end."
Peter Farb reviewed the book in 1971, in the New York Review of Books, writing "The Indian wars were shown to be the dirty murders they were." Other critics couldn't believe the book wasn't written by a Native American and Dee Brown was a white man, as the book's Native perspective felt too real. Remaining on bestseller lists for over a year following its release in hardback, the book remains in print 40 years later. Translated into at least 17 languages, it has sold nearly four million copies and remains popular today.
Despite the book's widespread acceptance by journalists and the general public, scholars such as Francis Paul Prucha criticized it for lacking sources for much of the material, except for direct quotations; he said that content was selected to present a particular point of view, rather than to be balanced; and that the narrative of government-Indian relations suffered from not being placed within the perspective of what else was occurring within the government and the country at the time.
Brown was candid about his intention to present the history of the settlement of the West from the point of view of the Indians, "its victims," as he wrote. He noted, "Americans who have always looked westward when reading about this period should read this book facing eastward."
HBO Films produced a made-for-television film adaptation by the same title of the Brown's book for the HBO television network. The film stars Adam Beach, Aidan Quinn, Anna Paquin, and August Schellenberg with a cameo appearance by actor and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson as President Grant. It debuted on the HBO television network Sunday, May 27, 2007 and covers roughly the last two chapter of Brown's book, focusing on the narrative of the Lakota tribes leading up to the death of Sitting Bull and the Massacre at Wounded Knee. The film received 17 Primetime Emmy nominations and went on to win six awards, including the category of Outstanding Made For Television Movie. It also garnered nominations for three Golden Globe Awards, two Satellite Awards, and one Screen Actors Guild Award.
Bestselling author of Lincoln's Last Days, Dwight Jon Zimmerman adapted Brown's book for children in his work entitled The Saga of the Sioux. The narrative focuses only on the Sioux tribe as the representatives of the story told in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, written from the perspective of the Sioux chiefs and warriors from 1860 to the events at the Massacre at Wounded Knee. The book includes copious photographs, illustrations, and maps in support of the narrative and to appeal to its middle school demographic.
- Native Americans in the United States
- Indigenous Peoples of the United States
- Wounded Knee Massacre
- American Indian Wars
- Manifest Destiny
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