Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, 1970
This is the historical account that demanded the word ‘unflinching’ be invented.
Dee Brown’s Indian History of the American West was never a part of a curriculum for me, at any grade level. But when I became a high school grad who had set out to read things They would not have us read, this somewhat intimidating book came to my attention.
But it was only Michael Blake’s less-intimidating, if more involving, Dances With Wolves, that got me thinking of Bury My Heart… as the book I needed to read as soon as humanly possible. In the afterword of the novel, Blake references Brown’s book as the first of its kind, the one that dismissed the notion of savages so utterly, and educated us about the real hardships of the Lakota, Apache, Cheyenne, and all tribes. Blake also suggested that Crazy Horse, of the Lakota, might have been the greatest American to ever live. Does that do something to your American identity? It did something to mine.
The period of history covered is 1860-1890, is bloody, and is told in so honest a manner that one doesn’t think to do anything but take it as fact. Here’s how I know it’s fact: the Indians aren’t angels. The Indians make mistakes. There were traitors in nearly every tribe. And, despite all of their flaws, the reader can only root for them, and fear the whites, less for their invasion, and more for the atrocities they commit.
Among the chiefs we are introduced to: Sitting Bull, Cochise, Geronimo, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse. Through their eyes, and oftentimes through their own words, we observe as their world gets smaller and smaller, and promise after promise is made, then broken.
Missing the Peltier incident by a scant five years, one cannot help to think of Bury My Heart… as at the very least a significant book, and Wounded Knee Creek a bitter symbol.
It will be difficult for you, prospective reader, to ever visit a national park, go hunting, or even admire nature, without first thinking of those who made it a way of life. You have their permission to think twice the next time someone would have you believe that all native people care about is your use of the word ‘Indian’ or renaming a football team. Maybe there is more to the story. Perhaps, a poverty-stricken reservation, or that Peltier sits in a federal prison today, means more to them. So any time you go fishing, see an endangered species list, catch a news story about the invasion of a faraway place, or hear “Crazy Life” play on the radio, maybe it will mean a little more to you.
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