Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (published 1970, reissued in ebook form by OpenRoad Media) is an incredibly painful book to read. It is a straight-forward historical account of the last three decades of Native American Indians in the American West, an account of the great leaders and cultures that are no more.
Although I felt I had an understanding of the conflicts that happened in the American West during the 1800s, I feel now that I had no idea of the extent of the genocide. Before, I thought the Native American Indians tragically died out, due to disease and relocation. Now I see better that the local American government routinely slaughtered whole communities.
Brown’s book is written with the Native American perspective at the forefront, so of course there is bias. However, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a well researched record of the American historical experience, and it is a vital text for Americans interested in learning the not-so-pretty truth about American history.
It is true that some of the native groups were outspoken, resentful, and even violent at the prospect of relocation. We can hardly blame them. Although it’s painful to say so from our perspective now, the violent reaction from the apparently fearful Americans makes sense in some of those cases.
However, a far greater number of Native American communities discussed in Brown’s book were peaceful groups that had, over decades of co-existence with white settlers, refrained from violence, obeyed the local American laws, and in general expressed an interest in remaining where they had lived for centuries. They had gotten along for decades; why not continue? It was not to be. When leaders say things that become distilled in to “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” it is clear there is not much hope.
Even in the midst of the American Civil War, American troops raided peaceful villages, slaughtering the men, women, and children who were not able to escape. When the Indian survivors later desecrated their white enemies in a similar way, Americans called them “savage,” not realizing that the Indians were simply imitating the American’s slaughter. Savage, yes. But who started it?
Brown’s writing is clear. Although more than 300 pages of discouraging and disgusting battles, personalities, and settings seemed daunting, I found I read quickly and with interest because of the clarity of Brown’s prose. He wrote with evident expertise, comfort, and passion about the complexities of history. The book was well documented. I love a thick nonfiction book full of footnotes.
Reading a digital edition of this book was a breeze. In-text photos fit well on my nook screen, and were easily re-sized if I wanted to see them larger. Footnotes are so much nicer on a digital device. And this reissue also provides a brief biography of the author, which I appreciated.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was not a fun read, but it was memorable. I will never think of the wild wild west the same again.
Note: I read a digital copy via netgalley from the publisher, provided for review consideration.