Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a fully documented account of the annihilation of the American Indian in the late 1800s ending at the Battle of Wounded Knee. Brown brings to light a story of torture and atrocity not well known in American history. The fashion in which the American Indian was exterminated by the United States government is best summed up in the words of Standing Bear of the Poncas, “When people want to slaughter cattle they drive them along until they get them to a corral, and then they slaughter them. So it was with us…. ” (Brown, 323.) So it was for the American Indian when the white man s greed for gold and land brought new settlers westward into the only substantial hunting grounds still his and forced him to choose between fighting a much larger, better equipped army or facing certain extinction.
When the first white men arrived to the new world the natives acted generously towards them, offering them fine gifts and respect. Yet as time progressed these new settlers soon gave the Indian more than ample reason to have misgivings about them. Slowly feelings of mutual distrust evolved, up to the late 1800s during the time with which this tragedy is concerned. By this time settlers and prospectors hungry for gold had pushed the American Indian westward into a small corner and were still hankering for more land. However the Indian had grown tired of being relocated and crammed into consecutively smaller living quarters. Through his constant harassment of, invasion into the land of, and his pointless slaughter of wild game the white man left the American Indian with no other option but to fight for everything still his. Perhaps Red Cloud of the Cheyennes said it best,
The Great Spirit raised both the white man and the Indian I think he raised the Indian first. He raised me in this land and it belongs to me. The white man was raised over the great waters, and his land is over there. Since they crossed the sea, I have given them room. There are now white people all about me. I have but a small spot of land left. The Great Spirit told me to keep it. (Brown, 97.)
The American Indian was always willing to share what was his with his white brother. However when the whites became too greedy the Indian naturally defended what little land was still his, and he paid for it with the blood of his people.
In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee the author Dee Brown asks us to confront our past, which may make us uncomfortable. But there are two sides to every story, and Brown shows us the side that we rarely see. By forcing us to think about these issues, Dee Brown helps white Americans to understand why the American Indian was more willing to fight to the death than to give up his last hunting grounds, and exposes the truth behind one of the greatest internal conflicts our nation has ever seen. Our nation gave the American Indian no other choice but to fight us. We cornered him, butchered his family and livestock, burned his teepee and crop, took his weapons away, forced him to live in disgrace on an insufficient reservation, and even denied him equal rights under our constitution, all in the name of good Christian manifest destiny. This and generations of similar abuse brought upon a war that the American Indian would have rather died in than lose, as best expressed by chief Red Cloud, And now our last hunting ground, the home of the People, is to be taken from us. Our women and children will starve, but for my part I prefer to die fighting than by starvation. (Brown, 130.) Clearly the American Indian was once again left with no other option but to fight for survival, a hopeless fight that would bring nothing for his people but extinction.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a work of non-fiction, attempts to tell the story of the American West from the perspective of the indigenous population, the American Indian, through the use of council records, autobiographies, and first-hand accounts. That in itself makes Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee an important work of literature as it is one of the few books supporting the Indian cause. Brown does an excellent job of showing his readers how the white man deceived and betrayed his red brother into signing away his land and living in poverty while the white man lived awash with wealth. The Indian realization that they must fight or lose their land and way of life forever is best stated by Lone Wolf of the Kiowas,
I want peace I have worked hard for it. Washington has deceived me- has failed to keep faith with me and my people- has broken his promises; and now there is nothing left us but war. I know that war with Washington means the extinction of my people, but we are driven to it; we had rather die than live. (Brown, 262.)
As told by Lone Wolf as well as shown in each tale told throughout the novel the Indians were rarely given a genuine opportunity for peace, for every treaty was designed to deceive them. Lies, false promises, and their gullibility all combined to work against the Indians throughout the late 1800s while the United States government systematically selected each individual tribe, cornered them into a hopeless fight or signing away all their land, and subsequently abandoned them.
Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a wonderfully written and insightful piece of American literature. An excellent account of the hopeless position the United States government put the American Indian in, this is one of the few books ever written that attempts to tell this saga from the perspective of the savage. Nonetheless after finishing the last page I find myself overwhelmed with surprise; I never knew such atrocities to be committed in the name of emigration and God. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tells a story that is not well-known or understood, but is a crucial and horrible part of our American heritage. With each new chapter it becomes more evident that the white man never intended to share anything with his red brothers, and that the civilized white settlers broke treaty after treaty with the Indians, forcing them into a war that they could never hope to win and that they had no way out of. But the best thing about Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee