Native American Society And Their Conflict With Us In The Novel Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee Written By Dee Brown

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The book I read, and am reviewing, is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee written by Dee Brown. Brown was born February 29, 1908 in Alberta, Louisiana. He was raised in Ouachita County, Arkansas until he was 13 when his mother relocated their family to Little Rock so that Brown and his three siblings could attend a better high school. Growing up, Brown spent lots of time in public libraries and became fascinated with American history. He read many books written by John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and Sherwood Anderson and later claimed these authors to be the most influential to him and his work. When Brown was a teenager, he was a fan of going to the Arkansas Travelers’ baseball games. He met and became acquainted with the pitcher of the team who went by the name Chief Yellow Horse. Due to his kindness and openness to a poor small town boy, this majorly influenced Brown to reject the stereotypes and discrimination of Native American people that was still active in society at the time. This friendship sparked a wholesome relationship with a man who most saw as a lesser being.

Later he went to college at Arkansas State where he became close with his mentor, and history professor, Dean McBrien. They shared a similar passion and he gave him the idea of becoming a writer for the first time. Brown claimed to have learned more from McBrien than any other classroom and was quickly converted into a fanatic for the American West. Down the road, Brown worked as a reporter, printer, editor, librarian, and a professor in different cities across Arkansas. He ended up writing over a dozen books where Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee became his most successful work and a bestseller. He went on to sell more than 5 million copies and it has been translated into 17 other languages. Brown died on December 12, 2002 and remains the only contributor of Arkansas literature to be in The New York Public Library’s Books of the Century.

In this book, Brown effectively documents the organized destruction of the Indians in the 19th century and utilizes many sources to back the stories. Brown incorporates many notable Indians of the time and their stories about the wars, genocide, and betrayals that left them ultimately and wrongfully defeated. This is a very unique book told from never before seen sides and has forever changed the argument of how America’s West was discovered and taken. This work differed from Brown’s other projects in which it steered away from traditional frontier stories and stirred up a lot of controversy as it forced Americans to look at the other side during a tough time in the country’s history. Lots of people thought he himself was an Indian, but he was not.

His old friendship with Chief Yellow Horse is what inspired him to write this book and can explain why he wrote the book the way he did. Brown even said the best compliment he ever received was from an unknown Indian when they said “You didn’t write that book. Only an Indian could have written that book!” Looking at a variety of tribes throughout the book, Brown is able to effectively show how these Natives felt and what they were thinking as their land was stripped from them by gathering documented records and stories written and told by these tribes.

Throughout this book, it’s clear that Brown argues Native Americans were wrongfully robbed of their land while genocide coincided for no reason. He tries to display that the Indians never started anything in the Native’s resistance by sharing their side of the story and accomplishes this by revolutionizing the history of the West and finally gave the Natives a voice for once. This turned out to be surprisingly efficient as it opened up a lot of controversy surrounding the book upon its release and remains a very respected piece of work. He shows how the government manipulated and broke many treaties that they proposed and signed themselves with the Indians. Over the course of time people have said “Americans had a religious duty to colonize the West” but Brown is able to show how that was just a front for the disheartening truth of a widely controversial topic.

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The author wrote this book to give the Natives a chance to speak their truth and to open the eyes of many others about their side. Brown wanted to prove that the Natives never struck first but only retaliated after being deceived and deprived of their life and land multiple times. For example, the main goal of the expanding railroad system was to allow settlers to harvest and colonize the uncharted West even though they knew it was native land. To do this, they sent in military forces to evict and propagate manifest destiny.

When the US formed the Iowa and Wisconsin territories, the policy makers in Washington immediately broke one of their treaties and shifted the “Indian Frontier” from the Mississippi to the 95th meridian and we learn that they “invented Manifest Destiny, a term which lifted land hunger to a lofty plane. The Europeans and their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America. They were the dominant race and therefore responsible for the Indians—along with their lands, their forests, and their mineral wealth(19)” explaining that the Natives were far inferior. Another example is after the Mexican/American War. The government sent out waves of settlers to California and the MidWest even though most of the land West of the Mississippi rightfully belonged to the Indians which was explicitly stated in multiple treaties the government had also signed. This further supports Brown’s argument that the Indians were deceived on multiple occasions.

While structured uniquely, Brown is also very convincing in this book and is able to support all of his information with valid sources. When the book was newly published, a couple of credible historians criticized Brown for “focusing on Indian interactions with soldiers” and for his “willingness to sacrifice precision for pizzazz.” He responded to these comments by saying “I have the documents to prove everything.” He organizes and conveys the material in 19 chapters through documented records, stories, and autobiographies with little to no narratives.

Brown definitely substantiates his thesis and arguments throughout the entire book. We learn that out of 3.7 million buffalo killed in a two year span, the Indians only killed 150 thousand of them ridding them of their source of food, clothing, shelter, and ultimately survival. This births a story about a Native named Tatanka and we can read “he thought, that nation of white men is like a spring freshet that overruns its banks and destroys all who are in its path. Soon they would take the buffalo country unless the hearts of the Indians were strong enough to hold it. He resolved that he would fight to hold it(71)” explaining that they only wanted to fight when defending something or for survival. Another story comes from the results of the Sand Creek Massacre where the US murdered hundreds of women and children after killing an innocent Cheyenne boy.

Three half breed brothers were trying to decide between white and native civilization on the way to their fathers ranch when one brother “heard more details of the soldiers' atrocities at sand creek—the horrible scalpings and mutilations, the butchery of children and infants(106).” They later decided to take no part or side with the white men. Following the senseless massacre, the Cheyenne left the area of Colorado and obviously that’s what the US had wanted all along. Finally we have one of the more notable quotes in the book really emphasizing the whole point of Brown’s message and it reads “The Indians who ambushed Fetterman were only imitating their enemies, a practice which in warfare, as in civilian life, is said to be the sincerest form of flattery(142)” showing pure retaliation.

I believe that Brown agrees with what we say in class but on the more broad side of things. We have talked plenty about the conflicts between the two societies and how the US took advantage of the Natives which concurs with Brown’s opinion. He uses many first hand sources throughout the book which makes it so fascinating, incredible, and different in multiple ways. It also makes the book very credible and respected on a wide scale.

It was very readable and intriguing and the author made it hard for people to forget about this piece of work. However, due to the lack of narratives, it’s tough to follow the story sometimes and could use some adjustments there. Overall, the book was great, informative, and awesome seeing all the first hand sources and how it stands out from other books I have read.

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