Friday, November 7, 2014

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

No man owned any part of the earth, and a man could not sell what he did not own.” This statement came from an Indian chief from Nez Percés when US government wanted him to sell their land so that the whites could live there. When I read it, at first I thought this chief was wrong. Of course one must own the land he lives on, otherwise others would claim it. However as I stopped reading and began reflecting…. I could see the truth behind the statement. Who is the real owner of the earth? It was created by God, and so, it was His property. Then he created man to manage it, and to produce from it things to support his family’s life. So everyone has the right to live on a certain part of the land, while the land belongs to God, because it’s Him who supplied it. But then, man becomes greedy. He also wants his neighbors’ land, and because he actually doesn’t really need it, he sells it to others to quench his greediness. I think feudalism came from this.

The chief of Nez Percés was right, and so were all other chiefs of all the Indian tribes, who have stated the same thing over and over again to US government. This book is all about how the Whites systematically pressed the Indians to hand over their territories and to force them to be ‘civilized’. It covers Indian history of the American West beginning from Christopher Columbus’ arrival at San Salvador on 1492 to the massacre at Wounded Knee at the end of 1890.

This book contains of nineteen chapters, each telling the histories of so many events of different tribes, but the outlines are always the same. For centuries the Indian had been settling peacefully on one prairie. Then one day came a group of white people. The Indians could accept them; and in some tribes, they even made good friendship with the whites. Then came the gold rush on mid 19th century; huge bands of American citizens flooded the territories; and the peaceful era ended. The government made treaty with the Indians by shrinking their lands to make way for the Americans, and appointed Indian agents to supervise it. The Indians accepted; they just wanted to live peacefully with their new neighbors.

But then the Americans wanted to build railroads across Indian lands, so they forced them to live inside a Reservation (to avoid conflict), and with many sweet promises made them signing another treaty. The Americans broke the treaty; the rations in the reservation were poor. The Indians protested and escaped from the Reservation, then the Americans sent their military troops to herd them back to the reservation with many more promises. They refused, and were killed or even massacred.

The story repeated again and again for ages. It was painful and disturbing to follow it; and I was angry all the time with the arrogance and cruel way the Americans treated their fellow citizens. It is astonishing perhaps, to see how the Indians could be deceived so easily by the Americans over and over again; didn’t they learn anything? My argument is, that they were simple and honest race, and in their straightforward mind they could not imagine that human being could do such low deed as cheating—least of all a race who had boasted to be more civilized.

Dee Brown presented the history as if he has let the Indians ‘talked’ about their cases themselves. This is the most interesting point of this book, which made it livelier! As if, silenced by the Americans at that time, they were now given chance to talk honestly and freely to the world. In the beginning of each chapter, Brown would include quotes from some Indian chiefs, and within the chapters he often let the Indian witnesses to narrate the events from their perspective, as well as the Americans.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee has affirmed my belief that the cost of modernization and civilization is moral corruption. What people think of ‘civilized’ is sometimes different with the result. The Indians treated their enemies honorably as humans like themselves, while the Americans often assumed and treated the Indians as non-human or even animal! You would be surprised to read how these people who called themselves ‘Christians’ massacred the Indians like barbarian, while the Indians—whom they wanted eagerly to be converted to Christians—never killed anyone without reason, and even, sometimes, forgave them. How can that be? I think, modernization alienated men from God; while the Indians who lived in the nature had closer relationship with the Creator.

In the end, the Indians must be exterminated, as the whites were much more powerful than them. Nobody could alter it, and this book taught us the bitter truth of our own civilization.

Five stars for Dee Brown for ever writing this inspiring and thought-provoking history: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee!


I read paperback edition from Holt Paperbacks

This book is counted as:


  1. I read this book years ago, but it has such a powerful story to tell, I still recall it at odd times even now.

    I have a book about the guy who took the photos on the cover. It sounds fascinating & I hope to read it soon.

  2. I can't believe I still haven't read this book--I know it is powerful and an important book in the American experience, documenting a tragedy, a genocide really. We really commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, and awareness continues to grow regarding the shameful way the Native Americans have been treated.


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