Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown

This is a history of the conquest of the American West from the viewpoint of the Indians displaced by white settlement, covering the period from about 1860 to 1890. Dee tells the stories of the most famous Indian tribes and their leaders - Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, etc.; and the most famous conflicts between settlers, soldiers, and the tribes. Each chapter is headed by evocative quotes from Native Americans, by a list of items chronologically situating the events within a framework of shockingly modern milestones of Western culture: the publication of Alice in Wonderland, the invention of the telephone. The narration is based on eyewitness accounts and government records and heavily uses direct quotes, to excellent effect. Brown also uses Indian names for soldiers they deal with ('Long Hair Custer') and the seasons, so that it's impossible to resist being totally drawn into the Native American point of view of the conflict.

I can understand why this book has been so enduringly popular, and why it made such a sensation when released in 1970 - it goes against all the myths we hold sacred about the honor of the United States. America was ready for that in 1970, especially with the conflict in Vietnam. Here, have a big heaping helping of white guilt.

It's heart-rending to read about culture after culture being destroyed, about so many lives lost and opportunities lost due to chance and stupidity and hatred.

It almost seemed like a crime to read story after amazing story in such a concise way. I really want to know more. There's 20 movie plots in here, at least.

1 comment:

Ameri said...

I love this book as well, but I do find it interesting that there exists among many Americans the assumption that "we" do in fact hold certain myths dear about our country. Time & time again I read reviews from critics, actors & other writers who often talk of white guilt, what "we" as Americans did & so on. The fallacy in the assumption is that the American who speaks to his or her fellow Americans are whites communicating to other whites. Americans are of African, Asian, Middle Eastern & Native cultures & ethnicities. So I must ask, what "we" are yu referring to? I experience no white guilt because I am not white, but I am most decidedly American. I think it is best to write in the 3rd person so the "we" does not get construed as "you all" by the rest of us.