Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

My junior year in high school we had a great U.S. history class. Mr. Griffith, who later went on to become mayor of Bridgewater, our town in New Jersey, was one of three teachers who helped give us fresh eyes and new understanding as we covered the supposedly familiar terrain of our founding and our presidents, our wars and our struggles as a nation.

One vivid memory I have is their approach to teaching the Mexican War. We studied the story from the point of view of the Mexicans, whose land we grabbed in the name of Manifest Destiny.

For one of the best researched, most vivid accounts of Native American history during the mid-to-late 1800's I would urge you to read Dee Brown's excellent Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. The audio version I am listening to is read by Grover Gardner, and I simply can't say enough about this reader. Gardner has read many of the books I've listened to over the years, had recorded more than 650 books as of this one here. His restrained deliver has great power to evoke meaning.

As for Bury My Heart, I would compare it to another catalog of horrors known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Dee Brown's research goes far beyond the norm. Brown has sifted the letters of white men who were there, assembled the details of significant volumes of sources to paint a vivid portrait of a national travesty.

Michaeleve, a reviewer at Amazon.com wrote:

The book had a profound impact on readers when it was first published in 1971 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it took a unique perspective. Reports of Treaty meetings, tribal histories, Congressional findings and interview transcripts have all been distilled to provide the Indian point of view. Indeed the books' subtitle is 'An Indian History of the American West'. The second factor has to do with when the book was published. Interest in environmental issues was growing and the accounts of the destruction by the settlers of the Eastern forests, the soiling of the rivers and the slaughter of the Buffalo herds struck a chord, especially when contrasted with the practices of the Indians. Readers began to see Indians in a different light, as the first conservationists.

The period of history covered is short. From about 1860 to 1890. The first chapter briefly sketches the interactions between European and Indians from the formers' arrival in Massachusetts in 1620 up to the setting up of the 'permanent indian frontier' west of the Mississippi in 1847.

The 'frontier' lasted no time at all. Gold was discovered, land was sought and settlers flocked west. To cover this in legitimacy it was necessary to invent 'Manifest Destiny'. The Indians were now doomed as history has shown that this policy made it manifest that the Indians were destined to be swept aside by the white man. All that we have left is their legends, their magical placenames and some works like this book that provides insights into how the West was really lost.

Rhonda Fox wrote:

Nothing could prepare me for the emotional effect that "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" would have on me. Dee Brown brings us the history of the white settlement of the American West as told by the people who were there, both white and Indian. This is not the history we learned in school, and the book will shatter the images of many of our heroes, but the story is important enough that I think every American should read it.

I also recommend "The Trail of Tears", by Gloria Jahoda, which is the history of the removal of the eastern tribes to the west. These two books are necessary if you, as an American, want a complete education of American History.

Beyond education, these books present a people who loved the earth, trusted and respected mankind, and lived honorable lives. I trust that these stories of the near annihilation of our native people at the hands of our forefathers will effect you in unexpected ways, and that you will come away from the experience with new heroes, and a broken heart.

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee does not romanticize things the way Dances With Wolves did, as if all whites were bad and all Native Americans good. Dee Brown shows how the native peoples reacted in various was as a result of the frustrations imposed upon them by continuous lying and broken treaties, abuses and the horrors inflicted upon their families.

This book comes with my highest recommendation.

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