Dee Brown,
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
(Bantam, 1972)

This book, which remains in print 34 years after its initial publication and has been translated into several languages, reveals a history of open wounds in the settling of the American West. Specifically, it deals with the period during and after the Civil War when frontier states -- including Minnesota, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Northern California, Arizona and parts of New Mexico -- opened to white settlement.

While traditionally one has read this history looking west, author Dee Brown invites the reader to read this book looking east, from the point of view of the native inhabitants, the First Nations. This is the story of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Navaho, Apache, Modocs and Nez Perces, among many others.

Great heroes appear in these pages, including Totanka Yotanka (Sitting Bull), Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Geronimo and Cochise. Also Kintpuash (Captain Jack) and Chief Joseph. (Not mentioned in the book, but part of the same story: in Canada, Riel and Dumont of the Metis, Poundmaker and Big Bear of the First Nations.)

Settlers wanted the land, and could take it. The native leaders could simply surrender their lands and move on, or they could fight and fight, exhaust their resources, win a few battles -- and then surrender or be killed.

In some cases it was surrender and be killed. In the end, despite some modest temporary successes against great odds, they all lost.

Admittedly, this story is told from a perspective -- from a native point of view, perhaps as a counterbalance to all of those "unbiased" versions told so far. As one unnamed native American says in the book. "The (whites) made many promises, and they kept but one. They promised to take our land, and they took it."

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee stands today as one of the great popular histories of America.

by David Cox
3 June 2006

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