Surely revolutionary at the time that it was released, and even now, still an incredibly incisive look at how white American politics, backstabbing, greed, and genocide decimated the American Indian population, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West is not a comfortable read. Wounded Knee is relentless in its documentation of the betrayals and battles suffered by the United States’ indigenous populations, from the Comanche to the Blackfeet to the Kiowa.
I often had to put this one down while reading, due to the sheer injustice and treachery suffered by literally every tribe of American Indian, even those who considered themselves allies of Washington and the Great Father (the U.S. President). This is the real history of the West, which was far from the empty plains the U.S government painted it as; Native Americans had rich, vibrant, established societies that were displaced and destroyed by Manifest Destiny and westward expansion of industrial and agricultural interests. Knowing how the story ends–with the systematic removal of American Indians to tiny, poorly-served reservations–doesn’t lessen the blow.
Wounded Knee also gives us a deeper look into the lives and motivations of prominent American Indians like Red Cloud, Mangas Coloradas, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull, all of whom consistently tried to serve and protect their people however they could, despite the overwhelming odds facing them. It was especially interesting to see the divisions between American Indian leaders like Red Cloud, who tried dealing with the U.S. through legal channels, and those like Crazy Horse, who chose guerrilla warfare and resistance. The photographs and illustrations of these brave men were a welcome addition to their stories.
While the ending to Wounded Knee feels rather abrupt, it is still probably one of the most complete investigations of American Indian history out there, and the choice on Brown’s part to end it with the Ghost Dance saga was especially haunting. Wounded Knee is a difficult but important read, and anyone who considers themselves a student of the history of the West or Native American history would do well to read it.
Bookwanderer Rating: Four and a half out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Other Reviews: At Home with Books, A Variety of Words,