Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
A prevailing force within the United States in the nineteenth century was the concept of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the entire continent was destined to be settled and ruled by (white) settlers from the East. In search of wealth or land, tens of thousands of settlers began moving west in the decades before the Civil War, quickly coming into conflict with the indigenous population: American Indian tribes that had long been settled on the land.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a historical account of this movement, and its effects on the American Indian peoples, as seen through their eyes. The period between 1860 and 1890 is the major focus of the book. This period represented the peak years of conflict between the white settlers, the military sent to protect them, and the American Indian tribes already present on much of the land. The period was bounded in the beginning with the start of the Civil War and ended with the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, the last major incident between native tribes and the U.S. cavalry.
Dee Brown follows a sequential series of events, basing much of his work on American Indian accounts, including records of treaty councils held during formal negotiations between U.S. representatives and tribal chiefs. Even councils held in remote areas generally included interpreters and recorders. Chiefs or older members of the tribes were free to present their thoughts, even those recounting past events. The...
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Vietnam and the My Lai Massacre
When Brown first published Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in 1970, the United States was engaged in an undeclared war in Vietnam, and the U.S. public was inclined to revisit the country's guilt over the past treatment of Native Americans. The parallels between the United States-sponsored massacre of Native Americans in the 1800s and the United States' actions in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s were not lost on readers of Brown's book. This insight was especially available in 1970, when twenty-five U.S. Army officers and enlisted men were indicted for the 1968 massacre of hundreds of civilians in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai. Despite Army efforts to cover up the incident, a few concerned soldiers who were either at or near My Lai helped bring it to light, and the story was quickly picked up by the national media. Only a few men were actually tried for their part in the massacre, and only one—Lieutenant William Calley—was found guilty. Calley was sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor. However, three years later, President Nixon intervened and secured Calley's parole. Shortly after this incident, polls indicated that for the first time since the war began, a majority of Americans opposed the United States involvement in Vietnam.
American Indian Movement (AIM)
At the same time, Native Americans in both Canada and the United States began to organize and...
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Questions and Answers Chapter 1: “Their Manners are Decorous and Praiseworthy”
1. What tribe did Christopher Columbus meet upon landing in North America, and where did he meet them?
2. What four Indians gave aid to the Pilgrims, and why?
3. Who led the Indians’ war against Massachusetts colonists?
4. What was the Indians’ nickname for Andrew Jackson?
5. Who was the most powerful Indian tribe in the West in 1860?
1. The Taino, in San Salvador.
2. Samoset, Massasoit, Squanto, and Hobomah volunteered to aid the Pilgrims because they knew some English.
3. King Philip of Pokanoket.
4. The Indians called Andrew Jackson “Sharp Knife.”
5. The Sioux.
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1. What was the name of the first fort the Army erected on Navaho lands?
2. Why did the Navahos attack the fort’s soldiers?
3. What sparked the Army’s massacre of the Navahos?
4. What did General Carleton say the Navahos must do to achieve peace?
5. How is General Carleton described?
1. Fort Defiance
2. To replace their horses and mules that had been shot by a company of mounted soldiers.
3. A disputed horse race between Manuelito, riding on his pony, and a lieutenant, riding his quarter horse.
4. Obey the Army’s orders for them to go to the Bosque Redondo reservation.
5. Brown describes Carleton as having a hairy face and fierce eyes with a “mouth … a man without humor.”
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Questions and Answers Chapter 3: Little Crow's War
1. To where did the Santee Sioux retreat during the ten years before the Civil War?
2. Why did the Santees become angry at the U.S. during 1862?
3. How did Sibley respond to the message Little Crow sent him on September 7?
4. What reward did the murderers of Little Crow receive?
5. Describe the physical properties of the Santee reservation.
1. The Santees retreated to a strip of territory along the Minnesota River.
2. The annuities promised the Santees by treaty were not given, and the reservation agent for the Upper Agency refused to give them food from his warehouse.
3. Sibley ordered Little Crow to hand over the prisoners he held under a flag of truce if he wanted to be talked to “like a man.”
4. The standard bounty for an Indian scalp and a $500 bonus.
5. The reservation was set on barren lands that had little rainfall, little hunting available, and undrinkable water.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 4: War Comes to the Cheyennes
1. Why did whites begin settling in Colorado in large numbers?
2. What were Black Kettle’s reasons for not fighting the whites?
3. What Indians did John Evans say could be killed?
4. Why were the Southern Cheyennes invited on the expedition against whites at Platte Bridge Station?
5. What was the ultimate result of the Sand Creek massacre?
1. Gold was discovered at Pikes Peak in 1858.
2. Black Kettle wanted to be friendly and peaceable, was not able to fight the whites, and wanted to live in peace.
3. Evans said that all those not on a reservation could be killed.
4. The Southern Cheyennes were invited to take revenge for the massacre of their relatives.
5. The Cheyennes and Arapahos were pushed off their claims in the Territory of Colorado.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 5: Powder River Invasion
1. What was the Powder River tribes’ reaction to the rumors of soldiers surrounding them, and why did they have that reaction?
2. What did the Cheyennes say would stop their attacks on whites?
3. Why was Sitting Bull opposed to negotiating with the soldiers?
4. What did the Cheyennes learn from their September charge against the Army?
5. What fate did the Galvanized Yankee troops meet in the winter of 1865?
1. The tribes were skeptical because they thought their country couldn’t be invaded.
2. The Cheyennes would agree to halt their attacks once the government hung Colonel Covington.
3. Sitting Bull didn’t trust the soldiers and was against begging them.
4. The Cheyennes learned of the necessity of using guns against the Army.
5. Half of the troops died from scurvy, malnutrition, and pneumonia, and many others deserted.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 6: Red Cloud's War
1. Why did Colonel Maynadier deploy Indians to Powder River, and who were the Indians he deployed?
2. Why did Red Cloud decide to wait to sign the treaty?
3. What sparked the Sioux’s confrontation with the Army?
4. What was the Indians’ strategy against the Army?
5. What were the end results of Red Cloud’s war?
1. The Indians were deployed because whites weren’t willing to go. The five Sioux he sent were Big Mouth, Big Ribs, Eagle Foot, Whirlwind, and Little Crow.
2. Waiting allowed him time to send runners to other tribes and time to gather beaver pelts and buffalo hides for trade.
3. The Sioux confronted the Army after the Army decided to build the road through the Powder River country without concern for the treaty it had signed.
4. The Indians strategy was to band together, isolate the Army soldiers, and then mount an attack on Fort Phil Kearny.
5. Red Cloud's war resulted in Powder River road being closed, the Army forts being abandoned, and both the U.S. and the Indians pledging to keep peace.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 7: “The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian”
1. Who was the leader of the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos?
2. Why did the Indian chiefs stay put?
3. How did General Hancock respond to the Indians leaving the conference, and what was the Indians’ response to Hancock?
4. For the Indians, what was the impact of the death of Roman Nose?
5. Why did the Southern Cheyennes divide?
1. Roman Nose was the leader of the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos.
2. The chiefs decided against joining because they disagreed about strategy.
3. Hancock burned the Indian's entire abandoned camp, and the Indians responded by destroying telegraph lines and attacking soldiers’ camps and stage stations.
4. The Indians suffered a loss of morale after Roman Nose's death and grew to believe that their tribes would ultimately be defeated.
5. Little Robe ordered Tall Bull and the Dog Soldiers to leave the reservation because they had provoked trouble with the whites.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 8: The Rise and Fall of Donehogawa
1. Who was Donehogawa?
2. Who went to Washington, D.C., to meet President Grant?
3. What was the trick played on the Sioux?
4. How did Donehogawa placate the Sioux?
5. What caused the downfall of Donehogawa?
1. Donehogawa was an Iroquois who had forged a friendship with President Grant and was appointed by Grant as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
2. A delegation of the Oglalas, led by Red Cloud, and a delegation of Brules, lead by Spotted Tail, met with the President.
3. The treaty they had signed, as it was ratified by Congress, made no mention of the Laramie or Platte reservations, and instead stated that the Sioux agency would be on the Missouri River.
4. Donehogawa had Secretary Cox explain that the Sioux could still live on their hunting grounds and trade and receive goods outside their reservation.
5. Donehogawa's reforms of the bureau had turned political bosses against him, and his blocking of the Big Horn mining venture had made him enemies in the West. Then, in 1870, Congress blocked the appropriation of funds for buying reservation supplies, William Welsh charged him with fraud, and the House investigated him. Shortly thereafter, he was forced to resign his office.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 9: Cochise and the Apache Guerrillas
1. How did the conflict between Cochise and the U.S. begin?
2. What was the Apaches’ response to the murder of Mangas?
3. What were the results of the trial of the Tucson killers?
4. Why did Cochise want a reservation in Canada Alamosa?
5. On what basis was Eskiminzin imprisoned?
1. Cochise was accused of stealing cattle and kidnapping a half-breed boy.
2. The Apaches responded with raids on settlements and trails in Arizona and New Mexico.
3. The Tucson killers were found not guilty, and Lieutenant Whitman’s career was destroyed. He resigned after being submitted to three court-martials.
4. Cochise preferred the clear, cold water of the streams there, and he sought to avoid the flies in the mountains who attacked his horses, and the bad spirits in the mountains.
5. Because Eskiminzin was a chief, and imprisonment was a military precaution taken after the killing of Lieutenant Alma.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 10: The Ordeal of Captain Jack
1. Why did the Modocs adapt the nickname of Captain Jack for Kintpuash?
2. Why did the whites want Jack to lay down his gun?
3. Why did the Modocs surrender?
4. Why did Hooker Jim’s band leave Captain Jack?
5. What happened to Jack’s body?
1. The Modocs thought “Captain Jack” was a funny name.
2. Because Captain Jack was chief, the whites believed that his example would be followed by others in his tribe.
3. The Modoc tribe had been promised that the murderers of the white settlers would merely be kept on a reservation to the south.
4. Hooker Jim disagreed with Jack’s strategy, and he sought to betray him and thereby gain freedom.
5. Jack's body was embalmed in Yreka, then sent to the East as a carnival attraction.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 11: The War to Save the Buffalo
1. What did the treaty of Medicine Lodge grant the Kiowas?
2. What was Kicking Bird’s response to taunts from the warriors?
3. How did the Kiowas respond to the convictions of their two leaders?
4. What happened at the sun dance of 1874?
5. Why did Sherman bring Satanta back to jail?
1. The treaty granted the Kiowa territory and the right to hunt south of the Arkansas River if there were enough buffalo “to justify the chase.”
2. In response to the taunts, Kicking Bird took 100 warriors, launched an attack on a mail coach, and won a fight with Army soldiers.
3. The Kiowas took care to avoid whites while they followed buffalo between the Red and Canadian Rivers, and they made winter camp in Palo Duro Canyon.
4. The Kiowas and Comanches agreed at the sun dance to fight together to push the whites off the buffalos’ grazing land.
5. Sherman returned Satanta to jail after Satanta had defied Sherman and the Army.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 12: The War for the Black Hills
1. What prompted whites to begin settling in the Black Hills?
2. What was the debate the chiefs had over what should be demanded from the U.S.?
3. What was the meaning of Sitting Bull’s vision?
4. Why did the Indians go to Little Bighorn Valley?
5. What did the American outrage after the Custer massacre produce?
1. General Custer’s report that the hills were full of gold prompted the whites to converge on the Black Hills.
2. The chiefs had debated whether to accept payment for the gold mined in the hills, or absolute Indian sovereignty over the hills, with no miners allowed in the hills.
3. Sitting Bull envisioned that the white men had no ears to hear the Indians’ requests, and so they would be killed.
4. Indians went to the valley because of reports that there were many antelope there, as well as good grazing land for their horses.
5. After Custer was killed, the Sioux were forced to give up their rights to the Black Hills.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 13: The Flight of the Nez Percés
1. How did the Nez Percés get their name?
2. What damages did white settlers inflict on the Nez Percés?
3. What move did General Howard make against the Nez Percés?
4. What was the Nez-Percé’s strategy?
5. Where were the Nez Percés sent?
1. The French saw that some of them wore dentalium shells in their noses.
2. Gold miners stole their horses, and cattlemen stole and branded their cattle.
3. Howard arrested the prophet Toohoolhoolzote and ordered the tribe to move to the Lapwai reservation within 30 days.
4. The Nez Percés decided to flee to Canada in order to avoid the Army’s soldiers.
5. The Nez-Percé tribe was sent to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, then to a plain in the Indian Territory.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 14: Cheyenne Exodus
1. What were the Northern Cheyennes’ objections to being put on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation?
2. What was the Cheyennes’ impression of Carl Schurz?
3. What was the disagreement between the Cheyenne chiefs?
4. How did the U.S. respond to the Cheyennes’ request to go north?
5. Where were the Cheyennes at Fort Keogh sent?
1. On the reservation, there was no game to hunt, the water was bad, rations were insufficient, and there were too many mosquitoes and too much summer heat.
2. The Cheyennes named Schurz “Big Eyes” and wondered how, with such large eyes, he could be so ignorant.
3. Some chiefs thought it was best to die on the reservation, while others wanted to go north.
4. The U.S. forced the Cheyennes to return to the reservation for fear that if they were let go, it would fracture the reservation system.
5. They were sent to a reservation on the Tongue River.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 15: Standing Bear Becomes a Person
1. Why were the Poncas to be sent off their land?
2. How many Poncas died a year after they arrived in the Indian Territory?
3. Why did General Crook oppose returning the Poncas to the Indian Territory?
4. What was the legal argument made on Standing Bear’s behalf?
5. Was the murderer of Big Snake punished?
1. After Custer’s defeat, Congress decided the Poncas needed to be removed to the Indian Territory.
2. Nearly one-quarter of the tribe died.
3. General Crook was outraged by the tribe's plight, and he was especially impressed by Standing Bear.
4. The argument made on behalf of Standing Bear was that he was a “person” and therefore had rights under the Constitution.
5. No, the government did not pursue the murderer.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 16: “The Utes Must Go!”
1. What did Ouray receive in his treaty negotiations?
2. What was the effect of the $1000 annual stipend, lasting for 10 years, that was given to Ouray?
3. What did Meeker think would force the Utes to work for him?
4. Who wrote the anti-Ute article?
5. Where were the rest of the Utes sent?
1. He received 16 million acres of forest and meadows, and the promise that whites would be prohibited from entering the Ute’s land.
2. He had motivation to maintain the status quo and became increasingly allied with the U.S.
3. Meeker believed that if he replaced their ponies with draft horses, their movement would be limited, and he believed controlling their rations would force them to work for him.
4. William B. Vickers was the author of the article.
5. The Utes were sent to land in Utah unwanted by the Mormons, and a small strip of territory in southwestern Colorado.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 17: The Last of the Apache Chiefs
1. What was the reaction to Clum’s demand for the Army soldiers to leave?
2. Why did Victorio decide to resist the U.S.?
3. Why did General Crook return to Arizona?
4. How did the War Department punish General Crook for Geronimo’s escape?
5. Why did General Crook avoid fighting the Apaches?
1. After Clum's demand, there was outrage in Washington, D.C., New Mexico and Arizona, and Clum decided to depart for Tombstone.
2. Victorio believed that resistance was the only way to avoid the extinction of the Apaches.
3. Crook returned in order to restrain and organize the Army soldiers and white civilians.
4. Crook was given a severe reprimand and forced to resign.
5. Crook believed that fighting the Apaches would have been too difficult and too expensive.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 18: Dance of the Ghosts
1. How did General Terry gain access to Sitting Bull?
2. Why did the Sioux come into Fort Buford?
3. Why did Sitting Bull reconcile with the commissioners?
4. How did the audience respond to Sitting Bull’s speech at Bismarck?
5. How did the Ghost Dance religion begin?
1. The War Department made arrangements with Canada for Terry to go into Canada with the Mounties to meet Sitting Bull.
2. The harshness of life in Canada and lack of governmental support caused the Sioux to leave Canada and go to the Great Sioux Reservation.
3. Sitting Bull wrongly thought that the commissioners would help the Sioux keep their land.
4. Sitting Bull was given a standing ovation.
5. After 11 Sioux had a vision in Nevada of the returned Christ, who taught them to Ghost Dance.
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Questions and Answers Chapter 19: Wounded Knee
1. How did the Ghost Dance religion affect the Sioux?
2. How many guns did the Sioux have at Wounded Knee Creek?
3. How many Sioux died at Wounded Knee?
4. Where were the wounded Sioux taken?
5. Who commanded the Army soldiers?
1. Because of their belief that their ancestors would soon return to life and the whites would leave, the Sioux did not retaliate against the Army soldiers.
2. The Sioux had two rifles.
3. Approximately 300 Sioux were massacred.
4. The survivors were taken to the Episcopal mission at Pine Ridge.
5. Colonel James W. Forsyth was the commanding officer.
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The setting is extremely important in this book. The action takes place in the mid- to late-1800s, when a large number of white settlers emigrated to the frontier American West seeking property, gold, or both. Some Native Americans moved to other areas, thinking that there was room enough for both races. However, the land, which had been large enough to accommodate countless tribes, was quickly overrun by white settlers and military troops. Some, like Sitting Bull, tried to leave America for a new setting. Brown states: ‘‘He decided there was no longer room enough for white men and the Sioux to live together in the Great Father's country. He would take his people to Canada.’’ The setting is also important for military strategy. Many battles in the book are determined by the location and terrain on which the battle is fought. Native Americans are often able to beat much larger forces because they know how to use the western terrain to set effective ambushes, to hide, or to defend themselves.
Point of View
The book is written mainly in the third-person omniscient viewpoint. This broad viewpoint gives the author unlimited power to move through time and space and in and out of characters' minds as necessary. For example, Brown notes during the description of one battle that ‘‘Roman Nose was wearing his medicine bonnet and shield, and he knew that no bullets could strike him.’’ Like many...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1860-1890: U.S. soldiers engage in several wars in the American West in an attempt to acquire the lands of the Western frontier from the Native Americans who live there.
Late 1960s-Early 1970s: U.S. soldiers engage in an undeclared war in Vietnam, purportedly in an attempt to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
Today: An increasing number of U.S. soldiers occupy several parts of the globe as part of the U.S. war on terrorism.
- 1860-1890: The United States government attempts to destroy Native-American culture.
Late 1960s-Early 1970s: The American counterculture movement rebels against the ways of the wealthy corporate establishment, and many hippies dress like Native Americans and adopt their close-to-nature ways of life.
Today: On September 11, 2001, terrorists destroy one of the most prominent symbols of U.S. wealth and international power—the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
- 1860-1890: The plight of Native Americans is rarely represented accurately in U.S. newspapers and books. In addition, many Native Americans cannot write in English, so they are generally unable to inform the white public of the injustices they face.
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Topics for Further Study
- On a current map of the United States, plot all of the existing Native-American reservations. For each one, include a brief description of when and how it was created, what tribes live there, and the population size at the time it was founded and at the time of the 2000 Census.
- Research the various ways that Native-American language and culture have been incorporated into American language and culture since the 1860s. Find one area of the United States that has been particularly influenced by Native Americans, and write a short, modern-day profile of this region and its people.
- Research the prehistory of the Americas, and discuss how Native Americans first came to North America. Imagine that you are one of these early Native Americans. Write a journal entry that describes your typical day in these prehistoric times, using your research to support your writing.
- Research what life is like on a Native-American reservation today. Outline the current problems faced by Native Americans on reservations, research any potential courses of action that are being taken, and propose your own solutions to these problems.
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What Do I Read Next?
- Brown’s sixth novel, Creek Mary’s Blood (1980), takes place in the nineteenth century during the westward expansion that pushed Native Americans off most of their land. The story combines historical and fictional elements in order to tell the various stories of Creek Mary and her family as they constantly move westward.
- In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (1992), by Jerry Mander, examines the effects that increasing technology has had on society and advocates a return to a Native-American way of life. In addition, Mander discusses how some Native Americans who try to maintain their way of life in modern times have clashed with the corporate world.
- Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992 (2 volumes, 1978-1988), edited by Peter Nabokov, also gives the Native-American side of the colonization story. Like Brown’s work, this book relies on original documents and stories from Native Americans. However, this book takes a longer view, examining the entire five-hundred-year history of colonization.
- Native-American storytelling has a long history, rooted in oral tradition. In Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America (1996), published by Vintage Books, editor Brian Swann assembles many of these oral...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970; reprint, Owl Books, 2001.
Gilder, Joshua. ‘‘Who's on First.’’ In New York Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 14, April 7, 1980, pp. 76-77.
McNeil, Helen. “Savages.” In New Statesman, Vol. 82, No. 2115, October 1, 1971, pp. 444–45.
Momaday, N. Scott. ‘‘When the West Was Won and a Civilization Was Lost.” In New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1971, pp. 46–47.
Rechy, John. ‘‘The Flaws to Make a Fiction Shine.’’ In Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 3, 1983, pp. 2, 9.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. “They Were the Land's.” In New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1980, pp. 10, 22.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors. Anchor, 1996. In this compelling set of profiles, Ambrose weaves a narrative that compares Crazy Horse to General George Armstrong Custer. As Ambrose shows, before the two leaders first met in battle at Little Big Horn in 1876, their lives were remarkably parallel.
Andrist, Ralph K. The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plain Indians. Reprint, University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. This seminal work in Native-American studies, first published in 1964, describes...
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Beal, Merrill. “I Will Fight No More Forever”: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1963. Using the words of Chief Joseph, Beal makes the account of the Nez Perce in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee easier to understand. Emphasizes Nez Perce efforts to live peacefully with white settlers. Includes photographs and sketches.
Brown, Dee. Tepee Tales of the American Indian. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979. Describes the culture and heritage of the Indians. Contains good illustrations by Louis Mofsie.
Fixico, Donald L. “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the Indian Voice in Native Studies.” Journal of the West 39, no. 1 (January, 2000): 7. Discusses how the book persuaded American citizens to pay greater attention to Native Americans and their history. Brown’s book also encouraged the emergence of an Indian voice in academia and created a significant change in the study of Native Americans.
Hagen, Lyman B. Dee Brown. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1990. Brief overview of Brown’s life and work.
Hyde, George. Red Cloud’s Folk. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937. Covers the history of the Sioux from 1650 to 1878. Provides background on the...
(The entire section is 249 words.)