Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The title of this book, a poetic line from Stephen Vincent Benét’s “American Names,” introduces Dee Brown’s history of the Indians in the American West. Brown presents a factual as well as an emotional account of the relationship among the Indians, the American settlers, and the U.S. government. The massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, provides the backdrop for the narrative. In his introduction, Brown states the reason for his work. Thousands of accounts about life in the American West of the late nineteenth century were written. Stories are told of the traders, ranchers, wagon trains, gunfighters, and gold-seekers. Rarely is the voice of the Indian heard. The pre-European occupant of the land was classified only as a hindrance to the spreading of American civilization to the West Coast. In this book, Brown seeks to remedy the historical injustice done to the Native American. The author declares that the reader will not finish the book with a cheerful spirit but will come away with a better understanding of what the American Indian is and was. Punctuating the book throughout are photographs of and quotations from those whose story is being told.
The opening chapter of Brown’s chronological account begins with the attitudes of different groups of Europeans toward the natives they encountered in America. Although Christopher Columbus expressed admiration for the natives of the West Indies, the Spanish were often...
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Chapter 1: ‘‘Their Manners are Decorous and Praiseworthy’’
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee begins with an overview of the relations between Native Americans and white settlers from the late-1400s to the mid-1800s. Initially peaceful, these relations become more tense as white emigration from Europe to the United States increases.
Chapter 2: The Long Walk of the Navahos
The government wants Navaho land for settlements and mining, so the U.S. Army kills or displaces all Mescalero Apaches and Navahos in the region. Many Navahos die when they are forced to live at the Bosque Redondo reservation. Ultimately, the Navahos sign a peace treaty and are allowed to return to what is left of their land.
Chapter 3: Little Crow's War
Manipulated by deceptive treaties, the Santee Sioux surrender most of their land for money and provisions they mostly do not receive. Little Crow does not want to fight the military might of the United States but has no choice when some of his men kill white settlers. The Santees are ultimately overpowered by the Army and by a Santee traitor.
Chapter 4: War Comes to the Cheyennes
White settlers ignore a treaty and begin settling on Native-American territory. After Cheyennes and Arapahos meet with the Colorado governor to try to maintain peace, many Cheyennes are mutilated or massacred in their Sand Creek village. The...
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Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis Chapter 1: “Their Manners are Decorous and Praiseworthy”
Andrew Jackson: General of the United States Army who battled Indian tribes of the South in early 1800s and who later enacted a policy of relocating eastern Indian tribes west of the Mississippi River.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, written by historian Dee Brown opens by telling how Christopher Columbus called the Native Americans “Indios.” He proceeds to outline the history of European and American discovery and settlement of North America from 1492 to 1860, and its effect on the Indians. In his outline, Brown describes the arrival of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts and how, even though the Indians helped them survive their first winter, the Pilgrims steadily encroached on Indian land. In 1675, the colonists defeated Wampanoag chief King Philip and his people. Brown goes on to describe the ongoing white encroachment on Indian lands throughout the eastern part of America in the 1700s and early 1800s. This encroachment included the defeat of the Five Nations of the Iroquois, the slow defeat of the Miami Indians of the Ohio Valley from 1795 to 1840, and the forced deportation of the Cherokees from their tribal lands in the South to the Indian Territory west of the Missouri River.
The second part of the chapter is devoted to short sketches describing the status of diverse Indian tribes in the West as of 1860, with a focus on specific chiefs and warriors of the tribes. These tribes include the Santee, Teton, and Hunkpapa branches of the Sioux nation, the Cheyennes, the Apaches, and the Navahos. (NOTE: Brown uses the variant spelling of “Navaho” throughout the book.) At the chapter’s close, Brown gives a brief mention of the “end of Indian freedom” in 1890 at Wounded Knee, which provides the title of his book.
Chapter 1 gives readers an overview of white-Indian relations from 1492 to 1860 and offers a foreboding sense of what the fate of the Indians in the Western United States will be when the book closes with events in the 1890s. By not even mentioning the American Revolution and giving the brief notice to the War of 1812 and the war with Mexico Brown immediately sets the stage for a history book that will skip over...
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Manuelito: Navaho chief, led attacks against the Army and resisted being sent to Bosque Redondo reservation before finally surrendering.
Colonel Edward Richard Sprigg Canby: Army colonel at Fort Fauntleroy who is later killed by Captain Jack.
General James Carleton: Ruthless Army general, commanded New Mexico Army in campaigns against Navahos.
Kit Carson: Former trader, negotiated with Navahos before successfully campaigning against them.
In 1860, Manuelito and his fellow Navahos are in conflict with both the American soldiers, who stole his livestock and burned his hogans, the log structures in which the Navahos lived, and the Mexicans, who stole Navaho children to be used as slaves. When the Americans build Fort Defiance and take possession of the pasture land around the fort, the Navahos, who are upset by this seizure and the slaughter of their animals by a company of mounted soldiers, raid the fort on April 30, 1860. After a time of minor scuffling between the Navahos and the Army, a horse race between Manuelito and an Army lieutenant is held at the new Fort Fauntleroy in September, 1861. The lieutenant wins the race by using trickery, and when a dispute over the race arises, the Army massacres the Navahos who had gathered to watch. General Carleton then pushes the Mescalero Apaches into the Bosque Redondo reservation and orders the Navahos to go to the reservation as well. When they refuse, the Army’s scorched-earth campaign forces many Navahos to surrender and go to the reservation. Navaho resistance continues to weaken as more and more Apache surrender, but Manuelito and his band of warriors remain defiant. Manuelito finally surrenders in 1866, and the Navahos sign a treaty on June 1, 1868, proclaiming that war between them and the U.S. would cease.
Brown's history is clearly designed to evoke sympathy for the Indians with readers. The violence the U.S. Army inflicts upon Manuelito's warriors is extensive. Similarly, the fraudulent horse race and the soldiers’ subsequent massacre of the Navahos make it difficult for any reader to take the side of the Army. This suspicion deepens when Kit Carson, former friend of many Indians, turns to leading his troops against the Navahos and conducts a scorched-earth campaign throughout the summer and fall of 1863.
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 3: Little Crow's War
Little Crow: Chief of Mdewkanton Santee Sioux who led the struggle against the Army.
Colonel Henry H. Sibley: Army colonel, leader of Sixth Minnesota Regiment in battles against Santee Sioux, who oversaw the conviction and hanging of 38 Santee Sioux.
In the summer of 1862, the Santee Sioux are suffering from a year of poor crops and little game to hunt, and are seeing more and more of their lands occupied by white settlers. The tribe has become angry at the U.S. government’s failure to distribute annuities to them and the fact that they have no control over the credit system the government has imposed as a way to procure food supplies. When four young tribal men kill three white men and two white women, a dispute arises within the tribe: One side wants to fight the whites, while the other wants to seek peace with them. Frustrated by their mistreatment, the Santees decide to attack Fort Ridgely. The attack on the fort fails, but the Santees go on to ravage the town of New Ulm. Colonel Sibley and his Army troops go after the Santees in response to their attacks, and after a debate, the Santees decide not to surrender the roughly 200 white and half-breed prisoners they had taken during their attacks. The Santees fight and lose a crucial battle near the Yellow Medicine River. After their defeat, 303 Santees are condemned to be executed, and the 1700 Santees not condemned are taken to Fort Snelling. President Lincoln orders 39 of the 303 Santees to be executed, and after a reprieve is granted to one Santee, the 38 others are hanged on December 26, 1862. Chief Little Crow is then killed by white settlers on July 3, 1863, and chiefs Shakopee and Medicine Bottle are sentenced by a jury to hang. The Santees are taken to a reservation at Crow Creek on the Missouri River.
The chapter opens with a pessimistic tone: by the summer of 1862, nothing was going well for the Santee Sioux. Their crops were failing, and the tribe was largely controlled by the agency traders. Again, readers see whites failing to keep their promises to the Indians, and after the tribe is insulted by trader Andrew Myrick, it’s not surprising that the tribe decides to go to war. In Brown's retelling, it is the Indians who tell of their experience of the war, not the whites. American history has traditionally taken the perspective of the white...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 4: War Comes to the Cheyennes
Roman Nose: Southern Cheyenne warrior, leader of Dog Soldiers who is later killed in a battle against Forsythe’s Scouts.
George and William Bent: Brothers who are the sons of a Cheyenne woman and white man. They help the Cheyennes negotiate and communicate with the Army.
Black Kettle: Southern Cheyenne chief who sought peace with the Army.
Major Edward W. Wynkoop: Army major on friendly terms with the Indians. He is relieved of post as commander at Fort Lyon.
Colonel John M. Chivington: Commanded Colorado Volunteers and sought to bring Indians under military authority.
In 1858, the Pikes Peak gold rush brings many miners to Colorado. Many settlers then come to the Platte Valley to build ranches, and they file land claims on Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho territory. This activity prompts treaty talks at Fort Wise. The Cheyennes and Arapahos sign a treaty in which they agree to live within the territory bounded by Sand Creek and the Arkansas River. However, Army soldiers enter tribal territory to hunt for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and conflicts between the Cheyennes and Army soldiers prompt three skirmishes in 1864. In late June and late August, Colorado Territory Governor John Evans issues two proclamations authorizing Territory citizens to make war on hostile Indians and kill them wherever they are found. This causes the Indian chiefs to negotiate for peace with the Army. At the peace talks, Evans displays great hostility to the Indians, and Army Major Anthony and Colonel Chivington prepare an attack on them. The attack, carried out at the Cheyenne’s Sand Creek camp, kills 105 women and children, and 28 men; in the attacks, 9 Army soldiers are killed and 38 wounded. In January, 1865, the tribes respond to the attack by raiding and plundering South Platte trains, stations, telegraph wires, and military outposts. Black Kettle’s band of 400 Cheyennes then decides to go south, where they would find many buffalo to hunt. During the spring and early summer of 1865, the remaining Cheyennes prepare for an attack, and on July 24, they rout soldiers at a military post on the North Platte River. After negotiating with a commission, the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos signed a treaty in which they agree to live south of the Arkansas River, thereby abandoning their claims to the Territory of Colorado, and they...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 5: Powder River Invasion
Red Cloud: Oglala Sioux chief who fought and won a war against the Army.
General Patrick E. Connor: Army general and the leader of the Army’s campaign in Powder River country.
In late summer 1865, after the Army had decided to hunt down the Indians north of the Platte River like wolves, soldiers move into the Powder River country to invade that land. After learning that a privately organized column is moving into the country to pass through to the Montana gold fields, the Sioux and Cheyennes briefly harass the wagon train before letting it pass, but a nearby Arapaho camp, taken off guard by the Army’s presence, is annihilated by its soldiers. The Arapahos retreat, and after a Sioux truce party is shot at by soldiers, conflicts between Sioux and the Army ensue. The Sioux, led by Roman Nose, attack the Army in September and continue harassing soldiers through September. The Army retreats to Fort Connor and remains there throughout the winter, during which time half of the so-called Galvanized Yankee troops die from disease and malnutrition. The newly confident Indians deploy some warriors to keep guard over the fort while the other Indians move into the Black Hills.
Again, the chapter title, “Powder River Invasion,” leads the readers to see the conflict between the Army and Indians from the Indians’ perspective, as it is the Indians who are being invaded. And again, the story of Indian land being invaded by a group of whites seeking gold is told, although this time the whites were merely passing through to Montana. The Indians’ initial disbelief and naiveté over the news of Army invasion shows that they have yet to learn the gravity of the threat whites present to their lifestyle. The victorious Army seems not satisfied by the defeat it inflicts: General Connor is described as hungry to destroy more Indian villages. The low morale of the Army’s Galvanized Yankee troops, however, makes the readers wonder how widespread this hunger really was. The Indians’ successful resistance to the Army troops is impressive, but given the difficulties that must be overcome to ensure continued success, Red Cloud’s boastful words at the chapter’s close ring a little hollow.
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 6: Red Cloud's War
Colonel Henry Maynadier: Army colonel, engaged in treaty negotiations with Red Cloud.
Colonel Henry B. Carrington: Head of 18th Infantry Regiment, led Battle of the Hundred Slain/Fetterman Massacre, and was dismissed after losing the battle.
General William T. Sherman: Negotiator at the peace council to end Red Cloud’s war and later helped direct anti-Indian campaigns.
In the winter of 1866, the Army, intent on pacifying the Indians and winning the right to build trails and railroads through Indian territory, sends five Sioux into the Powder River country to convince Indian chiefs to sign treaties at Fort Laramie. The chiefs and 2000 other Indians come to the fort in May. However, treaty talks collapse on June 13, 1866, after the chiefs learn of the Army’s intent to build a road through the Powder River country. The Army continues with its plan, and Indians follow the regiment assigned to build the road, called Bozeman Road, and scout for a possible attack at the newly built Fort Kearny.
Upon deciding against an attack, the Indians instead turn to harassing and besieging traffic on the road. Red Cloud then assembles a force of 3000 to ambush Army soldiers at Peno Creek in late December, 1866. All 81 soldiers are killed in the battle, which is called the Fetterman Massacre by whites, even though the Indians suffer nearly 200 dead and wounded. The Army’s response is to send in reinforcements and dispatch a new peace commission, but the commission fails to accomplish anything. Indian attacks on white soldiers near Fort Smith on August 1, 1867, fail badly: These two engagements are called the Hayfield and Wagon Box fights. A new peace commission again fails to negotiate a peace treaty. Army soldiers abandon the Powder River country in summer 1868, and a triumphant Red Cloud signs a treaty declaring mutual peace between Indians and the U.S.
Brown’s continuing use of first-person Indian accounts as prefaces to his chapters is a way to firmly introduce the Indians’ perspective. The description of not just Spotted Tail’s sorrow over his daughter’s death but also of Colonel Maynadier’s surprise that Indians could cry highlights the myth of the stoic Indian. Those tears contrast with the fact that most of the chapter describes the Indians’ warfare with the Army and the heroic deeds...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 7: “The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian”
General Winfield Scott Hancock: Army general who ordered destruction of Indian camps.
Tall Bull: Southern Cheyenne chief and leader of the Dog Soldiers who was killed in battle with Army soldiers.
General Philip Sheridan: Army general with command of Kansas forts who ordered Custer to destroy hostile Indian tribes.
General George Custer: An Army general who fought many campaigns against Plains Indians before dying at Battle of Little Bighorn.
In the fall of 1866, the Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers go to Kansas to hunt buffalo. These soldiers had previously fought with Red Cloud against the Army, and they are joined up with several bands of Cheyennes and Arapahos. After learning of this, the Army attempts to convince the Indian chiefs in Kansas to sign the previous year’s treaty and join Black Kettle’s people south of the Arkansas. The chiefs refuse, and Roman Nose organizes many warriors to make attacks on a stagecoach line running through the area. But when that plan is foiled by a succession of early snowstorms, the Dog Soldiers make camp for the winter. In the spring of 1867, General Hancock warns the Indians that whites are coming onto their land. An impromptu council of the Army and the Dog Soldiers is formed, and when the Indians leave, an angry Hancock burns the Indians’ camp. The Dog Soldiers respond by making attacks on whites across the plains. A peace council arranged at Medicine Lodge Creek in early October 1867 results in the Cheyennes, Kiowas, Comanches, and Arapahos signing a treaty under which they would go to a reservation south of the Arkansas River. Roman Nose does not sign this treaty.
In mid-September 1868, Roman Nose and his Cheyennes attack the Army at the Arikaree fork of the Republican River. Roman Nose dies in the attack. General Sheridan and General Custer then respond by attacking Black Kettle’s village on the Washita River. In late December at Fort Cobb, Sheridan receives the survivors of Black Kettle’s band with contempt, and though the Dog Soldiers continue their attacks in the spring and summer of 1869, their numbers are whittled down by the Army, and the surviving group of Tall Bull and roughly 20 others die in a July battle in a ravine at Summit Springs.
The title of this chapter, “The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian,” points...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 8: The Rise and Fall of Donehogawa
Donehogawa/Ely Samuel Parker: An Iroquois who adopted the name Ely Samuel Parker and served as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Jacob Cox: As Secretary of the Interior, he assured the Sioux that they could live outside their reservation and trade and receive goods.
Donehogawa, an Iroquois who was installed as the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1869, learns of the January 23, 1870, massacre of Piegan Blackfeet three months after it happened. He orders an investigation into the massacre, which had angered many Plains Indians. He also asks Red Cloud to come to Washington, D.C., for talks. Red Cloud and his group of 15 Oglalas meet Donehogawa in June and express the Sioux’s anger over the treaty of 1868 which, as ratified by the Congress, puts the Sioux agency on the Missouri River. Donehogawa has Secretary of the Interior Cox explain that the Sioux would still be able to stay in their Powder River country because it was reserved as an Indian hunting ground. The Sioux would also not need to go to the reservation to trade or to receive their goods. Donehogawa’s downfall starts in the latter part of 1870. His enemies attack him as being nearly a savage due to his Indian ethnicity, and this prevents his agency from being able to buy supplies for reservation Indians.This eventually forces his resignation, which comes in the summer of 1871 after a House inquiry into his alleged misconduct.
The question of how Donehogawa could become Commissioner of Indian Affairs is answered by the explanation that during the Civil War, he had been acquainted with President Grant, who was impressed by his abilities. However, news of the wholesale massacre of Piegan Blackfeet prompts the question of whether Indians could have ever had a place in the white man’s civilization. Didn’t the utter ruthlessness of the soldiers who slaughtered the Blackfeet show that the Army found it better policy to kill Indians than try to negotiate with them?
The story of Donehogawa’s demise makes that question even more pointed. It is, nonetheless, clearly true that the eager reception of the Indians in the East reflected an enduring fascination with them, even among those whites not on the frontier. The chapter's conclusion, with its story of Donehogawa, the alleged near-barbarian, making a fortune in New York City,...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 9: Cochise and the Apache Guerrillas
Cochise: Apache chief and leader of tribes’ fierce resistance against the Army.
Mangas Colorado: Apache war chief imprisoned and killed by soldiers.
Eskiminzin: Chief of Aravaipa Apaches who is sent to Camp Grant reservation and imprisoned by the Army.
Chief Cochise and his Chiricahua Apaches had allowed Americans to pass through his territory as they traveled to California. They had also helped build a mail stage station in Apache Pass. However, the previously good relations between Apaches and whites are damaged when the Chiricahuas are accused of stealing cattle and a half-breed boy from a white settler’s ranch in February, 1861. Cochise is imprisoned by the Army as a hostage to ensure the return of the cattle and boy, but he escapes and, together with his warriors, subsequently kills three white men. Lieutenant Bascom retaliates by hanging Cochise’s three male relatives. Conflicts between the Apaches and the Army begin with this series of events.
In January, 1863, Mangas, an Apache chief, is killed by Army soldiers assigned to guard him. Cochise then heads up a band of 300 warriors determined to avenge his death, and effectively keeps the Southwest in turmoil for two years. In spring 1865, overtures from the U.S. government designed to move the Chiricahuas to the Bosque Redondo reservation are rejected by Cochise. The Chiricahuas instead decide to generally retreat from contact with whites, aside from occasional raids to capture cattle or horses from ranchers and miners. Then, on April 30, 1871, an expedition of mixed white, Mexican, and Papago Indians massacres 144 Aravaipa Apaches, but the killers are acquitted by a white jury. Vincent Colyer of the Indian Bureau begins talks with the Apaches to soothe their anger over the massacre, but Cochise rejects a proposal to move the Chiricahua reservation from Canada Alamosa to Fort Tularosa. He retreats to the mountains of southeastern Arizona, then after Army General Howard discussed matters with Cochise, they agree to a Chiricahua reservation in the Chiricahua Mountains and the valley west of those mountains. Cochise dies in spring 1874, and Tonto Apache chief Delshay is killed by mercenary Apaches in July. By spring 1875, most Apaches are either on reservations or have fled to Mexico.
The chapter begins on a bad note, with Cochise...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 10: The Ordeal of Captain Jack
Captain Jack/Kintpuash: Modoc chief who sought to keep his tribe in California Lava Beds and was betrayed by Hooker Jim and hanged by the Army.
Hooker Jim: Modoc chief who disagreed with Captain Jack’s strategy and later betrayed Captain Jack to the Army.
The Modocs, a tribe living in Northern California near Tule Lake, are led by Captain Jack. After signing a treaty during the Civil War that situated them on the Klamath reservation in Oregon, conflicts with the Klamaths, who felt the Modocs were intruders on their land, prompted the Modocs to go back south. The Army and the Modocs skirmish in late November 1872, and in the aftermath of the skirmish, the Modocs head for sanctuary in the California Lava Beds. Shortly thereafter, a separate band of Modocs led by Hooker Jim kills 12 white settlers at local ranch houses. The Modocs decide to fight the Army rather than surrender Jim’s band, and they defeat the soldiers. A peace commission then arrives, and Hooker Jim escapes arrest. General Canby, who had let Jim’s band escape through accidental neglect, came in with his troops, and in the spring of 1873, Army negotiations with Captain Jack fail. Hooker Jim and Captain Jack argue, and under pressure from Jim’s supporters, Jack vows to kill Canby if he doesn't let the Modocs have their homeland. Canby does not grant the request, and Jack kills him. Hooker Jim then betrays Jack to the Army, and Jack is hanged on October 3, 1873.
The readers see, in the clashes between Klamaths and Modocs on the Klamath reservation, that Indian tribes sometimes put their disputes with each other before their collective dispute with the whites. Indeed, this theme of internal clashes among Indians is present throughout the chapter. Captain Jack’s decision to retreat to the California Lava Beds gained the Modocs a stronghold against the whites, but trouble emerged from within after the murders by Hooker Jim’s band. Jack, pressured by Hooker Jim’s successful push to fight the Army rather than surrender as criminals, and his threat to kill surrendering Modocs, unwisely promised to kill General Canby if his demands weren’t met. In that murder, and Jim’s betrayal of Jack, the readers see how disunity and treachery could easily push Indians to make unwise strategic decisions in their responses to whites. The members of Hooker...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 11: The War to Save the Buffalo
Satanta/White Bear: Kiowa chief who led struggle against the Army and was repeatedly jailed. He killed himself in Texas.
Kicking Bird: Kiowa chief who led expedition against the Army.
Lone Wolf: Kiowa chief who led delegation to Washington, D.C., and won release of Satanta and Big Tree.
In December 1868, after the Battle of Washita in which Black Kettle’s village was destroyed by Custer’s troops, General Sheridan orders the Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, and Comanches to surrender at Fort Cobb. The Kiowas do not surrender, and Custer arrests the Kiowa chiefs, violating a truce in order to do so. Two thousand Kiowas and 2500 Comanches are put on the reservation at Fort Cobb. Then, at a sun dance on the Red River in summer 1870, the Comanches, Southern Cheyennes, and Kiowas consider the possibility of fighting the whites. In mid-May 1871, the Kiowas and Comanches decide to attack Texas, and they kill seven teamsters leading a train of ten freight wagons. Satanta takes responsibility for this raid, and he and other chiefs are arrested for it. As a result, Satanta and Big Tree are sentenced to life in prison in July 1871. But Lone Wolf’s diplomacy wins the release of the two chiefs on the grounds that they are needed to make treaty negotiations for the Kiowas. Lone Wolf and the chiefs decide in St. Louis that Lone Wolf would request their release upon arriving in Washington, D.C., for talks. In Washington, D.C, the Kiowas and Comanches are told to assemble at Fort Sill by December 15, 1873. Lone Wolf, though, wins a promise for another release of Satanta and Big Tree, and they are transferred to Fort Sill, then released on parole. The Kiowas and Comanches decide in the spring of 1874 to attack the whites to preserve the buffalo hordes. An attack on white hunters at Adobe Walls fails, and the Indians flee to Palo Duro and thus defy Indian Bureau orders to stay on their reservations. The Army sends out troops to conduct reprisal attacks, and they slaughter 1000 horses at Palo Duro and continue to kill many Indians throughout the fall and winter. After Lone Wolf and 252 Kiowas surrender at Fort Sill on February 25, 1875, 26 Kiowa warriors are exiled to Florida.
In the Kiowas, Brown offers another example of the warrior ethic that drove many Indian tribes. Upon seeing the herds of buffalo become depleted,...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 12: The War for the Black Hills
Sitting Bull: Sioux chief and leader of the Hunkpapas who led Indians to victory at Little Bighorn.
Crazy Horse: Oglala chief and an advocate of defending the Black Hills who helped win battles at Rosebud and Little Bighorn.
General George Crook: An Army general who defeated the Apaches and led Army soldiers in battle at Rosebud and campaigns against Plains Indians. He later resigned his post under pressure.
In the early 1870s, rumors of gold in the Black Hills spread through white settlements on the Plains, and miners begin to converge on the area. After Custer and his Seventh Cavalry go to the Hills in 1874 and come back with the report that they were filled with gold, a flood of white men go there to pan and mine for gold. The Sioux, angry over the invasion of Paha Sapa, as they called the Black Hills, clash with Army soldiers. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail protest the invasions and the Army’s failure to protect the Sioux’s territory, and a peace council is held in September 1875. The Indians debate whether to demand for the gold taken from the Hills or simply resist the invasion. After rejecting an offer for the purchase of mineral rights for the Black Hills or their outright purchase, the Sioux decide on resistance. The Army responds by preparing for military operations against the Sioux throughout late 1875 and early 1876. On March 17, 1876, troops attack a Cheyenne and Oglala camp near the Powder River, and the camp is destroyed, along with 1200 to 1500 ponies. The Indians then win a clash at Rosebud on June 17. They move on to Little Bighorn, and on June 29 they route General Custer in the famous Battle of Little Bighorn. Whites respond to this defeat with outrage, and a commission is sent out to make a treaty. The treaty removes the Indians from the Black Hills and sends them to lands bordering the Missouri River. On September 9, the Army attacks Sioux chief American Horse’s village, and on October 22, Colonel Miles and Sitting Bull meet, but with no results. Soldiers then attack Bull Knife’s village in January 1877, and they clash with Crazy Horse’s soldiers on January 8. Crazy Horse surrenders with his Oglala band at Fort Robinson in April, and he is stabbed to death by a soldier on September 5.
At the start of the chapter, whites are again invading Indian land to search for gold,...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 13: The Flight of the Nez Percés
Chief Joseph: Chief of the Nez-Percé tribe who gave a famous speech upon surrendering to Colonel Miles.
Colonel Nelson Miles: Nicknamed Bear Coat by the Indians, he led the Army’s campaign to defeat and capture the Nez Percés.
For 70 years, from their first encounter with the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 until the 1870s, the Nez Percés had enjoyed relatively good relations with whites. In 1863, they sign a treaty sending the tribe to a small reservation in Idaho. Old Joseph, a chief who was deeply angered by the treaty, dies in 1871 and is replaced by his son, Chief Joseph, as tribal chief. Cattlemen and gold seekers move into tribal land in the Wallowa Valley, and in response, the government tells the tribe to move to the Lapwai reservation. Facing difficulties in the effort to get to Lapwai before the deadline assigned and angered by the command to go to the reservation, the tribal chiefs decide to resist, and they win a battle at White Bird Canyon on June 17, 1877. After holding a tribal council, the Nez Percés decide to flee to Canada to escape punishment for their rebellion, and they retreat. A battle with the Army on August 9 at Big Hole River decides little, and in September after being surrounded by soldiers, the tribe surrenders. A small band of Nez Percés find refuge with Sitting Bull in Canada, but most of the tribe is returned to Lapwai, while Chief Joseph and roughly 150 other Nez Percés are sent to the Colville reservation in Washington. Joseph eventually dies on September 21, 1904.
The help given Lewis and Clark in 1805 by the Nez Percés established good relations with the whites, but apparently it was impossible for any Indian tribe to remain on good terms with whites for long. So it is that Brown tells how the tribe’s land was reduced by treaty, then by invasion from white miners and cattlemen in the years around 1870. Chief Joseph decided he had to fight the whites rather than simply submit to them, despite having little hope of victory. And indeed, this chapter describes the slow, gradual defeat of the Nez Percés during the summer of 1877. When Chief Joseph says, “I am tired; my heart is sick and sad,” the readers’ feelings of sympathy for Chief Joseph and his tribe’s plight are mixed with an increasing realization that the other Indian tribes are in a similarly grim...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 14: Cheyenne Exodus
Dull Knife: Northern Cheyenne chief who argued that the tribe should settle down and go to Red Cloud’s agency.
Little Wolf: Northern Cheyenne chief who led a band of Cheyennes north to the Tongue River valley.
As Crazy Horse is surrendering his Oglalas at Fort Robinson in 1877, about 1000 Northern Cheyennes, including chiefs Little Wolf, Dull Knife, and Standing Elk, are also surrendering at the fort. Of those Cheyennes, 937 journey from Fort Robinson to Fort Reno on the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation. They are displeased by the land at Fort Reno, and so in the fall of 1877, they decide to go north to hunt buffalo and thereby improve their health. In the spring of 1878, the Northern Cheyennes return from their unsuccessful hunt, and back on the reservation, they suffer from measles, fevers, and chills, with a measles epidemic killing many of their children. Some chiefs, including Little Wolf and Dull Knife, decided to go north. These Cheyenne and Army soldiers fight running battles in Kansas and Nebraska, and in the fall, Little Wolf’s band, now numbering 130, goes north to the Tongue River, while Dull Knife’s band, now numbering 150, goes to Red Cloud’s agency. Dull Knife's band discovers Red Cloud’s agency has been moved to the Dakota Territory and is redirected by the Army back to Fort Robinson. In January 1879, they rebel against the order for them to be sent back to their reservation in the South because there are no buffalo in the South. In the ensuing battle at Fort Robinson fought in resistance of the order, over half of Dull Knife’s warriors die, 65 Northern Cheyennes, most of them women and children, are taken prisoner, and 38 escape. They move north under Army pursuit. Of those 38, a party of 32 are trapped in a wallow, and all but 9 are killed. Meanwhile, Dull Knife’s party of 6 goes north to Red Cloud’s reservation at Pine Ridge. Little Wolf eventually surrenders in 1880, only to be subsequently transferred to Fort Keogh, then on to a reservation on the Tongue River.
The Cheyennes who surrendered with the Sioux were, like many other tribes, placed on a dismal reservation, and although receiving the freedom to go hunting buffalo in the fall, they found there were too few buffalo to support the hunters themselves, much less bring back any meat for the rest of the tribe. When the...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 15: Standing Bear Becomes a Person
Standing Bear: Ponca chief who successfully argued that he was a “person” and a U.S. citizen.
Carl Schurz: Secretary of the Interior, nicknamed Big Eyes by Indians, who returned the Poncas to their reservation.
The Poncas, who resided near the mouth of the Niobrara River, were a prosperous agrarian tribe enjoying good relations with whites ever since they had encountered Lewis and Clark in 1804. However, they are removed to the Indian Territory in early 1877 by order of Congress, which had decided to send many northern tribes to the territory in reaction to Custer’s recent defeat. Ponca chief Standing Bear together with other chiefs stranded in the territory walk back to their homeland on the Niobrara River. Indian inspector Kemble arrests Standing Bear there, and when Standing Bear says that under the government’s treaty obligations he and the other chiefs couldn’t be moved from their land, he is nonetheless forced with the other Poncas to march to Quapaw reservation in July 1877. Over a quarter of the Poncas die in their first year there, and some of the surviving Poncas are forced to walk to a new reservation on the Arkansas River before returning to the Niobrara in early 1879. An outcry over their condition ensues, and Standing Bear goes to court in April 1879 to protest being forced to be sent to the Indian Territory. He wins his case by arguing that he is a “person” protected by the Constitution, and the Poncas still in the Indian Territory prepare to return to the Niobrara. However, Sherman says that Standing Bear’s case is unique and does not apply to the other Poncas. Big Snake, Standing Bear’s brother, is killed by a guard of Army soldiers on October 31, and his murder goes unpunished. Standing Bear is the only Ponca for whom justice has been served by the white justice system.
The chapter focuses on the attempt of the Poncas, a prosperous and peaceful tribe on the Niobrara River, to avoid being removed from their homeland. It was a decision in far-off Washington, D.C., that set this plot in motion. The point here seems to be that remote actions by people entirely unfamiliar with the tribe were sufficient to completely overturn their way of life. Again, the Indians simply did not have enough power to stop the whites. Standing Bear did gain power through the courts by being granted...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 16: “The Utes Must Go!”
Ouray the Arrow: Chief of the Utes who attempted to placate the U.S. but was forced onto a reservation in Utah.
Nathan C. Meeker: Indian agent who tried to convert Utes to an agrarian lifestyle. His policies set the stage for the conflict between the Utes and the Army.
William B. Vickers: Issued propaganda against Utes and authored the article that inspired “The Utes Must Go!” slogan.
The Utes, a tribe in Colorado, saw their land steadily invaded by miners during the 1840s and 1850s. They signed a treaty in 1863 relinquishing mineral rights throughout their territory and promising to let U.S. citizens mine in their territory. Then, in 1868, after Colorado citizens push for a reduction in the size of the Utes’ territory, Ute chief Ouray signs a treaty assigning the Utes’ 16 million acres of forests and meadows on the western slope of the Rockies and preventing unauthorized whites from being on Ute territory. Miners persist in trespassing on Ute land, however, and Nathan Meeker, an agent for the Ute reservation, attempts to make the Utes over into a Christian, agrarian tribe with a greater desire for material goods. William B. Vickers picks up on Meeker’s agenda and in 1879 writes a popular anti-Ute tract that inspires the spread of “The Utes Must Go!” slogan across the state by the summer. When Meeker’s agenda sparks friction with the Utes, he calls for cavalry troops to come to the White River agency to arrest Ute chiefs. The Utes hear of this plan, and in September 1879, after a clash with the cavalry begins at Milk River on the boundary of the reservation, the Utes at White River kill all the white men working for the agency. Stories of atrocities at White River spark violent outrage in Colorado, and as punishment in 1881, nearly all the Utes are put onto a reservation on marginal land in Utah.
The story of a tribe being pushed off its land by white settlers, gold miners, and an Army first unwilling to keep whites off the tribe’s land, then sending out troops to subdue the tribe, is repeated in this chapter. There is, though, the new element of a chief who, upon agreeing to receive a salary from the government in exchange for keeping peace with it, becomes reluctant to resist that government even as his tribe is pushed off its lands. Another new element is the presence of an agent,...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 17: The Last of the Apache Chiefs
Geronimo: Apache chief who was made notorious through rumors of his atrocities and was forced onto a reservation in 1894.
Victorio: Apache chief, leader of Warm Spring band, who was killed in 1880 after making raids in Mexico and the U.S..
Cochise’s death in 1874 leads to divisions within the Apache tribe, and the Apaches, split into factions, take to raiding white settlements. The government then receives “reports of trouble on the Chiricahua reservation.” The Chiricahua Apaches resist ensuing government efforts to remove them from their White Mountain reservation to the San Carlos agency. They flee to Mexico and take to raiding the Mexicans for their cattle and horses in order to buy supplies from whites in New Mexico. Agent John Clum transfers Victorio and most of the other Warm Springs Apaches to the San Carlos agency, but conditions there disintegrate over the summer of 1877 due to insufficient rations and the invasion of a corner of the reservation by miners. Victorio leads his band off the reservation and flees to the Mimbres Mountains with 80 warriors in order to escape capture by the Army. His growing band of warriors take to killing and torturing settlers in 1879, and after the U.S. and Mexico make a joint effort to hunt him down, he and much of his band are killed on October 14, 1880, by Mexican soldiers. Geronimo and roughly 70 other Chiricahuas, afraid of their possible arrest, flee the White Mountain reservation in September 1881 and return to the reservation with substantial arms and equipment in April 1882, intent on freeing as many Apaches as possible. Although their band is caught by the Army’s cavalry at Horse Shoe Canyon, many chiefs and warriors successfully escape to Mexico. General Crook then takes command of the reservation and introduces reforms while planning to negotiate with Geronimo and the other Apache guerrillas in Mexico. A negotiated return of Geronimo and his band leads to them arriving at San Carlos in February 1884. However, a group of 132 Apaches flee the reservation on May 17, 1885, perhaps because they are drunk, or perhaps because of renewed fears of their arrest. The steady spread of invented atrocity stories about Geronimo, combined with anger over his band’s flight from the reservation, leads to orders for Crook to demand surrender from him, which he does on March 25, 1886. Geronimo takes flight again,...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 18: Dance of the Ghosts
Kicking Bear: A Minneconjou who had a vision of Christ in Nevada and began the Ghost Dance religion.
Buffalo Bill Cody: The stager of Wild West Show in which Sitting Bull performed.
After the Sioux are forced off their Black Hills and Powder River country territories in 1876 and 1877, they are put on the Great Sioux Reservation between the 103rd meridian and the Missouri River, in Dakota Territory. Sitting Bull, in exile in Canada with 3000 Sioux, meets with Army General Terry in October 1877, but nothing results from the talks. On July 19, 1881, Sitting Bull and 186 of the Sioux still with him ride into Fort Buford on the Sioux reservation to surrender. After a scheme to get the Sioux to give up half their reservation fails in Congress in 1883, Sitting Bull is transferred in August of that year to Standing Rock, the site of the Hunkpapa agency. After several years of inaction, the Sioux sign a new agreement fragmenting their reservation into many small, disconnected lands in July 1889. Then, in October 1890, the Ghost Dance religion arises.
Kicking Bear, a Minneconjou of the Cheyenne River agency, says that he and ten other Sioux had gone to Nevada by rail, and there they saw the returned Christ, who taught them the Dance of the Ghosts. He also tells them that in the next springtime, new soil would cover the earth and bury all white men, then sweet grass, streams, and trees would cover the ground. The buffalo and wild horses would return, and all Indians dancing the Ghost Dance would go up in the air to wait for the new earth to emerge, at which point they and the ghosts of their ancestors would live on the new earth. The religion sweeps through the Sioux reservations despite resistance from the Indian Bureau. On December 12, 1890, the arrest of Sitting Bull is ordered by General Miles as a way to quell the Ghost Dance “disturbance,” and on December 15, Sitting Bull is killed by Bull Head and Red Tomahawk, two of the Indian policemen sent to arrest him.
Sitting Bull, though free in Canada, learned that Canadian whites were not much more willing to help his people than American whites were. Therefore, he eventually decided to come back to America where, again, the Army treated him harshly. It is interesting to note, in the midst of the wrangling between Sioux and the various...
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Summary and Analysis Chapter 19: Wounded Knee
Big Foot: Leader of band of Minneconjous who was killed at his camp at Wounded Knee in 1890.
Black Coyote: The Minneconjou whose dispute with Army soldiers sparked battle at Wounded Knee.
After Sitting Bull’s death and the fight following his death, roughly 100 Hunkpapas flee the Standing Rock agency and meet up with Big Foot’s Minneconjous near Cherry Creek. The Minneconjous and Hunkpapas, choosing not to resist the Army due to their belief in the Ghost Dance prophecy, flee toward Pine Ridge, thinking that Red Cloud might give them protection from the Army soldiers. However, they encounter Major Whitside’s troops on December 28, 1890, and are told to head to Wounded Knee, where a census is made of them as they camp near the cavalry’s camp. The Indians are ordered to turn in their guns the next morning, but when Black Coyote, a deaf Minneconjou, refuses to turn in his rifle, a struggle ensues, and a gun goes off. The Army responds by opening fire, and perhaps 300 of the 350 Indians are massacred. The Army, meanwhile, suffers about 25 losses and 39 wounded. The wounded Sioux survivors reach Pine Ridge after dark that day, and the dead bodies lying frozen in the snow at Wounded Knee are found later by a burial party.
The heavy irony of the conclusion, with its “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” message, underscores the tragedy of Wounded Knee. With their resistance to the Army sorely weakened by their Ghost Dance faith, the vulnerable Sioux were not given charity by the cavalry, but instead were nearly annihilated. Such an ending strongly suggests Brown’s belief that the whites were determined to never give anything to the Indians. Even the Sioux’ adoption of an essentially Christian religion could not protect them from the soldiers’ guns. The readers can hardly help concluding that Brown is telling us that it was the Indians who, in the history told by this book, had justice and righteousness on their side.
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