Bear's Heart Critical Context - Essay

Burton Supree

Critical Context

Ironically, the creation of the book Bear’s Heart was made possible by the white culture that imprisoned the artist himself. When General William Tecumseh Sherman visited the Native American captives in their Florida prison, Bear’s Heart presented the military commander with his artwork as a gift. Sherman, in turn, donated the drawings to the Heye Foundation Museum of American Indians. Much of the value of Bear’s Heart’s illustrations of his experiences derives from the way in which they preserve Native American painting and history for readers in the twentieth century and beyond. According to Highwater, “the pictures of Bear’s Heart are a touching depiction of what we have lost and what Indians today are rediscovering in this ancient land newly named America.”

This book is recommended for young readers because it sheds light on a sometimes dark chapter in American history. All too often, books about Native Americans stereotype them as savages who wear feathered headbands and scalp innocent settlers. Bear’s Heart is refreshing because it reveals the other side of the story, painting a picture of people forced to live on reservations and treated as second-class citizens when they were actually more “American” than the European colonists who sought to control them. Bear’s Heart can be used to educate young readers, and stimulating questions can be formulated from the text and drawings that would supplement any meaningful discussion of Native American history and culture.