Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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Summary and Analysis Chapter 1: “Their Manners are Decorous and Praiseworthy”

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

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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 many of the “standard” (i.e., “white”) details of traditional American history to focus on the concerns of the Indians. Their history is a grim one: the Wampanoags and Narragansetts of Massachusetts, the Raritans of New York, the Iroquois, and the Miamis of the Ohio Valley are only a few of the tribes Dee mentions that were destroyed or vanquished by white settlers.

Brown’s outline of the position of diverse western tribes in 1860 does not include a description of their fates thirty years later. However, by focusing not on the steady growth of white civilization westward from the Atlantic Coast but on the equally steady decline of Indian civilization, Brown signals his intent to make his history of the West tragic rather than celebratory. This focus on the fate of the Indians of the West was very unusual; Brown’s book was one of the first histories of the West to give its readers the Indians’ perspective on how the West was won or, as he would probably say, how the West was lost.

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Summary and Analysis Chapter 2: The Long Walk of the Navahos