Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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Summary and Analysis Chapter 19: Wounded Knee

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New Characters
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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