Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was among the first critical accounts dealing with the opening of the American West from the viewpoint of the original inhabitants, the American Indians. Numerous accounts have been written on the movement of the white settlers through this portion of the United States in the years after the Civil War; nearly all conferring the view of the settlers themselves or the history, both real and mythic, that arose from this period. Dee Brown provides an alternate viewpoint: that of the persons displaced, and all too often murdered, as a result of such movement. This book was not his first on the subject; Fighting Indians of the West (1948), coauthored with Martin Schmitt, was an earlier account of the same topic. Although profuse in use of early photographs, the discussion in the earlier book is much more condensed and contains little in the way of first-person description.

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was written during the 1960’s, a turbulent period in the United States that represented a questioning of the country’s values. The concept of Manifest Destiny would find no exception to such analysis. Brown provided straightforward accounts of the inhumanity often exhibited by soldiers and settlers, of treaties broken nearly as quickly as they were signed, and of soldiers whose claims to fame were based on how many deaths they had inflicted. The book quickly served as an alternate version of history and as source for a more realistic analysis of the western United States between 1860 and 1890. As such, it was also among the first written from the viewpoint of the victims. Quickly becoming a best-seller, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee has undergone numerous printings in subsequent years, reflecting the book’s importance in the subject.

Brown followed this work with an extensive analysis of American Indian folklore in Folktales of American Indians (1993) and a more general work on the history of the Southwest in American West (1994).

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