Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee Themes

Dee Brown


(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Manifest Destiny
Much of the mistreatment of Native Americans in the nineteenth century can be attributed to a concept known as Manifest Destiny. This theory stated that European descendents in the United States were destined to spread over the North American continent and that they were justified in doing so. As a result, many politicians, military personnel, and settlers felt it was their God-given right to take land from whoever stood in their way. As Brown notes, the concept of Manifest Destiny simply “lifted land hunger to a lofty plane.” Says Brown: “Only the New Englanders, who had destroyed or driven out all their Indians, spoke against Manifest Destiny.”

Manifest Destiny provided the justification for many deceptions, the most notable form of which was broken treaties. When white settlers first began their relations with Native-American tribes, they made treaties—paper contracts that ceded Native-American land to the United States, often in exchange for money or provisions. However, in many cases, the systems set in place to monitor these transactions became corrupted by white middlemen who profited at the Native Americans's expense. For example Dee Brown states: ‘‘Of the $475,000 promised the Santees in their first treaty, Long Trader Sibley had claimed $145,000 for his American Fur Company as money due for overpayment to the Santees.’’ In other cases, Native Americans were deceived into signing false treaties. Most Native Americans could not read or write English. As a result, they often had no way of verifying that the paper they signed included the correct terms of their agreement and were surprised when they found out later that the treaty...

(The entire section is 725 words.)