Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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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 included additional terms.

When the government could not get the desired land by diplomacy, it often ignored past treaties and took the land by force. For example, at one point, a number of Native-American tribes came to a council with U.S. commissioners to talk about building additional transportation routes through tribal lands. However, during this council, a regiment of Army infantry arrives, and the Native-American assembly realizes ‘‘that the United States government intended to open a road through the Powder River country regardless of the treaty.’’ Brown reports that Red Cloud stated in the council: “Great Father sends us presents and wants new road. But White Chief goes with soldiers to steal road before Indian says yes or no!’’

In addition to treaty violations, Americans also made false promises, such as agreeing to keep the peace when they had no intention of doing so. One of the best examples of this deception is the massacre of Cheyennes at Sand Creek. Major Scott J. Anthony tells the Cheyennes that if they return to their village at Sand Creek, they will be safe. Anthony arranges it so that two additional men, known to be peaceful, go to the village in an attempt to “lull the Indians into a sense of security and keep them camped where they were.’’ In the meantime, Anthony receives reinforcements. His plan works, and the Cheyennes are totally unprepared when Anthony attacks and destroys the village with his large force.

Perhaps the worst deception is the betrayal of Native Americans by their own. For example, the Modoc known as Captain Jack refuses to turn in Hooker Jim and others who have murdered white settlers. In the end, however, these same men who he risked his life to save end up betraying him to save their own lives. Says Brown, ‘‘Hooker Jim's band surrendered to the soldiers and offered to help them track down Captain Jack in exchange for amnesty.’’

MurderBury My Heart at Wounded Knee is saturated with examples...

(This entire section contains 726 words.)

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of indiscriminate and often premeditated killing. Many of the murderous acts become genocidal when they are performed by Army officers and others who are determined to kill all Native Americans. One of the most chilling examples of genocide happens at Sand Creek. Although a few officers disagree with Colonel Chivington's plan to murder all Native Americans at Sand Creek, Chivington threatens them with a court-martial if they do not join the expedition. Brown quotes Chivington as saying: “I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians.’’ This attitude was shared by other Americans, particularly frontier settlers, some of whom engaged in or supported the murder of Native Americans wherever they were found.


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