Dee Brown Essay - Critical Essays

Brown, Dee


Brown, Dee 1908–

Brown, an American novelist and nonfiction writer of the frontier West, is the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a best-selling history of thirty years of Indian wars. Creek Mary's Blood, a novelization of the same material, is generally considered less successful than the earlier book. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 5.)

Margaret Wallace

This intelligent and totally unpretentious novel, "Wave the High Banner," contains, so far as the knowledge of the present reviewer runs, the first full-length portrait in fiction of Davy Crockett. "Wave High the Banner" is a novel, in the sense that fact and invention are discreetly combined to suit the purposes of the story teller. But Dee Brown has given us what must be accounted, nevertheless, an exceptionally shrewd and just evaluation of a picturesque frontiersman who has been left until now to the writers of juvenile thrillers….

"Wave High the Banner" is a simple and straightforward chronicle of Crockett's life, written without any self-conscious grace of manner or any obvious effort to put into the story more significance than it rightfully contains. It is told in an idiom not far removed from that which Crockett himself might have commanded. Where invention was needed to supply missing chapters in Crockett's career, it has been kept in strict accord with the probabilities. Dialogue and details of background are uniformly excellent.

While Dee Brown has resisted, better than many novelists at the moment, the temptation to overwrite Crockett's story or to point by means of it a contemporary moral, the moral is there for any one who cares to read it. It goes without saying that a chronicle which ends at the siege of the Alamo can hardly be lacking in pertinence or dramatic intensity. While it is not, perhaps, a novel of great distinction, "Wave High the Banner" is a sound and honest and well-considered piece of work, entirely worthy of its subject.

Margaret Wallace, "Davy Crockett," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1942 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 3, 1942, p. 16.

N. Scott Momaday

"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is a much better book than the title would indicate; it is, in fact, extraordinary on several accounts. It is first and foremost a compelling history of the American West, distinguished not because it is, as the dust jacket has it, an Indian history (it is based largely upon the records of treaty councils and the words of such Indian leaders as Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Crazy Horse), but because it is so carefully documented and designed. The book covers only 30 years—1860 to 1890—but they are the years in which the West was won, as they say, and the culture and civilization of the Indians lost.

It will come as a surprise to many readers of this book … that so much of great drama and moment actually took place in the three decades of this remarkable story. And Mr. Brown's book is a story, a whole narrative of singular integrity and precise continuity; that is what makes the book so hard to put aside, even when one has come to the end.

Having read Mr. Brown, one has a better understanding of what it is that nags at the American conscience at times (to our everlasting credit) and of that morality which informs and fuses events so far apart in time and space as the massacres at Wounded Knee and My Lai. (p. 47)

N. Scott Momaday, "When the West Was Won and a Civilization Was Lost," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 7, 1971, pp. 46-7.∗


Brown (the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) keeps a tight focus in [Creek Mary's Blood], restricting his story to the life and descendants of a single woman, Creek Mary (Akusa Amayi), but tracing them through five generations and across most of the American continent…. Using fictional characters against a carefully researched historical background, he combines the attractions of both genres. The major incidents of his story are true, but by inventing fictional participants he is able to give the events a human dimension lacking in the historic record, which is relatively cold and mostly recorded from the white man's point of view.

Brown's prose style is as much that of the historian as of the novelist—not dazzling, and poetic only in occasional quotes which capture the special rhetoric embedded in the structure of Indian languages, but efficient, informative and readable.

Mary had two husbands who symbolize two ways of dealing with the cultural clash that is the book's subject. The first was an English colonist, John Kingsley, who is related thematically to the effort at accommodation and assimilation among the Cherokees in the Southeast. The second was a Cherokee, The Long Warrior, a leader of the resistance to white encroachment, whose offspring merged into the Cheyenne of the Central Plains, where that resistance was most bitter and prolonged.

Both ways of coping...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Mary Anne Norman

The story of Creek Mary's blood opens in 1905 at a White House luncheon hosted by Teddy Roosevelt in honor of Mary Dane, "a young Indian woman from Montana, the first of her race and the first of her sex to graduate from Columbia Medical College." A young reporter, who has been sent by his newspaper to cover the event, becomes fascinated with the story of Creek Mary and her descendants. He travels to Montana at the invitation of Dane, Creek Mary's grandson, to learn of the remarkable events which encompass five generations of Indian/American history, from pre-Revolutionary days, to the Little Big Horn, to Wounded Knee, and into the twentieth century. Dee Brown skillfully utilizes the flashback technique as Dane narrates his tale to the sympathetic reporter, now in the past and then in the present, blending the two into a well-developed narrative.

The dominant themes of Creek Mary's Blood are the displacement of the Indians and the treachery of the U.S. government in its dealings with the Indians. (p. 11)

Dee Brown uses a literary technique which has become increasingly popular in the past several years. He traces a family's history as that history relates to the major events of the times considered. Thus we see Creek Mary protesting Indian removal in the 1830s and her grandson Dane participating in and observing numerous confrontations in the West. (p. 24)

Creek Mary's Blood is rightly sympathetic to the Indian. It will correct many of the stereotypes which Anglo-Americans have about the Indians and their history. Few who read Brown's latest book will remain untouched by the panorama of events. It is an incredible, yet epic tale. (p. 25)

Mary Anne Norman, "'Creek Mary's Blood'," in The Lone Star Book Review (copyright © 1980 Lone Star Media Corp.), Vol. 1, No. 10 April, 1980, pp. 11, 24-5.

Joshua Gilder

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown's best-selling history of the American Indian, had a sweep and an authenticity due in large measure to his letting the Indians speak for themselves. [But Dee Brown, as the author of Creek Mary's Blood,] simply does not share their eloquence; his characters talk history to one another in an improbably self-conscious way.

Even more uncomfortable is Brown's imposition of contemporary social obsessions on a different time and culture. Creek Mary is more than a little absurd with her frontier sloganeering in the cause of women's rights….

[Unfortunately Creek Mary's Blood] is afflicted with a simpleminded egalitarianism. Dee Brown would have us believe that beneath the savage skin of every Indian beats the bleeding heart of a liberal environmentalist. Creek Mary's dream of "a mingling of the races … a paradise in which the best of the two cultures would take ascendancy" is most uncharacteristically Indian—antithetical, in fact, to the "savage mind," which emphasizes distinction, separateness, and the plurality of life, rather than running all the colors together into a tepid sameness. For all his good intentions, Dee Brown does as much violence to the reality of the Indian peoples as did the stereotyped redskins in stock Westerns; he has turned fascinating savages into boring humanists. (p. 77)

Joshua Gilder, "Who's on First," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 14, April 7, 1980, pp. 76-7.∗

Leslie Marmon Silko

Dee Brown is known primarily for his best-selling tragic history of American Indian policy, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."… Although the prose was somewhat plain, the strength and conviction of Dee Brown's view of this history brought the book alive. "Creek Mary's Blood" covers much the same material but in the novel Mr. Brown attempts to deal with a point of view other than his own…. In attempting … to cover such great spans of history and geography and provide an Indian perspective on these events, Mr. Brown overreaches his abilities as a novelist.

For one thing, Mr. Brown's prose style, though it served him well enough in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," becomes inadequate, far too...

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