Dee Brown N. Scott Momaday - Essay

N. Scott Momaday

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"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.∗