bury my head sand

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

This article is about the 1970 book by Dee Brown. For the 2007 film of the same name, see Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (film). "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee" is also the title of a song by Buffy Sainte-Marie and is the name of albums by both Gila and Yoriyos.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by American writer Dee Brown is a history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century, and their displacement and slaughter by the United States federal government. It was first published in 1970.

The title is taken from the final phrase of a 20th-century poem titled "American Names" by Stephen Vincent Benet, although the poem was not actually about the Indian Wars. The full quotation, "I shall not be here/I shall rise and pass/Bury my heart at Wounded Knee," appears at the beginning of Brown's book.


Chapter by chapter, this book moves from tribe to tribe of Native Americans, and outlines the relations of the tribes to the U.S. federal government during the years 1860-1890. It begins with the Navajos, the Apaches, and the other tribes of the American Southwest who were displaced as California and the surrounding states were settled. Brown chronicles the changing and sometimes conflicting attitudes both of American authorities such as General Custer and Indian chiefs, particularly Geronimo, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse, and their different attempts to save their peoples, by peace, war, or retreat. The later part of the book focuses primarily on the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes of the plains, who were among the last to be moved onto reservations, under perhaps the most violent circumstances. It culminates with the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the deaths of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, and the slaughter of Sioux prisoners at Wounded Knee, South Dakota that is generally considered the end of the Indian Wars.

Success of the book

Time Magazine reviewed the book saying:
"In the last decade or so, after almost a century of saloon art and horse operas that romanticized Indian fighters and white settlers, Americans have been developing a reasonably acute sense of the injustices and humiliations suffered by the Indians. But the details of how the West was won are not really part of the American consciousness ...
"... Dee Brown, Western historian and head librarian at the University of Illinois, now attempts to balance the account. With the zeal of an IRS investigator, he audits U.S. history's forgotten set of books. Compiled from old but rarely exploited sources plus a fresh look at dusty Government documents, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tallies the broken promises and treaties, the provocations, massacres. discriminatory policies and condescending diplomacy."

One strength of the book is its strong documentation of original sources, such as council records and firsthand descriptions.

Despite its wide spread acceptance by journalists and the general public, scholars were critical of the book, pointing out that much of the material, outside of direct quotations, was not sourced; that content was selected to present a particular point of view, rather than to be balanced; and that the narrative of government-Indian relations suffered from not being placed within the perspective of what else was occurring within the government and the country at the time.

Remaining on best seller lists for over a year in hardback, it was still in print 35 years later. Translated into at least 17 languages, it has sold nearly four million copies and is available as a Google book

Film Adaptation

HBO Films produced a film version of the book for the HBO television network. The film stars Aidan Quinn, Adam Beach, Anna Paquin, and August Schellenberg as Sitting Bull. The film debuted on the HBO television network Sunday, May 27, 2007. While the film covers only the last two chapters of Brown’s book, it received many Emmy nominations and went on to win Best Movie made for Television.


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