Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee



This book brings to light, and places front and center, possibly the most significant event in American history. That is, the genocide and displacement of the native inhabitants of what was, or would become, the United States of America, thus enabling the formation of the worlds most powerful republic. It is difficult to imagine how most readers, particularly those who are American citizens, would not have their personal perspective or opinion altered, in some small measure at least, by the historical events described within, especially that of the Nez Percés fight for their home. Of the chapters, the most moving and the most effectively presented chapter was The Flight of the Nez Percés.
Brown focuses on the thirty-year period between 1860 and 1890 in which the American West was "opened" to all comers. Holding themselves with dignity were the Nez Percés in their fight for survival and their reluctance to let go of their beloved homeland. Brown relies on oral accounts, many of which were written down during treaty council meetings and other official meetings with representatives of the United States government to tell his stories, and this leaves no doubt as to which party was in the wrong in The Flight of The Nez Percés. His style lays the facts down in front of a reader, allowing no room for opinions to affect the content. Style is considered by most the imprint of a writers personality, yet Brown does not let his thoughts affect his writing, which is perhaps the most disturbing of all, just the truth. The Nez Percés country was wrenched from their grasp in the blink of an eye, for the reason of land for white settlers. Despite being helpful and kind, the Nez Percés were still driven from their land.
The Nez Percés “welcomed the white Americans, supplied them with food, and look after the explorers’ (Lewis and Clark’s) horses for several months,” (316) when the Nez Percés could easily have “seized their wealth of horses,” (316) and driven them from their land. The white Americans and the Nez Percés lived in happiness, and the Nez Percés boasted that “no Nez Percés had ever killed a white man.” (317). This “friendship” (317) continued for 70 years, but “white men’s greed for land and gold,” (317) ended this. In 1863, a treaty was shown to the Nez Percés, it “took away the Wallowa Valley and three-fourths of the remainder of their land, leaving them only a small reservation.” (317). The Wallowa Valley Nez Percés, did not sign the treaty, and protested this, winning their land back from an “executive order withdrawing Wallowa Valley from settlement by white men,” issued by the president, Ulysses Grant. Soon though, gold was found in mountains around and white settlers flocked to the valley and “stole the Indians’ horses, and stockmen stole their cattle, branding them so the Indians’ could not claim them back,” (318). In the words of Yellow Wolf of the Nez Percés, “the whites told only one side. Told it to please themselves. Told much that is not true.” (316) and the white politicians went back to Washington, where they “charged the Indians with being a threat to the peace and with stealing the settlers’ livestock.” (318). They did exactly what Yellow Wolf said, they told “lies about the Nez Percés,” (318) to “please themselves.” (316).
Broken promises ran throughout the Nez Percés struggle, and two years after promising the Wallowa Valley to the Nez Percés forever, President Grant “reopened the valley to white settlement,” (320) and the Nez Percés were “given a reasonable time to move to the Lapwai reservation,” (320). Blatant betrayal led the Nez Perces to acts of desperation and the band fled towards Canada and freedom with two large forces following them close behind.





Bibliography:

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown