Washtenaw Community College
This paper was prepared for English 226, Composition 2, taught by Professor Mahler
To Strive For Peace
The book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown is an epic non-fiction expose`. It tells the plight of the American Indians during the time period between 1860 and 1890. Brown has put together a collection of first-hand accounts and numerous documents and pictures to convey the truth from the American Indians’ point of view.
Brown is trying to prove that mostly, the American Indians as a whole wanted to live in peace and in harmony with the “white man” and nature. As Christopher Columbus stated in a report back to the King and Queen of Spain upon arriving to the New World of these persons he met, “they love their neighbors as they love themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle”(Brown, 1971, p. 1). However, at this time he also told of their dress or should I say their undress as well as other differences from the standard European. To Columbus and others, these differences would be seen as signs of weakness, thus starting the end of the American Indian way of life (Brown, 1971). This author also wants his audience to understand the atrocities that were most definitely plagued upon the American Indian.
Brown states in his introduction that “during that time the culture and civilization of the American Indian was destroyed, and out of that time came virtually all the great myths of the American West”(Brown, 1971, p. xi). This is the realization Brown wants us to know. He puts this claim prior to the story because he wants the reader to know that this story will be open and honest. This may be difficult for a reader who doesn’t understand the depth of the evil that occurred during this time in history. This is not the book for everyone, though he’d like it to be. People should be aware that mostly what we read in other books and saw on the big screen were myths, something made up to sugar coat the greed of the “white man.” There is so much more to their story. The Indians could not read and write at that time, so their side wasn’t necessarily told in the traditional format, for example in pictographs or spoken orally (Brown, 1971). They were often depicted as dark and menacing just by their appearance. The people who did take the time to meet them were generally taken back by their trustworthiness and their manners. The few who did try to help them were treated as traitors. This discouraged many from doing the right thing.
In the beginning, the Indians were open to the ways of the people: trusting in the Great Father that all could and should be shared. They would give the new people gifts and teach them all that they knew to live on this new land. Only to be told their way of life was no good. Unfortunately, word traveled slowly across the plains. By the time things had turned for the worse, there wasn’t enough time to spread the news before more “white man” landed in different areas of the country. Each time the Indians were fooled from the start, thinking that all people were good. Showing them friendliness and trusting them without question. Each time they were disappointed.
As more and more people arrived, the Indians moved from their homes. Sometimes willingly, thinking that they would be left alone, and sometimes by force. This is when the myths began. When force is applied someone is going to get hurt, and someone is going to be at fault. The Indians began to fight for what was theirs, but they did not want to die. They often spoke of peace and for peace. Many times this fell on deaf ears. When someone would listen, the soldiers and commissioners would come with treaties written up promising the Indians things in return for the land they were living on. If they wouldn’t sign, there was often…