Many years ago, I read a book that had a profound affect on me. That book was, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and the author was Dee Brown. It was published in 1970 and was the first time I truly felt the pain of what man does to man. It is based on what happened in America to the Native Americans when more and more European settlers came to claim the land. At first, relations are peaceful but the immigrants become greedy for more land.
“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises…. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. …I have asked some of the great white chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.” Chief Joseph
There is repetition in this book because the same thing happened time and time again to each tribe. In a nutshell, the US Army of the time was clearing land for more settlement. If the Native Americans lived on this land, it was not ever considered that they should be able to stay there (where they had lived peacefully for many hundreds of years), the only purpose was to clear the land of any impediments. Their needs and lives were ignored ~ the US Army would destroy and kill if they would not leave when told. Sometimes they retaliated, which perpetuated the killing and made matters worse.
If the Native Americans did fight back, the government would then decide to sign a peace treaty with a tribe – but while doing this, the US Army would be forcing these people on to a small reservation; usually far from where they had lived and on barren land. The treaties were broken time and time again by the US, as they stole more and more of the tribe’s land, eventually leaving the tribe starving or exterminated. With the Army led by General Sheridan, whose mantra was “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”, it is not surprising what happened.
Towards the end, the US government lured Sitting Bull to return to the US under the pretence of an amnesty. They arrest him and he is killed ‘whilst trying to escape’. Following this, many Native Americans flee to try to reach Red Cloud’s Pine Ridge reservation. The Army catches them and attempts to disarm them. One soldier fires a shot and suddenly all the armed soldiers open fire with heavy artillery on the mainly unarmed Native Americans, killing nearly all of them. This took place at Wounded Knee.
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” Black Elk (1863–1950); medicine man, Oglala Sioux