Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

“What’s in a name? Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, published 50 years ago, is still a widely read book on the American Indians. The title of the book comes from the last line of Stephen Vincent Benét’s poem, “American Names,” published in the Yale Review in 1927, about someone who finds his ancestral European attachments fading as his native American attachments grow:” from the book reviews written by Christopher Flannery – for the Claremont Review of Books.

O how time changes the past!

Flannery supplies the relevant part of Benét’s poem in his piece but I think the poem in its entirety should be seen. It certainly would not be allowed to be published at Yale today as our guardians of thought and speech now suppress anything they do not like.

I have fallen in love with American names, 
The sharp names that never get fat, 
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims, 
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat, 
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat. 

Seine and Piave are silver spoons, 
But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn, 
There are English counties like hunting-tunes 
Played on the keys of a postboy’s horn,

But I will remember where I was born. 

I will remember Carquinez Straits, 
Little French Lick and Lundy’s Lane, 
The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates 
And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane. 
I will remember Skunktown Plain. 

I will fall in love with a Salem tree 
And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,

I will get me a bottle of Boston sea 
And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues. 
I am tired of loving a foreign muse. 

Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard, 
Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman’s Oast, 
It is a magic ghost you guard 
But I am sick for a newer ghost, 
Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post. 

Henry and John were never so 
And Henry and John were always right? 
Granted, but when it was time to go 
And the tea and the laurels had stood all night, 
Did they never watch for Nantucket Light? 

I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse. 
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea. 
You may bury my body in Sussex grass, 
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy. 
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass. 
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

Stephen Vincent Benet

So – Dee Brown wrote a best-seller in 1971 full of white guilt over the treatment of the American Indians by America but titles his book from a poem that has little respect for American blacks.

For another perspective on Dee Brown I include this article from SFGate.com

Dee Brown — historian, wrote ‘Wounded Knee’

By Douglas Martin, New York Times Dec. 16, 2002Updated: July 9, 2018 8:18 p.m.

Dee Brown, whose Homeric vision of the American West, meticulous research and masterly storytelling produced the 1970 best-seller “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West,” died at his home in Little Rock, Ark., on Thursday. He was 94.

Mr. Brown was a librarian who wrote books after his children had gone to bed when “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” was published. The book, which sold more than 5 million copies, told a grim, revisionist tale of the ruthless mistreatment and eventual displacement of the Indian by white conquerors from 1860 to 1890.

Some historians have since taken a more moderate view, but before Mr. Brown’s portrayal of white beastliness and Indian saintliness entered the public consciousness, the history of Western conquest was usually told from a much more Eurocentric point of view, a perspective echoed by countless Hollywood movies.

Peter Farb, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1971, summed up Mr. Brown’s new interpretation: “The Indian wars were shown to be the dirty murders they were.”

The racism and wanton carelessness of whites and the betrayals and killings they perpetrated were relentless themes for Mr. Brown, who was white himself. His vivid terms are the ones used by Indians at the time: they called General Custer “Hard Backsides” and white soldiers “maggots.”

“What surprised me most was how much the Indians believed the white man over and over again,” Mr. Brown said in an interview with The New York Post in 1971. “Their trust in authority was amazing. They just never seemed to believe that anyone could lie.” He said that over the two years he banged out the book on the typewriter he did not stop using until he was past 90, he tried to imagine himself as a Native American.

“I’m a very, very old Indian, and I’m remembering the past,” he said. “And I’m looking toward the Atlantic Ocean.”

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” had a powerful impact on Indians themselves.

Its final scene takes place in 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, where 300 Sioux men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry. Young Sioux returned to Wounded Knee in 1973 to protest federal Indian policies and had a renewed confrontation with the government.

In many of his 29 fiction and nonfiction books, Mr. Brown strove to see things from a new, often contrarian perspective. And contrary to most people’s expectations, he was not a Westerner. His history of railroads in the West was an expose of their treacherous dealings, and his book on the women of the region sought to dispel what he called the “sunbonnet myth” of the stoic pioneer women.

Dorris Alexander Brown, who from early in his life preferred to be called Dee, was born on Feb. 29, 1908. After his father died when he was 5, he lived with his mother, Lulu, a brother and two sisters in Ouachita County, Ark., where his mother worked as a store clerk.

His grandmother’s father had known Davy Crockett, and she regaled Mr. Brown with tales about him. By the time Mr. Brown entered first grade, he had read Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain. He went to cowboy movies with Indian friends. When he asked one what he thought of the cinematic portrayal of Indians, the friend replied, “Those aren’t real Indians.”

When he was about 15, he and a cousin scraped together enough money to buy a small hand press and print a neighborhood tabloid. He wrote tough editorials,

including one that condemned the booming local oil business for “assassinating” the environment.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Brown worked as a printer and reporter in Harrison, Ark., and then entered Arkansas State Teachers College as a history major, working in the college library.

He earned library degrees and worked as a government librarian before and after World War II; his military service was as a librarian, and he eventually joined the library at the University of Illinois, becoming a professor. He remained there until his retirement in 1972.

Mr. Brown’s third-place award in a short-story contest caught the attention of literary agents in the 1930s, and he received a contract to write a satiric novel about the Washington bureaucracy. But the offer was withdrawn because of the political climate during World War II, and instead he wrote a novel about Davy Crockett in two months.

He and a colleague, Martin Schmidt, teamed up after the war to produce three books using photographs from the National Archives: “Fighting Indians of the West,” “Trail-Driving Days” and “The Settlers’ West.”

After several more nonfiction books, he turned to novels in the mid-1950s. He wrote 11; the last, “The Way to a Bright Star,” was published in 1998, when he was 90.

But Mr. Brown said nonfiction was always his first love, even as some professional historians criticized what they called his willingness to sacrifice precision for pizzazz. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, he responded like a librarian: “I have documents for everything in the book.”

In 1934, he married Sara Baird Stroud, who died last year. He is survived by a son, Lt. Colonel Mitchell Brown of Sacramento; a daughter, Linda Luise Brown; a sister, Corinne Vanlandingham of Ellijay, Ga.; and one grandson.

Mr. Brown was a hefty six-footer with a relaxed confidence whom people sometimes compared to John Wayne. His love for the West certainly seemed as large and pure as that in Wayne’s films. In “The Westerners,” published in 1974, he wrote:

“The West is a tragedy relieved by interludes of comedy. It is a tale of good and evil, a morality play of personified abstractions. Only an epic poet, a Homer, could encompass the American West and sing its essence into one compact volume.”

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