Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee discussion

How to Write an Engaging History

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message 1: by Tpk (last edited Mar 15, 2013 06:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tpk In "Bury My HeartAt Wounded Knee," Brown uses excellent descriptive detail to create a very engaging history (I'm thinking of his character descriptions.) Where else in Brown's book has anyone noticed that Brown can really pull you in? Also, do any of you know about any more histories that are written as personally and as engagingly as Brown's?

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Authors Otto Scott, Paul Johnson and David McCullough are some of my favorite historians, their books are easy to read and quite interesting.

Daniel I very much enjoyed "I will Fight No More Forever" as well as the Bounty Trilogy. Very engaging.

Colleen Browne Verity- I love McCullough's writing as well. I must admit that I have never heard of Otto Scott and while I know the name Paul Johnson, I cannot connect him to any work. What did these two historians write? Other highly readible historians are Doris Kearns Goodwin and Lawrence Goldstone. Goldstone has delved into historical fiction as well and anyone with any interest in medieval history will love his books.

message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 16, 2013 10:50AM) (new)

Otto Scott wrote The Secret Six (about John Brown and the abolitionist movement) James I: the Fool as King, Robespierre the Fool as Revolutionary. He also wrote The Great Christian Revolution. Paul Johnson has written a lot, Modern Times, A History of the American People, The Birth of the Modern, Intellectuals, and Creators are some of his books.

Colleen Browne Thanks. I will look for those. I have never read a book on John Brown so I will especially look for that one.

message 7: by Les (new) - rated it 5 stars

Les Wolf After reading several more books on the Plains Indians by highly respected authors, I have come to the conclusion that Dee Brown is strongly biased toward the Indian point of view. Stephen Ambrose in Crazy Horse and Custer, gives a much more balanced account of that period describing the capabilities and limitations of power within both societies with rare skill.
Cecil Woodham-Smith was a marvelous historian who wrote two books which I have read and two which I have yet to read. The Charge of the Light Brigade and The Great Hunger display the great insight of an accomplished scholar and are nicely seasoned with little-known facts that often glitter like rare jewels.
She also wrote a book on Queen Victoria and one on Florence Nightingale.
I agree with the comment on McCullough. I'm currently reading John Adams (and will be for awhile; 656 pgs.).

Colleen Browne Les wrote: "After reading several more books on the Plains Indians by highly respected authors, I have come to the conclusion that Dee Brown is strongly biased toward the Indian point of view. Stephen Ambrose..."

Les- Your characterization of Dee Brown as being "strongly biased" toward the Indian point of view is a bit deceptive since it implies that it was inaccurate. As a Native American, he certainly looks at his history from their point of view but his facts are accurate. I am not sure what other books you have read but I suspect the majority were written by "Anglos". It is interesting that you don't assume that they are biased. Stephen Ambrose was a good source. He lived in my own Montana, so he is a favorite here but his work on Lewis and Clark, "Undaunted Courage" is probably the best book on the topic. He also wrote Band of Brothers on which the movie was based.

As for Cecil Woodham Smith, your comment about its little known facts glittering like rare jewels is a very strange description. The Great Hunger, for those who may not be aware, is a history of the great potato famine of the 19th Century. The Famine was the seminal event in modern Irish history where over a third of the population either perished or immigrated. My family lived through it so maybe that is why I find your characterization a bit curious. I also lived in Ireland for many years so my sense of it might be a bit stronger than that of many Americans. It is an excellent read, considered the best book on the Famine, and rightfully so. As you inferred, it gives careful consideration of British policy and exposes the harsh and uncaring views that British govt officials held about the Irish. I have read a lot on the Famine and if someone asked me for one book to read on it, I would recommend Woodham-Smith's book.

Finally, although John Adams may seem rather long, it is a quick read because of McCullough's writing skill. When you have finished it, you might check out "Truman" which is also long but a very rewarding read. McCullough has an uncanny ability to write in a manner that leaves his readers thinking that he was an eye witness to his subjects life. When he wrote about Trumans experiences in WWI, it seemed that he had to be fighting alongside Truman. I have read many of McCullough's books and have yet to come across one that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. Mornings on Horseback is about TR's childhood and it is beautifully written. 1776 is about exactly what it's title says. There are many others that I have enjoyed. His latest book, The Greater Journey is sitting on my bookshelves but I haven't gotten to it yet. Enjoy!

Charles If Brown is "biased" in this book, it's only because he was trying to strip away a century or more of Eurocentric, Manifest Destiny saturated histories of the "Indian Wars" and show things from the Native point of view. Perhaps he could have tried to show the white point of view more thoroughly, but as others on this thread have pointed out, that had already been done, many times over. At this point, perhaps, we're finally getting a truly balanced, and NUANCED view of the whole ugly chapter of our history--one that is still not finished by the way--but Brown's book was a sign of the times, and was much needed. And, as Coleen suggested above, Brown didn't state anything that was untrue...sometimes the facts are so horrific that they seem "biased".

For eminently readable, amazing history, check out "Blood and Thunder" by Hampton Sides. Meticulously researched yet reads like a novel, this book tells the tale of Kit Carson, the Mexican American War and the war on the Navajo, among many other things.

message 10: by Les (last edited Mar 17, 2013 06:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Les Wolf None of us are 'on topic' with regard to the original question posed by 'tpk, who started this thread! I apologize for that, on my part and, also, if I have offended anyone.

I was strongly moved by Dee Brown's book and it was the first in-depth history of the 'opening of the West' which I have read. As mentioned, the character descriptions tell of the honor of the chiefs but seem to rather downplay the acts of the young warriors whom chiefs were often unable to control. The ongoing raids along the Oregon Trail, the stagecoach heists and theft continued in spite of treaty assurances. Brownn deftly ties these events to the atrocities brought upon the Indians by U. S. soldiers. These were acts of revenge upon the intruders.

As Americans we have all certainly benefitted from the transcontinental railroad which Sherman was determined to see built just as we have all benefitted from the Revolutionary War. It's convenient to look back now and say "Look what we did!" Hunting on the open plains as a means of supporting a peoples required a great deal of land and freedom. That way of life could have, perhaps, been protected at less cost than the cost of war. But white settlers wanted land. As Parson John Adams, (the father of our second president) once said, "Land (as an investment) is the only thing that doesn't break and doesn't run away".

Like apparently everyone here, I cheered for Crazy Horse and Red Cloud and I hated Custer after reading this book. But few people realize that Custer risked his life on at least two occasions to walk unarmed into Indian camps to negotiate peace.

The period from the 1840s to the 1880's was a difficult time. The policy was forever shifting as the white population grew. It was dishonest, dirty and shameful.
Sherman shocked Custer on more than one occasion with his cries to exterminate the Sioux and Cheyenne among others. His father's great admiration for Chief Tecumseh gave General Sherman his middle name. So much for honoring your father...

I have to admit though, the Indian traitors certainly inflamed me the most, especially Little Big Man, who betrayed Crazy Horse personally on two occasions - once resulting in his being seriously wounded and later resulting in his death. It has been said that the 7th Cavalry never could have caught up with the Plains Indians without the aid of Indian scouts, especially the Crow.

I won't go into the Indian weaknesses for white goods and it's contribution to the downfall of the red man.

Stephen Ambrose suggests, at one point in his book, that the Indian tribes of the Great Plains missed a golden opportunity during the Civil War. When the best of the soldiers were busy fighting each other, they could have easily defeated the buffoons that were sent to fight them and burned the forts. But it was well nigh impossible for anyone to unite the tribes, with the exception of Crazy Horse, an Oglala Sioux, in June of 1876...

Many excellent suggestions for further reading.

I'm an amateur geneologist Colleen, so I often think of facts as 'rare jewels' esp. those that require a lot of 'digging' to find.

Have several friends from Montana, one a third cousin from Stevensville. The other I work with here in Michigan, both heavily into geneology.

message 11: by Stephen (last edited Mar 21, 2013 08:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephen Palmer Dee Brown's book is the truth.

'Western/cowboy' films are lies.

Robert Hays Although there are some errors of fact in Bury My Heart, the work on the whole is an accurate and compelling account of the treatment of Native Americans. Brown wasn't writing fiction. Contemporary accounts in the New York Times--not nearly the leading paper then that it is now--bear out the tragic story. The Times had more than a thousand editorials (editorials then were long and comprehensive reports) on what it called "the Indian Problem" in the period 1860-1900. Some told tragic stories worse than anything in Dee Brown. I've written some on this, myself, and learned through my own research that the problems were generally far worse than we could imagine.

message 13: by Les (last edited May 17, 2013 07:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Les Wolf "Brown wasn't writing fiction" but Brown was certainly selective in his choice of material and that was simply the point I was trying to make in my initial comment regarding the "pro-Indian" proclivities of the work.
My wife is of French/English/Pottawatamie ancestry. I loved the book.

message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Just briefly. 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' by Dee Brown is one of the most heart breaking historical novels i have read.
I am part Hopi Indian, raised as a European in New Zealand. My great grandmother was a full blooded Native American.
I found this book hard to finish but compelling.

message 15: by Kevin (last edited May 15, 2014 06:47AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kevin FWIW Dee Brown was not Native American, let alone a member of the Sioux tribe. Even if he had been a member, that wouldn't make him an expert on Sioux history.

His research in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is superb and I found the book fascinating. That said, I agree with Les that Brown told one side of the story and left a lot of questions unanswered.

I think calling the Indian Wars the Indian Wars is misleading because not all tribes were treated the same by whites and not all tribes treated whites the same. Lumping them all into one category as if the Indians were one unified nation is very misleading.

To answer the original question by Tpk: I absolutely loved Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Truman and The Great Bridge by David McCullough are also excellent.

message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Coleen, where did you get the idea that Brown was a Native American or even Native American descent?

"In 1971 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee became a best-seller. Many readers assumed that Brown was of Indian heritage but he was not. He did come from a family with deep history on the frontier."

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dee_Brow...

Some posts here have stated Brown was biased toward Native Americans & could have written more, giving views of Anglos. Maybe so. That wasn't the impression i was left with. Did some members of various tribes carry out massacres of Anglo settlers? Undoubtedly. I would say this behaviour was entirely justified given their treatment by 'foreign' invaders.
Many Native American tribes were erased from existence, their cultures lost forever. Those that survived were constantly resettled & then moved on when it was found the land they were on contained gold, good grazing or in fact, had any value whatsoever.

Colleen Browne I stand corrected Paul. I read the book many years ago and always assumed that he was Native American. Thanks for the correction.

Kevin Paul wrote "Did some members of various tribes carry out massacres of Anglo settlers? Undoubtedly. I would say this behaviour was entirely justified given their treatment by 'foreign' invaders."

Paul, it seems you're assuming all Indian violence was a response to poor treatment by whites. What about the times when Indians initiated the violence without provocation?? Many tribes were very brutal to anyone outside their nation. I'm not saying whites didn't do very stupid things, but many tribes were violent and they didn't wait for provocation to torture and kill.

message 19: by Kathy (last edited Jun 15, 2014 11:15PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kathy Bury my heart at wounded knee is outstanding history. However, its deliberately "biased"- that's made clear in the book title which states its an American Indian version of western history. These sorts of histories of the "losers" are very important and scarce documents.

You won't find an equivalent book on the European massacres of the Australian aboriginals for example or the Spanish invasion of Andes mostly because the people who were invaded had nobody else recording their history and they had no written language of their own. There are partial later histories available but very little contemporary works from the native point of view.

I've found many authors over the years who have written engaging history - from books like Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World and A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century to The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium - it really depends on what interests you in history how engaged you will be with any history book I find.

message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Kevin wrote: "Paul wrote "Did some members of various tribes carry out massacres of Anglo settlers? Undoubtedly. I would say this behaviour was entirely justified given their treatment by 'foreign' invaders."


What would Americans today do if they were invaded by a foreign invaders, violent or passive? Are America's borders open to all comers today? I'm not anti America by any means, but see early American history from a viewpoint other than your own. Colonization of the Americas by 'outsiders' was inevitable. Colonization & migration took place all across the world, as I'm sure you are aware. It's a natural process & indigenous peoples invariably fared badly, at least initially.

Kevin American borders aren't open because we have borders. Most NA tribes didn't recognize borders the way we do today.

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