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Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee Thesis Statements

In his book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, we can actually find author Dee Brown's thesis clearly stated in the introduction. In the introduction, he states that many myths were generated about conquering the American West, and these myths were spoken by folkssuch as "fur traders, mountain men, steamboat pilots, goldseekers, gamblers," etc. These myths have helped generate the vast number of history books...

In his book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, we can actually find author Dee Brown's thesis clearly stated in the introduction. In the introduction, he states that many myths were generated about conquering the American West, and these myths were spoken by folks such as "fur traders, mountain men, steamboat pilots, goldseekers, gamblers," etc. These myths have helped generate the vast number of history books that have been written on the subject. The one voice on the subject that hasn't been heard is that of the American Indian, or as he phrases it, "Only occasionally was the voice of an Indian heard, and then more often than not it was recorded by the pen of a white man." Hence, we can see his main purpose is to express the voice of the American Indian.

But Brown continues from there to speak of all the ways in which the Indians' voices were recorded, though not always accurately, during the conquest of the West. For example, their voices were recorded through interviews for newspapers and through interpreters translating as they spoke in public meetings. He importantly notes, "Most Indian leaders spoke freely and candidly in councils with white officials, and as they became more sophisticated in such matters during the 1870s and 1880s, they demanded the right to choose their own interpreters and recorders." He further states that in writing this book, he used "all of these sources of almost forgotten oral history," and he did so in order to capture the "conquest of the American West as the victims experienced it" and to give readers a "clearer understanding of what the American Indian is, by knowing what he was."

Hence, we can expand our point above to say that his purpose is to capture the American Indian's voice in order to give the reader a better understanding of the Native American by looking at who the Indian was prior to and during the conquest. So, yes, while painting the atrocities of how the Native Americans were treated is a part of his purpose, it's definitely not his main purpose; that's more of a secondary point. His primary point is to express the voice of the Indian in order to show who he is.

One example that illustrates his main message can be seen in his recording of the voice of Maneulito, chief of the Navajos. For years, Maneulito led warriors in a resistance against the US military, which planned to force the Navajo people to relocate from what is now Arizona to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, a relocation that became known as the Long Walk. Brown records Maneulito as saying he refuses to leave "My God and my mother ... I was born here. I shall remain. I have nothing to lose but my life ... I have never done anything wrong to the Americans or the Mexicans. I have never robbed. If I am killed, innocent blood will be shed." ("Chapter Two: The Long Walk of the Navahos") Through this speech alone, we can hear the devotion, the eloquence, and the heart and mind that Brown is trying to capture.

Brown attempts to explain the plight of modern-day American Indians, too often the victims of poverty and hopelessness and often presented as caricatures, by showing what these proud people once were. If they appeared naïve in their dealings with white people, it was only because they were left with little choice. Their land would be taken anyway.

Conflict between native tribes and Europeans began almost immediately upon the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. As Brown notes, word of European barbarism was quickly outpaced by the spread of conquest. Within three centuries, white settlers had reached the Mississippi River, pushing native tribes before them.

Brown has used the period between 1860 and 1890 to illustrate the conflict between native peoples and the U.S. military. Each chapter presents events that occurred during specific years within that era, as viewed by individual tribes or tribal leaders. The result is a long series of descriptions, often depressing, of cruelties inflicted on innocent people.

The Sand Creek affair was typical of the dealings between American Indians and the U.S. military. Motavato (Black Kettle), as chief of the Southern Cheyenne, recognized the futility in fighting the white people and was willing to make every effort to promote peace. Just prior to the start of the Civil War, Black Kettle agreed to settle his people in a small region near Sand Creek, in present-day Colorado. In return, they would be allowed freedom of movement to hunt buffalo. For some years, peace was kept. Although distrustful of the Cheyenne, Major Edward Wynkoop, the commanding officer at nearby Fort Lyon, was at least willing to deal honestly with them; over time, he developed a strong respect for the tribe. Yet, the author uses Wynkoop to illustrate the duplicity inherent in the white people’s dealings. Because Wynkoop had become “too friendly,” he was removed as commander. Colonel John Chivington had no such compunction. Leading a black regiment of cavalry, Chivington attacked the native settlement along Sand Creek in November, 1864. Black Kettle’s tepee was in the center of the camp, an American flag flying above it. Before Chivington ended the rampage, more than three hundred men, women, and children, including Black Kettle’s wife, had been killed. Even Kit Carson, no friend of American Indians, was sickened by what he called a massacre. Black Kettle himself escaped, only to be killed several years later in a similar attack led by George Armstrong Custer.

Brown moves his story from event to event in similar fashion. Outnumbered, with little recourse, the American Indians rarely triumphed. Only Red Cloud, the chief of the Oglala Sioux in areas of Montana and South Dakota, could be said to have won a peace. The U.S. Army had built several forts in the region soon after the Civil War to protect settlers moving through the area, a trail that passed through Sioux hunting grounds. In what was called Red Cloud’s War, the Sioux besieged the forts until, in 1868, the U.S. government agreed to abandon them. Ironically, the peace with Red Cloud would endure.

Yet, as Brown continually notes, such a peace was an exception. More typical was the unrelenting pressure of western movement, pushing the native tribes until there was no longer anywhere to go.

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