Dee Brown’s 1970 modern classic, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, is subtitled “An Indian History of the American West.” It tells the history of United States growth and expansion into the West from the point of view of Native Americans.
This book was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be “polemical” and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. “If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it,” the official stated.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a history of 19th century Native Americans and expresses a Native American perspective on the injustices and betrayals committed by the U.S. government. Brown describes Native Americans’ displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States federal government. The government’s dealings are portrayed as a continuing effort to destroy the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples. Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor is often considered a 19th-century precursor to Dee Brown’s writing.
Before the publication of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown had become well-versed in the history of the American Frontier. Having grown up in Arkansas, he developed a keen interest in the American West, and during his graduate education at George Washington University and his career as a librarian for both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he wrote numerous books on the subject.Brown’s works maintained a focus on the American West, but ranged anywhere from western fiction to histories to even children’s books. Many of Brown’s books revolved around similar Native American topics, including his Showdown at Little Bighorn (1964) and The Fetterman Massacre (1974).
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was first published in 1970 to strong reviews. Published at a time of increasing American Indian activism, the bestseller has never gone out of print and has been translated into 17 languages. The title is taken from the final phrase of a 20th-century poem titled “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet. The full quotation, “I shall not be here/I shall rise and pass/Bury my heart at Wounded Knee,” appears at the beginning of Brown’s book. Although Benet’s poem is not about the plight of Native Americans, Wounded Knee was the location of the last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and American Indians.