Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Study Guide

Dee Alexander Brown

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee | Quotes


Though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy.

Christopher Columbus, Chapter 1

The Taino people of San Salvador don't look like Europeans. For one thing, they don't wear any clothes. Columbus takes this as a sign of their inherent inferiority to people who do wear clothes, like Europeans. He believes nakedness is a sign of primitiveness. People who wear clothing are therefore more evolved. Columbus expects the Tainos to act like barbarians because they look different from him. Prejudice based on looks and culture is common throughout Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.


The Navahos were not citizens because they were Indians.

Narrator, Chapter 2

American Indians were not granted full United States citizenship until 1928. Prior to this, they were treated as foreign entities, which meant they had to follow U.S. laws when living on land owned by the United States. It also meant they were not afforded the protections of U.S. citizenship, like the right to practice one's own religion. This boils down to the Indians being punished for crimes they commit against American citizens, but American citizens not being punished for crimes they commit against Indians.


The Sioux Indians must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.

Alexander Ramsey, Chapter 3

The policy of Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey about American Indians is echoed by other state leaders throughout Bury My Heart Wounded Knee. They believed it simply wasn't possible for Indians and settlers to live peacefully in close proximity to one another. More than that, they wanted the lands the Indians lived on for their own state or territory. Killing Indians seemed the best solution. It was inexpensive and prevented the "savage" enemy from returning for retribution.


As long as that flag flew above him no soldiers would ever fire upon him.

Narrator, Chapter 4

Commissioner of Indian Affairs Colonel A.B. Greenwood gives Black Kettle a United States flag during a visit to Washington, DC, in 1862. Black Kettle has always tried to be friends with the white man, and he is very proud of this emblem of their friendship. He truly believes white soldiers will recognize the flag's meaning and treat him as an ally, not an adversary. He learns all too soon that this is not the case. Black Kettle might own an American flag, but he and his people are not treated as equals by Americans.


The Indians were compelled by some pagan belief to commit the terrible deeds.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Colonel Henry B. Carrington is horrified by the actions of the Sioux and Cheyennes during the Fetterman massacre. After ambushing and killing 81 soldiers, the Indians disemboweled their enemies, cut off their limbs, and removed their genitals. Carrington thinks this practice is culturally unique to the Indians and takes it as a sign of their savagery. He doesn't realize they were imitating the actions of the white soldiers who massacred Southern Cheyennes at Sand Creek the previous year. Brown says in warfare, as in life, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


The Chiricahuas transferred their hatred of the Spaniards to the Americans.

Narrator, Chapter 9

The Chiricahua Apaches maintain a good relationship with the white men and their government until three of Cochise's male relatives are killed by U.S. soldiers out of revenge.

The interesting part about this pronouncement is that there had to be a tangible reason for them to hate Americans. The Europeans who colonized America and their descendants disliked the Indians before the Indians even did anything worth disliking. The Chiricahuas don't like Americans because of their actions, but Americans don't like Indians because of how different Indians are from them.


The Modoc Law is dead; the white man's law rules the country now.

Alfred Meacham, Chapter 10

Alfred Meacham and John Fairchild have a frank talk about peace with Modoc chief Captain Jack. They try to make him understand the white man's laws and the fact that Modoc law can't exist at the same time. So, while the Modocs who killed 12 white settlers must be punished, it is out of the question for the settlers who attacked the Modocs to face the same fate. Indians have no rights under the white man's law, and they are strictly prohibited from seeking justice for friends and family who have been wronged.


Defiance of the white man's way was ... intolerable to authorities on the emptying reservation.

Narrator, Chapter 11

The Kiowas, Comanches, and Kwahadi Cheyennes aren't causing any problems in Palo Duro Canyon. Although they said they were waging a war on the white man for killing the buffalo, they are really living peacefully in the canyon with the animals they are trying to protect.

This makes General Sherman even angrier than if they had been shooting settlers. The Indians in the canyon are blatantly rejecting life on the reservation, which to Sherman is a rejection of the white man's way of life and his authority to enforce it. He goes after the Kiowas, Comanches, and Kwahadi Cheyennes not because they are causing problems but because they refuse to assimilate as ordered.


What have we done that the white people want us to stop?

Sitting Bull, Chapter 12

Sitting Bull asks this question after American Horse's village is burned to the ground after the Battle of Little Bighorn. He wants to know why he and his people are being chased all over the country. They haven't done anything wrong, at least from his standpoint. Every exchange of gunfire or act of destruction on the part of the Indians has been done in the name of retaliation or protection.

But this quote is also an accurate summary of the Indian Wars in general. The Indians don't understand why their people are being killed in the name of territorial expansion. They believe land belongs to everyone. Their crime, in this instance, is their existence.


I believed General Miles, or I never would have surrendered.

Joseph, Chapter 13

Nez Percé chief Joseph says this to assorted politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, DC, while asking for his people to be set free. General Miles promised Joseph his people's lives would be spared and they would be sent to live on the reservation if they surrendered, but that's not what happened. The Wallowa Nez Percés and their allies were sent first to a prison camp in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, before their relocation to Indian Territory.

This is yet another example of promises representatives of the U.S. government never intended to keep. They'll say anything to get the Indians to cooperate and then immediately go back on their word.


It was their duty to save the young people ... from being blotted off the earth.

Narrator, Chapter 14

Cheyenne chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf are concerned about the future of their people after the Northern Cheyennes are moved to Indian Territory. Their followers are dying of illness and starvation, and if they don't do something about it, the entire tribe will be wiped out. They can see how close their tribe is to extinction, and they must make the decision about how to move forward. They aren't concerned about their own lives—the most important thing is that the younger people live.


God intends to give the country to the white people, and we are to die.

Standing Bear, Chapter 15

Standing Bear says this to General Crook after his arrest in Omaha. He has come to terms with the fact that his people, and all American Indians, are marked for death. For some reason, this strikes a chord in Crook, who previously reveled in capturing and killing Indians. Standing Bear's acceptance of his situation turns Crook from an enemy into an ally.


The Indians seem to consider the advance of the troops as a declaration of ... war.

Nathan C. Meeker, Chapter 16

Indian agent Nathan C. Meeker doesn't understand a single thing about American Indians. He is desperate to get the Utes at his agency to adopt the white man's ways, and he becomes furious when they refuse. When he calls in military reinforcements, it is to scare them into submission, and he is genuinely shocked when the Utes interpret it as a sign of aggression. He doesn't have a clue as to why they would be threatened by the soldiers' arrival. He is unable to comprehend the Indian's satisfaction with their current lifestyle, or their fear of having it taken away.


It would be more manly to die fighting than to be thus destroyed.

George Crook, Chapter 17

General Crook has private talks with several Apaches when he returns to the Southwest in 1882, and he discovers how little hope they have of things improving in Arizona. They would rather die honorably than be starved to death or have their weapons taken away before being ambushed.

These sentiments are shared by Indians all over the American West. There is no point in living if it has to be according to the white man's rules. To the Indians, it makes more sense to die fighting for the survival of their entire way of life than to stay alive just to follow in the steps of the white man.


Why should not the Indians have the same privilege?

Valentine McGillycuddy, Chapter 18

Dr. McGillycuddy is called to Standing Rock to help figure out what to do about the Ghost Dancers. The government wants to shut them down out of fear they are performing some pagan or demonic ritual that will lead to an uprising or cause harm to white people.

McGillycuddy doesn't see it this way. He argues that white people engaging in religious ceremonies would not face intervention by the U.S. Army, so the Indians shouldn't either. He is right—freedom of religion is protected by the Bill of Rights. But this is not how government officials see things in the 19th century. Indians weren't American citizens—some people didn't even think they were human. Any unusual activity was automatically perceived as a threat.

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