Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Review


So, I am going to start writing (very brief) "book reports" on some of the books I read. Because I take the metro, I am able to read about an hour a day and that hour adds up. Thanks to cheap used book stores and Shannon O'Neill (works at a publisher = galley copies), I am able to pour through books. It's actually nice to have time for this purpose.
I just finished "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". I picked it up, among other dog-eared paperbacks, at a cheap book store in Eugene, OR. The book is a history of Indians in the United States from approximately 1850 to 1890. We get a truncated 1492-1850 recap that includes Columbus and King Philip's War against the New England Colonist, but the majority of the book takes place between the American Civil War and the last "great" Indian battle of Wounded Knee. We learn in elementary school how horrible the US government was to the various American Indian tribes, but why was that the case?

Manifest destiny is the simple answer, but after reading the book it's more than that. For millennia, there were hundreds (thousands?) of Indian tribes scattered along and within the vast American frontier. Americans poured west like a (insert analogy here). Treaties were made between man and tribe, but for the most part new, racist, settlers found reasons to engage often peaceful Indians and when the Indian rebuked, the government cracked down. Sometimes it was reversed. Slaughter ensued, between both sides, and Indians were either driven off or forcefully removed and then a new treaty/agreement was signed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...until eventually the population was essentially squeezed out and liquidated. Also, treaties and pacts were often misunderstood or lost in translation as natives attempted to understand English treaty vernacular or duped by translators. And, we moved west...and further west. Until we reached the sea. Then we turned our heads back east and mopped the remaining populations up. 

How could this ALL have been avoided? American Indians should have created a pan-Indian front, put their foot down in the sand and stated "thou shall not pass". Of course this is easier said than done. Communication in the olden' days, especially between American Indians, was not very sophisticated. A pan-Indian Army, one that contained all the tribes at a certain line of demarcation, might have been able to halt the American Army...for a little while. They were great fighters and had the home field advantage, but their numbers paled in comparison to the white western-marching army. Average, especially eastern, Americans warmed to the idea of Indians post-Custer, and more and more seemed to want the US to recognize tribes and grant them the land they had always desired. The other problem was that low-level officials were making treaties that those in Washington weren't going to abide to. Then these treaties were broken. The highest authority, including the president(s) should have enforced the laws attributed in the frontiers and held both expansionist violators and officials accountable...instead we simply repeated the same mistakes and atrocities until 1890, when we cut down Lakotas with Hotchkiss guns in the snow. 

Anyways, it was a good read if you want to learn about how the west was really won.

4 comments:

Towpath said...

Jake, have you read Guns, Germs and Steel? The author is nat geo explorer in residence, Jared Diamond.

KLIM said...

I know Jared (not personally, but have seen him) and I've picked this book up before...but couldn't get through it. I know its a good one, but I just wasn't getting into it...

YF said...

are we going to have a Red-Fox book club anytime soon?

KLIM said...

No we are not