Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

December 16, 2002

Dee Brown, 94, whose Homeric vision of the American West, meticulous research and masterly storytelling produced the 1970 best-seller Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, died Thursday at his home in Little Rock, Ark.

Mr. Brown was a librarian who was writing books after his children had gone to bed when his best-seller Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published. The book, which sold more than 5 million copies, told a grim, revisionist tale of the ruthless mistreatment and eventual displacement of the Indians by white conquerors from 1860 to 1890.

Some historians have since taken a more moderate view, but before Mr. Brown's portrayal of white beastliness and Indian saintliness entered the public consciousness, the history of Western conquest was usually told from a much more Eurocentric point of view, a perspective echoed by countless Hollywood movies.

The racism and wanton carelessness of whites and the betrayals and killings they perpetrated were relentless themes for Mr. Brown, who was white. His vivid terms are the ones used by Indians at the time: They called General Custer "Hard Backsides" and white soldiers "maggots."

"What surprised me most was how much the Indians believed the white man over and over again," Mr. Brown said in a 1971 interview with The New York Post in 1971. "Their trust in authority was amazing. They just never seemed to believe that anyone could lie."

He said that over the two years he wrote the book on a typewriter, which he did not stop using until he was past 90, he tried to imagine himself as a Native American.

His book had a powerful impact on Indians. Its final scene takes place in 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota, where 300 Sioux men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry. Young Sioux returned to Wounded Knee in 1973 to protest federal Indian policies and had a 71-day standoff with the police; two Indians were killed then.

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