THE FIRST BOOK THAT SHATTERED PREVIOUSLY-HELD NOTIONS AND OPENED MY EYES:
When Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown came out in 1971, during the Vietnam War, I read it right away because my children (in school in Mill Valley, California) were being urged by their teachers to read it. It had a profound effect on me and my family. Up to that point I had read my share of American history, but somehow nothing that included such a heart-stopping jolt of reality. It certainly opened my eyes and changed forever the way I perceive American history and the manner in which it is delivered to most of our elementary and high school students. I don’t think that I was exactly naive prior to reading Bury My Heart but I certainly had not given much thought or attention to exactly what went on with the “settling of the west”.
Having been raised in Texas in the 40’s and 50’s my perception of the American Indian was drawn largely from historical novels and cowboy films in which the Indians were portrayed as mostly bad, who attacked the circled wagons of the mostly good white pioneers. My grandparents had souvenirs and old photos taken during visits to Indian reservations in the 1920’s and my feeling when looking at these as a child was that it would be great to see a reservation someday (a form of entertainment). No one talked to me about the life of the Indian as a real and horrific journey after the white man came to stay. Perhaps even after visiting reservations my grandparents were not aware of the profoundly sad history of the American Indian.
The fact that I read this book during the Vietnam War years doubled the effect on my life by enforcing a permanent sense of cynicism and doubt of government, politicians, written history and the media.