Book Review: Saga of the Sioux: An Adaptation from Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee


by Dee Brown & Dwight Jon Zimmerman

New York: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2011. Pp. xvi, 208. Illus., maps, append., index. $18.99. ISBN: 0805093648

In Saga of the Sioux, Dwight Jon Zimmerman, author, among others, of Tecumseh: Shooting Star of the Shawnee, offers an abridged version of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown’s popular synthesis of nineteenth-century Indian history first issued in 1970.  Rather than replicate Brown’s original text in its entirety, the author has chosen to limit his discussion to the Sioux, who are perhaps the most familiar of all native peoples. 

Tracing Sioux history from 1862 to the present, the author begins with the 1862 uprising of the Minnesota Santee (cousins to the Lakota, who lived farther west) and then moves to the post-Civil War era.  Subsequent chapters deal with Red Cloud’s War, the “Fetterman Massacre”, the 1868 treaty of Fort Laramie, and the invasion of the Black Hills by Anglo-American gold prospectors.  Zimmerman places the Battle of the Little Bighorn in its proper context; instead of inflating its significance, he treats it as yet another armed conflict. 

In the final chapters, Zimmerman draws attention to the questionable deaths of native leaders, including Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and offers a brief but balanced account of Wounded Knee.  The book’s conclusion sums up the past century of Lakota history with references to the carving up of communally owned native land into individual allotments, the horrors of the boarding school system, and the work of modern activist organizations. 

Zimmerman has produced an engaging book that has an important purpose.  Yet the work falls short because it relies on Bury My Heart, a dated and melodramatic text.  While the adaptation contains some new material, it does not revise the generalizations and limited assessments of Brown’s book.  Brown acknowledged that government documents held ample evidence of Indian perspectives.  Yet he only consulted widely-available published sources when he wrote his book.  He might have told a different story had he bothered to delve into manuscript collections.  For instance, in the last twenty years, Western military historians have suggested that army officers’ views about Indians are far more complicated than previously imagined. 

Thus, when Zimmerman writes about soldiers, Indian agents, and government officials, he echoes outdated ideas and interpretations.  More important, the adaptation tends to parrot Brown’s narrative of continuing decline.  Young readers should know that the nineteenth-century Sioux were more than the sad victims of oppression.  They mounted a sophisticated and skilled resistance—both military and political—in the face of change.  Still, the author can hardly be criticized for the failings of Brown’s book.  He has produced a fine little volume with vivid photographs, eye-catching maps, and interesting illustrations.  This book is a must for any person, young or old, who is interested in Indians and the West, for although aimed at a junior-high school audience, adults will find it useful.
Reviewer: Catharine R. Franklin   

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