The Extinction of a Culture in the North American West

I just finished listening to the Chirp audiobook titled Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian* History of the American West by Dee Brown (1, see my brief review). For this book, the author uses as much of the words of the Native Americans themselves as possible, of course in a translated form so we don’t have to know all their languages. I found this approach a powerful way to give me, the reader, an understanding of the plight of those people to keep hunting and other practices of various Souix (grouped by their language as Dakota, Lakota and Nakota; 2), Apache, Comanches, Navahos, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Klamaths, Modocs, Kiowas, Nez Percés, Poncas, and Utes. Through these conflicts these Native American tribes had their chiefs, warriors, and many of their women and children killed, or they were rounded up and put on reservations. This occurred from around 1860 to 1890 when the Wounded Knee massacre of 300 of 350 Minneconjous and Hunkpapa Lakota Souix men, women and children were killed after a gun went off during a dispute with Black Coyote, a deaf Minneconjous.

I’m disturbed by the number of times the chiefs were not listened to by representatives of the United States, and the tendency of the United States to not only fail to enforce treaties protecting the land agreed to be set aside for various of these Native American people, but also continue to break these treaties when pressured by political necessities driven by the settlers who wanted to use the land. Time and again a chief would point out that they did not want violence, they just wanted to be able to use their land for hunting, that they had never made an agreement that they did not keep, and never lied. I’m sure the press got it differently, giving their readers the impression that it was the Native Americans who were violent and lying.

Consider the plight of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne. The Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 granted the Lakota Sioux and the northern Cheyenne a reservation including the Black Hills and what eventually became Montana and Wyoming. Both Native Americans and settlers could use this territory, but government officials, i.e., U.S. troops, were not allowed. In 1874 gold was discovered in the Black Hills, so the U.S. made an attempt to buy this land from the Sioux, but when they could not even get the chiefs to come to negotiate, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Q. Smith recommended a war be started and General Phillip Sheridan ordered in February 1876 campaigns against the “hostiles” in the winter when they would be most vulnerable. No hostility had been initiated by the Sioux, they just didn’t show up when asked to negotiate for sale of the land. The result was the Battle of Powder River on March 17, 1876 in Montana Territory, U.S.A., causing the Cheyenne to lose most of their property and forcing them to walk north in weather so cold that many women and children froze to death. This battle strengthened the resolve of the Sioux not to sell the land, and initiated the Great Sioux War of 1876 which culminated in the Battle of Little Bighorn, i.e., Custer’s Last Stand. (1, 2, 3)

Eventually, independent of the efforts of Sitting Bull and his contemporaries, most of the land originally ceded to the Sioux in the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 was replaced with several smaller reservations (1) in mostly in western South Dakota including Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Rosebud (see figure below), as well as several much small reservations further to the east.

The shrinking territory of the Sioux and Cheyenne people. (4)

In looking at the map, I realized that my mother’s maternal grandfather was settling in the area called the Great Sioux Reservation in a town called Custer, South Dakota in the Black Hills, just northwest of Pine Ridge. I have a homestead document that he signed in 1886, before Wounded Knee happened in 1890 on the southwestern part of Pine Ridge. I’ll have to do some digging to see if there are any stories about this that my relatives may know about and publish this story in some future blog.

I’d recommend Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to every person who considers themselves an American. It’s a chapter of our own history that we must know about in respect to Native Americans. If you’d just like a quick review of some of the stories covered check out “Study 18 Terms | Bury My Heart At… Flashcards” (5).


* Indian is used in the book and title referenced here (1) instead of our current accepted name for these people as Native Americans, which I use throughout this blog instead.


  1. Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970.
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica. “Sioux | Tribes, Culture, Battles, & Facts.” Accessed April 7, 2020.
  3. “Battle of Powder River.” In Wikipedia, January 29, 2020.
  4. “Sioux Indians.” Accessed April 7, 2020.
  5. Quizlet. “Study 18 Terms | Bury My Heart At… Flashcards.” Accessed April 7, 2020.

Author: T.P. Caruso

Retired from a healthcare and biomedical research career and now enjoying connections with anyone interested in history, geneology, healthcare, leadership or consciousness.

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