Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – Classics Club, Back to the Classics

The Rose Garden cover

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown was first published in the UK way back in 1971 but the copy I read, in a very tightly bound and therefore difficult to read paperback edition was published in 1975 which is when Jack bought it, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since then, so I put it on my Classics Club list, to encourage me to get on with it. I also read it for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge.

What can I say other than I’m really glad that I read this book, but it was so depressing. The American politicians of the day were so duplicitous, cruel and greedy and the First Nation Indians were so trusting, honest, dignified and forgiving – it was only ever going to end in tears for them.

Hunted like animals all over the country, by men who were no better than gangsters, whether in uniform or not and who conveniently didn’t even see the Indians as human beings. It was the Europeans who originally started scalping people, but the Indians who got blamed for it.

With settlers, gold rushers, corrupt government land agents and soldiers seeking glory it was only a matter of time before the First Nation people were either killed fairly quickly, or slowly by starvation as they were corralled in reservations (concentration camps) which had such poor land they couldn’t grow crops and all the animals had been frightened off or killed by hunters for their skins.

I must admit that after reading this book I’ll never see American settlers in quite the same light again, although to be fair they were also at times the victims of corrupt land agents. They must have known that they were usurping the original inhabitants of the land though.

It’s very true to say that history is written by the victors, which is why so many people believe that the American War of Independence was about a tax on tea. It wasn’t, it was about the fact that the British government had promised the First Nation people that they wouldn’t expand westward into their territory. That was something that the American politicians and businessmen were desperate to do – for profit of course. So they had to get rid of the British to get on with their expansion plans. A people with not much more than bows and arrows plus a strong tradition of caring for their land in what we nowadays see as a conservationist fashion just didn’t fit in to the American way.

This is an absolutely heartbreaking read with entire tribes being wiped out, ethnic cleansing is the euphemism now, but I’m very glad that I got around to it at last.

John Steinbeck – Voice of America

I don’t know about you, but I often miss TV programmes which I would definitely have watched, if only I had looked at the TV schedules. So at 10.30 last night I realised that I had missed a BBC documentary about John Steinbeck and luckily I had time to watch it on the iPlayer this morning because if I don’t view it quickly then I won’t get around to it at all. Voice of America with Melvyn Bragg will be fascinating to anyone interested in John Steinbeck’s work or American history.

I looked it up on You Tube TV and according to that, there are ways of watching it if you can’t view it through the iPlayer. It’s well worth giving it a go anyway!

Salute to Adventurers by John Buchan

This book was first published in 1915 and I hadn’t even heard of it before my husband pulled it out from the middle of a huge pile of books on the floor at Voltaire and Rousseau Bookshop in Glasgow.

The book was republished in 2003 by The Nautical and Aviation Company of America, they have reprinted a few other Buchan books. I think they were interested in this one because it tells the story of the colonization of Tidewater, Virginia.

Andrew Garvald, a young Scottish student was walking to Edinburgh to start his studies at the university when he has the misfortune to get lost in a heavy hill fog. Despite asking for directions from a young girl (Elspeth) he gets lost again and becomes embroiled with a religious troublemaker and his followers. A troop of the King’s Dragoons rounds them all up and they end up in gaol. As the colonies were in dire need of people it was common for any miscreants to be transported to America or Australia but Andrew escapes this fate with the help of Elspeth who manages to persuade the powers that be that Andrew had nothing to do with the religious rabble.

Andrew decides to take up business in Virginia on his uncle’s behalf when he sees how some fellow Scots have prospered there. After reaching James Town he quickly discovers that the English merchants have all business opportunities tied up and everything is price fixed by them.

The book is fairly anti-English and I did wonder if that was why it was reprinted in America, I found it amusing anyway.

Determined to succeed and overcome any prejudice, Andrew comes up against various sorts of American Indians and the book becomes a boys’ adventure story.

It does has a very similar feel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing, particularly Kidnapped and Catriona, with a young man having to fight against adversity and a lot of running around on hillsides. The only difference is that heather doesn’t feature in the American landscape and it isn’t raining all the time.

I quite enjoy an old fashioned adventure story from time to time and this one is interesting because of the different setting and history.

I started reading John Buchan because his father was a minister near where I live and so he was a bit of a local lad and his sister the writer O. Douglas was born in the town.

I had no idea that he had such a high flying career until recently and it amazes me that he had any time for writing at all.