Dorris Alexander "Dee" Brown is dead; he passed away at the age of 94 on December 12, 2002. Over the course of more than sixty years he published about thirty books, mostly about the American West. He will be remembered for one of these -- the beautifully titled 1971 collection "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee".

This book is a collection of historical studies of bad things done to North American Indians by white settlers, not necessarily because of malice, but because the number and (relative) wealth of the newcomers eclipsed the native population in the late 19th century. The stories are typically told from the Indians' perspective. General George Custer, for example, is referred to in the book by his Native American name, "Hard Backsides," and tribes are shown analyzing manifest destiny in a sophisticated manner.

The American public was ready for such a revisionist interpretation of American history, and the tone of popular media coverage of Indian tribes has shifted to a more more sympathetic tone as well. It would be unrealistic to say that Brown's book created this change, but it was an early harbinger of the new approach.

Brown was born in Louisiana and raised in Arkansas. He was a library science graduate of George Washington University and received a master's degree in library science from the University of Illinois.

He was a librarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1934 to 1942 and for the War Department after serving in the army in World War II. From 1948 to 1972, he was an agriculture librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

When "Bury My Heart" was published, many readers assumed that he was of Indian heritage, but in fact he was not. He did however come from a family with deep frontier history (his great-grandmother had known Davy Crockett), and the frontier was real for him, as I think it must be for Larry McMurtry.

"Bury My Heart" has sold more than 5 million copies and has been translated into 15 languages. Brown's other works include "The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West" (1958) and "Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow" (1977), a revisionist history of the U.S. railroads.

Sources: Washington Post Saturday, December 14, 2002
The Economist, December 21, 2002

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