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On a hot June morning in 1975, a fatal shoot-out took place between FBI agents and American Indians on a remote property near Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Four members of the American Indian Movement were indicted on murder charges for the deaths of two federal agents killed that day. Leonard Peltier, the only one to be convicted, is now serving consecutive life sentences in a federal penitentiary.
Behind this violent chain of events lie issues of great complexity and profound historical resonance. In this controversial book, Peter Matthiessen brilliantly explicates the larger issues behind the shoot-out, including the Lakota Indians' historical struggle with the U.S. government, from Red Cloud's war and Little Big Horn in the nineteenth century to the shameful discrimination that led to the new Indian wars of 1970s.
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PETER MATTHIESSEN has written eight novels, a book of short stories, and, from his career as a naturalist and environmental activist, numerous acclaimed works of nonfiction. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974. He is a founder of the Paris Review and has won two National Book Awards, the 2000 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, and the 2010 Spiros Vergos Prize for Freedom of Expression.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE
“The first solidly documented account of the U.S. government’s renewed assault upon American Indians that began in the 1970s.”
—Dee Brown, Chicago Sun-Times
“By the time I had turned the final page, I felt angry enough . . . to want to shout from the rooftops, ‘Wake up, America, before it’s too damned late!’ For Matthiessen, in this extraordinary, complex work, powerfully propounds several large and disturbing themes which the white majority in America will ignore at extreme peril.”
—Nick Kotz, The Washington Post
“A giant of a book . . . indescribably touching, extraordinarily intelligent.”
—Carolyn See, The Los Angeles Times Book Review
“The reappearance of Peter Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse . . . is a major political and legal, as well as literary, event.”
—Bill Farrell, New York Newsday
“Meticulously researched . . . A courageous document.”
—Howard Norman, The Boston Globe
“A book of enormous importance . . . You have to believe that Crazy Horse would have loved its renegade spirit and unflinching reach for the truth.”
—The Milwaukee Journal
“In the Spirit of Crazy Horse is really about contemporary America and the way American law is seen through the eyes of American Indians. . . . It is one of those rare books that permanently change one’s consciousness about important, yet neglected, facets of our history.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Raises painful, imperative questions for a nation that prides itself as a global champion of human rights.”
“For raising these crucial moral questions, and for doing so within the context of the American Indian struggle for self-determination, Peter Matthiessen deserves the greatest possible reading audience. He is also an excellent journalist, drawing heavily upon people personally involved on both sides.”
“Mr. Matthiessen’s sympathies are evident, but he is neither gullible nor uncritical. He realistically portrays individuals, landscapes, customs, and problems that, though wholly American, are unfamiliar to most American citizens.”
—The New Yorker
“One of the most dramatic demonstrations of endemic American racism that has yet been written—a powerful, unsettling book that will force even the most ethno-pious reader to inspect the limits of his understanding.”
—The New York Review of Books
“An important and angry book that belongs on the shelf containing A Century of Dishonor, Custer Died for Your Sins, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”
—Wallace Stegner, The New Republic
Peter Matthiessen (1927–2014) is the only writer who has ever won the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction. His travels as a naturalist and explorer have resulted in more than a dozen books on natural history and the environment, including The Snow Leopard, his first NBA winner. Matthiessen’s equally important career in fiction has produced a collection of stories and nine novels, among them At Play in the Fields of the Lord (an NBA finalist) and the Everglades trilogy (Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone), which, rewritten and distilled, were published in one volume in 2008 under the title Shadow Country, winner of the NBA in fiction. Shadow Country was also the 2010 recipient of the William Dean Howells Medal, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished American novel published during the previous five years. Matthiessen was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His final novel, In Paradise, was published just after his death in 2014.
IN THE SPIRIT OF
WITH AN AFTERWORD BY MARTIN GARBUS
We did not ask you white men to come here. The Great Spirit gave us this country as a home. You had yours. We did not interfere with you. The Great Spirit gave us plenty of land to live on, and buffalo, deer, antelope and other game. But you have come here; you are taking my land from me; you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live. Now, you tell us to work for a living, but the Great Spirit did not make us to work, but to live by hunting. You white men can work if you want to. We do not interfere with you, and again you say, why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization! We would live as our fathers did, and their fathers before them.
Crazy Horse (Lakota)
Many people, past and present, Indian and white, have made important contributions to this book; I wish to thank the following for useful interviews and/or information, with apologies to anyone I may have forgotten.
Archie Fire Lame Deer
Chief Eagle Feather
Dr. Garry Peterson
Ellen Moves Camp
Evelyn Bordeaux (deceased)
Joe Eagle Elk
Joe Flying By
Leonard Crow Dog
Robert Hugh Wilson
Roque Duenas (deceased)
Roslynn Jumping Bull
Russell Loud Hawk
SA David Price
SA George O’Clock
Sam Moves Camp
Senator James Abourezk
Sheriff Don Correll
Vine Deloria, Jr.
Dennis Banks, Vine Deloria, Jr., Richard Erdoes, Bill Hazlett, John Lowe, Kevin McKiernan, and Kenneth Tilsen have been kind enough to review particular sections of the manuscript; Nilak Butler, Bruce Ellison, James Leach, Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Al Trimble have inspected the entire book. All have contributed important corrections, comment, and advice and none is responsible for any errors of fact or emphasis that may remain.
Dennis Banks, Dino Butler, Nilak Butler, Russell Means, Kenneth Tilsen, and Robert Hugh Wilson “Standing Deer” contributed lengthy interviews and/or correspondence; an extensive interview was also provided by Special Agent David Price. Bill Hazlett and Kevin McKiernan have been generous with their own research material; Paulette d’Auteuil was kind enough to make available a series of letters from Leonard Peltier in prison. Steve Robideau and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee as well as the staff of the Black Hills Alliance have also been very helpful.
Particular thanks are due to Bruce Ellison, Leonard Peltier, and Bob Robideau, who provided extensive research material, information, and support from the very beginning of this project.
Finally, I wish to thank Elisabeth Sifton and Jennifer Snodgrass of The Viking Press for their cheerful and intelligent dedication in the face of a sometimes overwhelming project.
The buffalos I, the buffalos I . . .
I am related to the buffalos, the buffalos.
Clear the way in a sacred manner!
The earth is mine.
The earth is weeping, weeping.
On June 26, 1975, in the late morning, two FBI agents drove onto Indian land near Oglala, South Dakota, a small village on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Here a shoot-out occurred in which both agents and an Indian man were killed. Although large numbers of FBI agents, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and vigilantes surrounded the property within an hour of the first shots, the numerous Indians involved in the shoot-out escaped into the hills.
The death of the agents inspired the biggest manhunt in FBI history. Of the four men eventually indicted for the killings, one was later released because the evidence was “weak,” and two others were acquitted in July 1976 when a jury concluded that although they had fired at the agents, they had done so in self-defense. The fourth man, Leonard Peltier, indicted on the same charges as his companions but not tried until the following year, after extradition from Canada, was convicted on two counts of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison, although even his prosecutors would dismiss as worthless the testimony of the only person ever to claim to have witnessed his participation in the killings. This testimony was also repudiated by the witness, who claimed to have signed her damning affidavits under duress, as part of what one court of appeals judge would refer to as a “clear abuse of the investigative process by the FBI.”
Whatever the nature and degree of his participation at Oglala, the ruthless persecution of Leonard Peltier had less to do with his own actions than with underlying issues of history, racism, and economics, in particular Indian sovereignty claims and growing opposition to massive energy development on treaty lands and the dwindling reservations. In the northern Plains, the opposition was based on a treaty, signed in 1868 between the United States and the Lakota nation at Fort Laramie, in Dakota Territory, which recognized Lakota sovereignty in their Dakota-Wyoming homelands and hunting grounds, including the sacred Paha Sapa, the Black Hills. With the discovery of gold in the Black Hills a few years later, this treaty was illegally repudiated by the U.S. government; not until the 1970s was the justice of the Lakota treaty claim recognized in court.
In the year of the 1868 Treaty, a former Governor of New York State named Horatio Seymour was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States; and the history of the Lakota people might possibly have been less tragic had the Democrats won, since Governor Seymour held strong convictions that Ulysses S. Grant did not share about the offense to its own Constitution in the young nation’s shameful treatment of the native peoples.
Every human being born upon our continent, or who comes here from any quarter of the world, whether savage or civilized, can go to our courts for protection—except those who belong to the tribes who once owned this country. . . . The worst criminals from Europe, Asia, or Africa can appeal to the law and courts for their rights of person and property—all save our native Indians, who, above all, should be protected from wrong.
Seymour’s unpopular opinion appeared on the title page of Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor (1881), one of the first books to deplore the wrongs inflicted on “the tribes who once owned this country”:
There is but one hope of righting this wrong. It lies in appeal to the heart and the conscience of the American people. What the people demand, Congress will do. It has been—to our shame be it spoken—at the demand of part of the people that all these wrongs have been committed, these treaties broken, these robberies done, by the Government. . . .
The only thing that can stay this is a mighty outspoken sentiment and purpose of the great body of the people. Right sentiment and right purpose in a Senator here and there, and a Representative here and there, are little more than straws which make momentary eddies, but do not obstruct the tide. . . .
What an opportunity for the Congress of 1880 to cover itself with a lustre of glory, as the first to cut short our nation’s record of cruelties and perjuries! the first to attempt to redeem the name of the United States from the stain of a century of dishonor!1*
The Congress of 1880 did not redeem the name of the United States, and that “century of dishonor” was followed by another—less violent, perhaps, but more insidious and sly—as the “frontiersman” gave way to the railroadman and miner, the developer and the industrialist, with their attendant bureaucrats and politicians. And the Congress of the 1980s will do no better, to judge from the enrichment of the powerful and the betrayal of the poor to which it has reduced itself under President Reagan.
The poorest of the poor—by far—are the Indian people. It is true that in our courts today the Indian has legal status as a citizen, but anyone familiar with Indian life, in cities or on reservations, can testify that justice for Indians is random and arbitrary where it exists at all. For all our talk about suppression of human rights in other countries, and despite a nostalgic sentimentality about the noble Red Man, the prejudice and persecution still continue. American hearts respond with emotion to Indian portraits by George Catlin and Edward Curtis, to such eloquent books as Black Elk Speaks and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, to modern films and television dramas in which the nineteenth-century Indian is portrayed as the tragic victim of Manifest Destiny; we honor his sun dances and thunderbirds in the names of our automobiles and our motels. Our nostalgia comes easily, since those stirring peoples are safely in the past, and the abuse of their proud character, generosity, and fierce honesty—remarked upon by almost all the first Europeans to observe them—can be blamed upon our roughshod frontier forebears. “The tribes who once owned this country” were simply in the way of the white man’s progress, and so most of the eastern tribes were removed to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and the western tribes mostly banished or confined to arid wastes that no decent white man would want. By a great historical irony, many of these lands were situated on the dry crust of the Grants Mineral Belt, which extends from the lands of the Dene people in Saskatchewan to those of their close relatives, the Dine, or “Navajo,” in New Mexico and Arizona, and contains North America’s greatest energy resources. More than half of the continent’s uranium and much of its petroleum and coal lie beneath Indian land, and so the Indians are in the way again.
After four hundred years of betrayals and excuses, Indians recognize the new fashion in racism, which is to pretend that the real Indians are all gone.2 We have no wish to be confronted by these “half-breeds” of today, gone slack after a century of enforced dependence, poverty, bad food, alcohol, and despair, because to the degree that these people can be ignored, the shame of our nation can be ignored as well. Leonard Peltier’s experience reflects more than most of us wish to know about the realities of Indian existence in America; our magazines turn away from articles about the Indians of today, and most studies of Indian history and culture avoid mention of the twentieth century. But the Indians are still among us—“We are your shadows,” one man says—and the qualiti...
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