Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Yves Simoneau. 

Starring:     Adam Beach (mature Charles), Anna Paquin (Elaine Goodale), Chevez Ezaneh (Ohiyesa / Young Charles), August Schellenberg (Sitting Bull), Duane Howard (Uncle), Aidan Quinn (Henry Dawes), Colm Feore (General Sherman), Fred Dalton Thompson (President Ulysses S. Grant), Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse (One Bull), Wayne Charles Baker (Jacob), Brian Stollery (Bishop Whipple), Shaun Johnston (Col. Nelson Miles), Gordon Tootoosis (Chief Red Cloud), Billy Merasty (Young Man Afraid), Morris Birdyellowhead (American Horse), Eddie Spears (Chasing Crane).

from the Battle of Little Big Horn (1876) to the Indian massacre at Wounded Knee,  December 29, 1890

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"By 1876 most of the nation's American Indians had been forcibly relocated to reservation land.  In the Dakota Territory, Red Could had settled with his people on the Great Sioux Reservation, becoming wards of the government.  But other Sioux leaders, sitting bull and Crazy Horse, saw this as defeat and continued to live in the traditional way.  Their resistance was legendary.  Then an economic depression struck and gold was discovered in the Black Hills on Sioux land." 

Soldiers are searching the woods.  Two young Sioux boys watch them coming through.  The boys start running.  One of them is shot in the back.  When the other boy, Ohivesa, gets back to the village, he finds it is under attack from soldiers and their Indian scouts.  Ohiyesa gets into a fight with an Indian scout and almost gets killed, but he is saved by Sitting Bull who kills the man with his hatchet.  He tells the young boy to get on his horse and ride away.   

Little Big Horn Valley.  June 25, 1876.  The Sioux have by now surrounded a part of the 7th Cavalry under Col. George Armstrong Custer. 

July 3, 1876.  The newspaper out of Richmond, Virginia says Gen. Custer and 261 men were massacred by the Sioux Indians.  The headlines talk of three days of desperate fighting by Major Reno and the remainder of the Seventh Cavalry.  Victims captured alive, tortured in a fiendish manner.  With President U.S. Grant and Senator Henry Dawes, Gen. Sherman says that Custer was an idiot.  He shouldn't have split his forces.  Dawes says that Custer operated under orders to drive the Sioux out of the Black Hills so the Americans could have their gold.  Gen. Sherman says that the Sioux did to those Seventh Cavalrymen things that even he has never seen.  The Sioux stripped the clothes off the men and mutilated their bodies.  Sherman says:  "I'll say it till my tongue bleeds.  If we're ever going to claim what we bought from the French and whooped the Mexicans for, it's going to mean killing Indians."

Ohiyesa's father arrives at the village driving a wagon.  He gets down and goes over to see his son.  He asks him if he earned that feather in his hair and the boy says yes, at the Battle of Little Big Horn, where he fought and wounded an Indian scout.  Later his father tells him that the U.S. government was going to hang 300 Indians.  Dad was one of them because he killed two whites.  But the Great Father Lincoln saved him.  He was sent to prison instead of receiving death.  There he became a Christian. 

The boy gets on the wagon and leaves with his father. 

Red Cloud's Camp, Great Sioux Reservation.  Red Cloud is the head of the Oglala Sioux.  His headmen are Young Man Afraid of His Horses, American Horse and others.  Henry Dawes and Col. Miles talk to Red Cloud about moving out of the Black Hills and to an agency known as Pine Ridge.  The full name will be the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Located in today's southwest South Dakota adjacent to the Badlands National Park.)  It's not easy talking to the Oglala Sioux because they rightfully feel betrayed by the whites.  Red Cloud says that for the past eight snows, he and his people having been living like the poorest of whites.  A frustrated Henry finally tells Red Cloud and the others that he will speak straight to them.  "You must touch pen to this paper, or you and your people will perish."

Sitting Bull.  The soldiers are coming.  Col. Nelson Miles and his troop are on the move.  Sitting Bull and others watch them with binoculars.  They say that this Col. Miles is coming for revenge for Custer.  Miles looks through the binoculars and sees Sitting Bull and his men standing there with their rifles.

Cedar Creek Valley, Dakota Territory.  October 21, 1876.  The Sioux cover the whole hill.  Then in the valley Sitting Bull comes to talk with Miles.  An Indian lays down a buffalo hide and the two men sit on it.  The chief asks Miles to take his men completely out of their lands.  Miles decides to give Sitting Bull a history lesson.  The Sioux were pushed off "their" land in Minnesota so they moved westward.  He adds:  "You massacred the Kiowa, the Omaha, the Ponca, the Oto and the Pawnee without mercy."   Miles says that the Sioux were never peaceable people.  "You were killing each other for hundreds of moons before the first white stepped foot on this continent."  And now Crazy Horse and his entire band have surrendered.  The two men become angry with each other and agree that they will have to fight. 

Miles has the howitzers loaded.  And here come the Sioux racing down the hill.   The howitzers are fired and fired again and the Sioux take big loses.  The soldiers also kill many Indians way before the Sioux can even reach the cavalry's lines. Even Sitting Bull gets knocked off his horse from a shell explosion.  He has a cut on his head and blood flows down his face. 

The cavalry moves at night.  They come to the Indian village, but the Sioux have left.  Miles has all the teepees burned to the ground.  The escaping Sioux can see Canada in the distance. 

Ohiyesa.  The boy's father has his braids cut off.  He looks very sorrowful as the braids fall to the floor.  Ohiyesa attends a white school but refuses to take a Christian name, therefore, the teach cannot call on him.  With a promise that she will let the children out of school early, the teacher tries to bribe the class to put pressure on Ohiyesa to pick a Christian name and answer the question of who are the four presidents they have been studying?  Ohiyesa is tempted and starts to squirm, but he chooses defiance instead.

Sitting Bull meets Major Walsh of the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police.  Major Walsh tells him that Queen Victoria blames the Americans for the rough situation the Sioux are in and, so, Canada welcomes them.  Sitting Bull says that Crazy Horse will soon join them.  Major Walsh has to tell Sitting Bull that Crazy Horse is dead.  He was shot while resisting arrest.  As the major said before, they are welcome but they cannot use Canada as a base for attacking the United States, nor can they raid or even interfere with the business and welfare of the other tribes in the area.  The police have brought medicine and food for the Sioux.  The major says they better get as many buffalo as they can before winter hits, because Canadian winters are harsher than American winters. 

Class is over for the day.  Ohiyesa's father comes in and introduces the teacher and Ohiyesa to a woman who has come from Illinois.  Of all the children on the reservation, he has been chosen to study in a school in Illinois. Ohiyesa says he doesn't want to go.  His father takes him to the back of the room and tells him:  "The earth belongs to the white man.  There is no future outside his world.  You must go."

Charles.  Henry Dawes speaks before a group of distinguished persons about the Indians.  One of these people is Elaine Goodale, a pretty young woman.  He says they have been absorbed, but not assimilated.  Henry believes that if the Indians are educated, they will come to reject their old ways.  And now he wants to introduce them to a young man who was almost killed by an Arikara scout working for the Seventh Cavalry of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.  Yes, this young man was at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  This student is a recipient of the Friends of the Indian scholarship.  He is soon to graduate from Dartmouth College.  Elaine looks back at the young man and makes a motion to tell him he needs to fix his collar straight.  Charlie gets the message and straightens his collar.  The speaker says Charlie is going on to Boston University Medical School. 

Now Henry calls for Ohiyesa of the Sioux, a.k.a. Mr. Charles Eastman of the United States of America.  Ohiyesa makes a little speech before the group.  Then he and Henry wait in line to shake everyone's hand.  Now Ohiyesa gets to meet Mrs. Goodale and her daughter Elaine Goodale from Massachusetts.  Elaine is a published poet and she speaks the Sioux language.  Ohiyesa tells her that his name means "winner" in his language.   He won the name by winning a pony race.  The name Charles came when he wanted to correct the teacher on the name of his chief, but she would not call on him because he did not have a Christian name.  The boy wanted to correct her so badly that he finally blurted out "Charles" and that's how he got the name.  Then he corrects the teacher.  She knew she was saying the wrong name of the chief, but she wanted to make Ohiyesa so mad that he would even pick a Christian name to correct her.  Mission accomplished.   The name Eastman was the name of his mother's father, who was white. 

Some of Sitting Bull's people want to go back to the United States, but Sitting Bull insists that they must stay.  Young Man Afraid of His Horses wants to go back because he has a very sick daughter.  So Young Man Afraid of His Horses and his wife sneak out of the settlement and start walking south.  He is, however, stopped by a party of Sioux warriors and brought back to face Sitting Bull.  Sitting Bull fires a pistol close to the young man's right ear and then leaves in disgust.  Young Man Afraid of His Horses looses his daughter. 

Major Walsh and some of his men ride up to the Sioux camp with some Crow Indians.  He tells Sitting Bull that the Crow have seen the Sioux on their hunting grounds.  And they are missing horses from a Sioux raid on their camp two nights ago.  So the Crow are allowed to search the Sioux corral.  They find their missing horses and now Walsh says he will have to report these incidents and the next time Sitting Bull sees him, he may be accompanied by a guard that will escort the Sioux out of Canada.  Sitting Bull becomes desperate and absolutely demands that the horse thieves come forward.  Two young men come forward.  Sitting Bull grabs a whip and tells Walsh that he will punish these young men for Walsh must know that Sitting Bull did not know anything about the raid in question.  Walsh asks Sitting Bull not to do this, but the chief responds:  "We cannot be sent back."  Sitting Bull really lashes the first boy until he is stopped by Young Man Afraid of His Horses, who simply says:  "Enough!"

Half of the tribe has decided to go back south, including Young Man Afraid of His Horses.  Sitting Bull tells them to leave for he will not stop them.

Washington, D.C.  Charles visits with Henry at his home.  Henry talks about Elaine Goodale.  She completes her teacher's training and will soon be on the Sioux reservation.  Charles says he knows because he and she have been corresponding for awhile now.  They talk about the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The northern boundary is the south fork of the Cheyenne River downstream to the mouth of Battle Creek.  The boundary line then goes due west to the 102nd meridian

There will be six separate Sioux reservations:  Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Crow Creek and Brule.  Then there is land that will be sold to the whites.  Standing Rock (is in the northeast corner); Cheyenne Agency: just south of Standing Rock Agency; then there is a section of about half the reservation that they can sell to the whites for $5.5 million dollars (which includes the sacred Black Hills).  Part of this land is directly south of Cheyenne Agency;  The Pine Ridge  Agency is south of the white land on the west; and Rose Bud Agency is east of the Pine Ridge Agency.  East of the white land between Cheyenne Agency and the reservations of Pine Ridge and Rose Bud  is the Brule Agency. 

The creations of the six separate Sioux reservations has to be approved by congress.  Henry, with the support of Charles, gets the bill approved. 

Pine Ridge Sioux Agency, Dakota Territory.  Henry explains the land divide to the Sioux Indians.  What they don't like is that half of the reservation land will be sold to the whites.  Disappointed, they turn their backs to Henry and simply walk out.  Red Cloud stays behind, but finally gets up and leaves. 

Another big group of Sioux under Sitting Bull leave to go back to the United States.  Winter comes and Sitting Bull and his people are very hungry and very cold.  The mice they catch get put into a boiling pot to be eaten.  A tear runs down Sitting Bull's face.

Elaine Goodale.  Standing Rock Sioux Agency, Dakota Territory.  Elaine is there when Sitting Bull and the last of his people come to the Standing Rock Agency.  Sitting Bull sees his son is now a policeman for the agency.  His son takes Sitting Bull to see James McLaughlin, agent at Standing Rock.  Sitting Bull has a long list of demands.  McLaughlin politely listens and then says basically that the government will not meet any of his demands.  The former chief will be as any other ordinary man at the agency. 

Sitting Bull stands in line to get some basics: clothing, shoes, a blanket, etc.  But when his name is called, he won't go forward to pick up his stuff.  Elaine stands behind him and tells Sitting Bull that they are calling for him.  Since Sitting Bull is not moving, Elaine goes up to the counter and says she will pick up the items for Sitting Bull.  The clerk says that's not possible, but Elaine assures him that the Commissioner assured hero that she could help these proplr in any way she sees fit.  The clerk gives in and issues her Sitting Bull's rations. 

Outside Sitting Bull's son tells him that at this agency they let them hunt for their own food.  The son rides his horse into a corral.  A steer is released into the corral.  The fellow does a lot of whooping and chases the cow around and then shoots it dead.  The son now looks at his father for approval, but Sitting Bull is just saddened by what the Sioux have been reduced to. 

Elaine writes a letter to Charles.  She says they have a celebrity now with the arrival of Sitting Bull, but the man looks terribly sorrowful.  Things are tough for the Sioux here.  A drought made for poor crops and  underweight cattle and there are epidemics of measles, influenza, whooping cough. 

Charles is becoming disillusioned with Henry.  He is always politicking, but things only seem to get worse for the Sioux.  He's fed up with Washington politics. So Charles comes out to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  He is now a medical doctor and wants to help his people with their medical problems.  He is met by Agent Royer, who shows him to his quarters and his office.  Elaine comes in.  Charles kisses her hand and they hug.  She helps Charles set up his office. 

Sitting Bull lets a photographer takes his photo for $2.50.  When the picture is taken and he has been paid, Sitting Bull gives the money to two girls. 

McLaughlin comes out to see Sitting Bull.  He says Sitting Bull must be looking forward to being with Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show again.  The agent says that Sitting Bull will farm; will enroll his younger son in school; and will see to it that his son attends church.  The former chief says he thinks McLaughlin is talking out of his ass.  For this resistance, McLaughlin says he will not let Sitting Bull go with Bill Cody and his show.

The Ghost Dance.  Charles writes to Sen. Dawes saying he has virtually no medical equipment and no medicines, so there is little he can do for the Sioux people.  His own assistant recently lost his daughter to the rampant diseases at the agencies.  He writes that agent Royer doesn't even want to seem to help the people.  He brings up another problem.  A Paiute shaman called Wovoka has prophesized a victory for the Sioux and has going from tribe to tribe to spread the prophesy. 

Elaine and Charles attend a burial of five small boys and girls.  Wovoka speaks to the Sioux people.  He says he had a vision and those who have recently died want the people to know that they are now happy.  He says the white man will soon be no more.  He says if they dance the ghost dance, all the ancestors will return and the buffalo will be plentiful again.  And the Sioux will live in the freedom they once knew forever.   The drums start and the people start dancing the ghost dance taught to them by Wovoka. 

McLaughlin taunts Sitting Bull in front of his tribesmen.  Sitting Bull grabs his son's rifle, but only shoots into the air. 

Sen. Henry Dawes comes to speak to the Sioux again.  The only thing he has to offer is the increase of the value of their land to be sold  from 50 cents to a dollar and 25 cents.  He says this would bring the Sioux $12 million dollars.  (But who is going to insure that the Sioux actually get the $12 million dollars?)  He says if the Sioux don't accept this offer, the government may take the land and give them nothing for it.  Charles speaks to Dawes and indicates his disillusionment with American politics.  Henry tells him not to worry because the people will agree to the treaty. 

Rumors have been going around that Sitting Bull acted like a coward at the Battle of Little Horn.  Sitting Bull comes to speak to the man who has been spreading these lies.  The fellow tells him that it was Agent McLaughlin who started the rumors about Sitting Bull because the chief had angered the white man.  The man says that McLaughlin made him say these untrue things about Sitting Bull.  But then the man reveals his anger at having Sitting Bull come to the reservation, where this fellow was the big man of the tribe.  And he thinks Sitting Bull is not doing anything much to help his people. 

Dawes is ready for the vote.  He tells the Sioux that if they agree with the treaty, they will sign the letter with red printing.  If they disagree with the treaty, they will sign the black paper.  Sitting Bull now comes to the meeting to say something to the whites and the Sioux.  He tells the whites:  "You would have us cut off our balls and end our race right here on a patch of land on which nothing can live, and that will not happen!"   Red Cloud now says:  "I will not touch your pen to your paper. I will not touch it to your red paper, I will not touch it to your black paper.  The white man will not see my mark again on his paper."  The Sioux all leave the meeting place. 

Dawes is upset at what happened, saying that the Sioux must agree to what he has worked so hard to get for them.  He says the Sioux must adapt.  Charles asks Dawes:  "Must they adapt, sir, to the point of their own extermination?"    Sen. Dawes goes on to express his disappointment with the Sioux and with Charles himself.  He says Charles is ungrateful.  He also says that Charles is no more an Indian that he is.  He leaves.

Elaine heard the entire argument.  She talks with Charles, who has been emotionally hurt by the confrontation.  Charles leaves his office after suggesting that he should have jumped off the train taking him to Illinois.

The ghost dance phenomenon has the whites very scared of a possible Indian uprising.  In fact the local newspaper speaks of an uprising of all the Indians, which they say is imminent.  Agent Royer has called for troops.  Charles tries to tell Royer that this ghost dance phenomenon will pass.  It is not dangerous and troops do not have to be called onto the reservation.  But fear is the only language that Royer hears or speaks. 

Charles tells Elaine that this will all end violently.  Elaine doesn't believe that, saying it just won't come to that.  Charles wants her to leave the reservation for her own safety, but she does not feel threatened.  Charles leaves.  He tries to get the ghost dances to stop, but to no avail.

The troop of the 7th Cavalry arrives on the reservation.  McLaughlin tells his Indian policeman that he gave explicit orders to shut down the ghost dances.  The Indian says he can't because they are listening to Sitting Bull now and he permits the ghost dances.  McLaughlin now tells the Indian policeman to go bring in Sitting Bull.  Indian policemen bust into Sitting Bull's place and tell him to get dressed.

A number of wounded Sioux are brought in to receive medical treatment.  Charles tells one badly wounded woman to tell him what happened.  She says they came for her father-in-law Sitting Bull.  The people rushed to save Sitting Bull, but in the ruckus that followed someone fired a shot and then Sitting Bull was shot once in the front chest area and once in the back of the head.  The police also shoot his boy Crow Foot.  Soldiers are brought in and they chase the fleeing Indians to Wounded Knee Creek.

Another witness says the soldiers were taking away the weapons of the Sioux  The officer in charge says he knows they have better rifles than these offered up.  So he tells his soldiers to start searching the nearby tents.  The next escalation is the order to search all the Indians gathered in a group before the soldiers.  This starts pushing and shoving and yelling and shouting  A gun goes off, but it's not clear who was responsible for the shot.  So now the cavalry open up on the Indians and the Indians have some pistols and tomahawks they use to kill some of the soldiers. 

The Indians start fleeing but are shot down by the soldiers.  Artillery shells star landing and killing the Sioux.   The soldiers pursue the fleeing women.  Men, women and children are shot down.  It's clear that it's a massacre.  It starts snowing now.  An officer tells Charles that he swears the cavalry did not fire first.  The snow prevents the burial of the dead for two days.  Elaine says that things were never the same after that, not for the Sioux people and not for Charles.  A photographer takes pictures of the dead. 

Charles and Elaine with Red Cloud drive out to the massacre sight.  The ground is littered with the dead.  Red Cloud who can't see because of cataracts asks Charles to tell him what he sees. 

Soon Charles stops practicing medicine. He loses one job after another.  He and Elaine marry.  He goes for a job interview and Sen. Dawes tells him that he recommended Charles for the job he is applying for. Charles goes to the interview.  The job involves an 1895 project to assign one Christian name to each Sioux individual to end the confusion about who is who on the reservation.  

Charles's house is now filled with boxes of census information about the Indians on the reservation.  He gets frustrated with the project and then gets disgusted.  He shouts that he will not do this job and starts kicking boxes and piles of paper around.  Among the papers kicked around by Charles, he spots a book that plagued him as a young book.  It's the book of Christian names.  He opens it and finds his hair feather he earned during the Battle of Little Big Horn.  He starts crying and then says he should have jumped from the train headed to Illinois.  He tells Elaine he would have walked home by the Red River which he would have followed to the North Woods.  Elaine also has tears in her eyes. 

Charles is about to cast his hair feather and his Christian cross that his father gave him into river waters, but then things better of it and puts them in his pocket. 

"Charles Eastman devoted the rest of his life to the advocacy of Sioux rights, and to writing and lecturing about his American Indian childhood and culture.  Elaine Goodale Eastman left teaching to raise their children and to edit her husband's books and lectures.  They had five daughters and one son together.  They named their son Ohiyesa.  Red Cloud continued to devote his life to his people's welfare, and fought every government attempt to violate the agreements he had signed.  More than a century after his murder, Sitting Bull remains the iconic symbol of American Indian resistance.  Henry Dawes, author of The Dawes Allotment Act, served in the Senate until 1893.  Within decades of the act's passage some 90 million acres of American Indian lands were taken and sold to whites. 

"In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1876 seizure of the Black Hills violated treaties signed with the Sioux.  In the majority opinion, Justice Blackmun wrote, 'A more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.'  But the Court refused to restore the land to the Sioux, and ordered that compensation be paid instead.  That award, now worth more than $600 million, remains unclaimed.  To date, the Sioux will not agree to surrender their claim to the Black Hills, a place they feel is sacred."

 

 

Very good movie from an historical point of view.  It covers a period of Indian history of some 14 years:  1876 (the Battle of Little Big Horn) to the massacre at Wounded Knee in1890 from the viewpoint of a Sioux Indian named Charles.  This is an important period for the revenge for the killing of Custer and his men helped end the long period of Indian Wars in the West.  The capture of Apache Geronimo and his final surrender is taken as a timemark for the end of these Indian Wars.  The whole period is a sad story with the Indians eventually having to surrender or perish.  On the reservation the life style of the Sioux was radically changed and for the worse.  The Indians received little food or supplies and they started dying in big numbers from the white man's diseases.   Adam Beach was very good as Charles and August Schellenberg was good as Sitting Bull. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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