Our Favorite Native American History Books

What did you learn in school about Native Americans?  

Did you only study tribal history during November?

Were the topics only centered around early US history?

Native American history didn't end and is more than just Thanksgiving.  The list below will start you on the path to exploring the vast true history of Native people.  Several of the titles also include more modern topics.

Go beyond the black-and-white photos in your middle school history book with our list of our favorite Native American history books.


An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dubar-Ortiz

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dubar-Ortiz

An Indigenous People's History of The United States is a worth-reading book having historical events of 400 years. Due to the amazing narrative style and events reframing, this book won an award in 2015. Because of this book, your vision of the indigenous people of the United States may change. 

From Amazon:

The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples
 
Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortizoffers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire.

With growing support for movements such as the campaign to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the Dakota Access Pipeline protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is an essential resource providing historical threads that are crucial for understanding the present. In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.”
 
Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee- An Indian History of the American West

Another perspective-altering book on Native American history is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Dee Brown tells the thundering clashes and twisted treatises of government and Americans. The book includes in-depth details of the reconstruction era and experiences. 



From Amazon:

The landmark, bestselling account of the crimes against American Indians during the 19th century, now on its 50th Anniversary.

First published in 1970, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown's eloquent, meticulously documented account of the systematic destruction of American Indians during the second half of the nineteenth century. A national bestseller in hardcover for more than a year after its initial publication, it has sold almost four million copies and has been translated into seventeen languages. It was the basis for the 2007 movie of the same name from HBO films.

Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown introduces readers to great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes, revealing in heartwrenching detail the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that methodically stripped them of freedom. A forceful narrative still discussed today as revelatory and controversial, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee permanently altered our understanding of how the American West came to be defined.

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Custer Died For Your Sins By Vine Deloria JR. 

Vine has written various academic books on Native American Culture, but this book is his lifetime achievement. 

From Amazon:

The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again.” Indeed, it seems that each generation of whites and Indians will have to read and reread Vine Deloria’s Manifesto for some time to come, before we absorb his special, ironic Indian point of view and what he tells us, with a great deal of humor, about U.S. race relations, federal bureaucracies, Christian churches, and social scientists. This book continues to be required reading for all Americans, whatever their special interest.

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The Heart of Everything That Is By Bob Drury and Tom Calvin

In this book, Journalist Bob Dury narrates the historical events of Red Cloud’s life with the collaboration of co-writer Tom Calvin. Red Cloud was the leader who served his nation to defeat the US army in a vicious battle. 

From Amazon:

“I have but a small spot of land left. The Great Spirit told me to keep it.” —Red Cloud

This young readers edition of the New York Times bestseller of the same name tells the long forgotten story of the powerful Oglala Lakota chief, Red Cloud. At the height of Red Cloud’s power the Sioux claimed control of vast parts of the west. But as the United States rapidly expanded, the country brutally forced the Indians off their lands.

Fighting for the survival of the Sioux way of life, Red Cloud successfully secured the loyalty of thousands of fierce fighters, including Crazy Horse, and is the only American Indian in history to defeat the United States Army in a war.

Thanks to the rediscovery of Red Cloud’s long-lost autobiography, and painstaking research by two award-winning authors, and with the help of a world-class adapter, the story of the nineteenth century’s most powerful and successful Indian warrior can finally be told.

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The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer

David Treur's writing is about the Americans’ history from the 1980s to the present. This book shares insights into how American Indians succeeded in saving their culture and sovereignty after passing tiring trials and troubles. 

From Amazon”

“Chapter after chapter, it's like one shattered myth after another.” – NPR

“An informed, moving and kaleidoscopic portrait… Treuer's powerful book suggests the need for soul-searching about the meanings of American history and the stories we tell ourselves about this nation's past..” – New York Times Book Reviewfront page

A sweeping history—and counter-narrative—of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present.

The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.

Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear—and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence—the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.

In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes' distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don't know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.

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Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

From Amazon:

Empire of the Summer Moonspans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined when the American West opened up. Comanche boys became adept bareback riders by age six; full Comanche braves were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. White settlers arriving in Texas from the eastern United States were surprised to find the frontier being rolled backwardby Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands.

The war with the Comanches lasted four decades, in effect holding up the development of the new American nation. Gwynne’s exhilarating account delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads, and the amazing story of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being.

Hailed by critics, S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told. Empire of the Summer Moon announces him as a major new writer of American history.

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The Earth Is Weeping By Peter Cozzens

Like his other writings, The Earth Is Weeping has gained immense popularity among audiences. In this book, Peter Cozzens shares his insights on the hardships of Native Americans. After reading this book, you will understand why states’ borders are still a topic of discussion. 

From Amazon:

“Sets a new standard for Western Indian Wars history.” —Stuart Rosebrook, True West Magazine
 
*Winner of the Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History and the 2017 Caroline Bancroft History Prize
 
*Finalist for the Western Writers of America’s 2017 Spur Award in Best Western Historical Nonfiction

Bringing together a pageant of fascinating characters including Custer, Sherman, Grant, and a host of other military and political figures, as well as great native leaders such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Red Cloud, The Earth is Weeping—lauded by Booklist as “a beautifully written work of understanding and compassion”—is the fullest account to date of how the West was won…and lost.

With the end of the Civil War, the nation recommenced its expansion onto traditional Indian tribal lands, setting off a wide-ranging conflict that would last more than three decades. In an exploration of the wars and negotiations that destroyed tribal ways of life even as they made possible the emergence of the modern United States, Peter Cozzens gives us both sides in comprehensive and singularly intimate detail. He illuminates the encroachment experienced by the tribes and the tribal conflicts over whether to fight or make peace, and explores the squalid lives of soldiers posted to the frontier and the ethical quandaries faced by generals who often sympathized with their native enemies.

*A Times “History Book of the Year” and A Smithsonian “Top History Book of 2016”

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The Last Stand by Nathaniel Phil Brick

Nathaniel Phil brick has written a great book on the history of Native Americans.  This book covers key incidents in the life of George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull. 

From Amazon:

“An engrossing and tautly written account of a critical chapter in American history.” —Los Angeles Times

Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Hurricane's Eye, Pulitzer Prize finalist Mayflower, and Valiant Ambition, is a historian with a unique ability to bring history to life. The Last Stand is Philbrick's monumental reappraisal of the epochal clash at the Little Bighorn in 1876 that gave birth to the legend of Custer's Last Stand. Bringing a wealth of new information to his subject, as well as his characteristic literary flair, Philbrick details the collision between two American icons- George Armstrong Custer and Sitting Bull-that both parties wished to avoid, and brilliantly explains how the battle that ensued has been shaped and reshaped by national myth.

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Black Elk Speaks By Black ELK

Black Elk Speaks is one of the best Native American history books. Black Elk shared his insights on the historical adventures and challenges in 1988. Because of his spirituality, Black Elk Speaks is often categorized under the spiritual books of Native Americans.

From Amazon:

Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, as a history of a Native nation, or as an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable.

Black Elk met the distinguished poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and asked Neihardt to share his story with the world. Neihardt understood and conveyed Black Elk’s experiences in this powerful and inspirational message for all humankind.

This complete edition features a new introduction by historian Philip J. Deloria and annotations of Black Elk’s story by renowned Lakota scholar Raymond J. DeMallie. Three essays by John G. Neihardt provide background on this landmark work along with pieces by Vine Deloria Jr., Raymond J. DeMallie, Alexis Petri, and Lori Utecht. Maps, original illustrations by Standing Bear, and a set of appendixes rounds out the edition.

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1491 by Charles C. Mann

Rarely did one or two people know the condition of Native Americans before the discovery of America. Charles C. Mann stepped ahead and published his book in 1941 in 2005. In this book, amazing things and facts have been revealed about Americans before Columbus's voyage. 

According to Charles C. Mann, people of that time were agriculturists. Native American tribes survived by cultivating the land and making it fit for the fulfillment of needs. We urge you to read this amazing book with accurate information about the era before Columbus. 

From Amazon:

A groundbreaking study that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in 1492.

Traditionally, Americans learned in school that the ancestors of the people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere at the time of Columbus’s landing had crossed the Bering Strait twelve thousand years ago; existed mainly in small, nomadic bands; and lived so lightly on the land that the Americas was, for all practical purposes, still a vast wilderness. But as Charles C. Mann now makes clear, archaeologists and anthropologists have spent the last thirty years proving these and many other long-held assumptions wrong.

In a book that startles and persuades, Mann reveals how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques came to previously unheard-of conclusions. Among them:

• In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe.
• Certain cities–such as Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital–were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitlán, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
• The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids.
• Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process so sophisticated that the journal Science recently described it as “man’s first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering.”
• Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it–a process scientists are studying today in the hope of regaining this lost knowledge.
• Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively “landscaped” by human beings.

Mannsheds clarifying light on the methods used to arrive at these new visions of the pre-Columbian Americas and how they have affected our understanding of our history and our thinking about the environment. His book is an exciting and learned account of scientific inquiry and revelation.

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The Other Slavery by Andres Resendez

From Amazon:

A landmark history — the sweeping story of the enslavement of tens of thousands of Indians across America, from the time of the conquistadors up to the early 20th century

Since the time of Columbus, Indian slavery was illegal in much of the American continent. Yet, as Andrés Reséndez illuminates in his myth-shattering The Other Slavery, it was practiced for centuries as an open secret. There was no abolitionist movement to protect the tens of thousands of natives who were kidnapped and enslaved by the conquistadors, then forced to descend into the “mouth of hell” of eighteenth-century silver mines or, later, made to serve as domestics for Mormon settlers and rich Anglos.  
 Reséndez builds the incisive case that it was mass slavery, more than epidemics, that decimated Indian populations across North America. New evidence, including testimonies of courageous priests, rapacious merchants, Indian captives, and Anglo colonists, sheds light too on Indian enslavement of other Indians — as what started as a European business passed into the hands of indigenous operators and spread like wildfire across vast tracts of the American Southwest.  

The Other Slavery reveals nothing less than a key missing piece of American history.  For over two centuries we have fought over, abolished, and tried to come to grips with African-American slavery.  It is time for the West to confront an entirely separate, equally devastating enslavement we have long failed truly to see. 

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The Journey of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III

From Amazon:

Drawing on vivid oral histories, Joseph M. Marshall’s intimate biography introduces a never-before-seen portrait of Crazy Horse and his Lakota community

Most of the world remembers Crazy Horse as a peerless warrior who brought the U.S. Army to its knees at the Battle of Little Bighorn. But to his fellow Lakota Indians, he was a dutiful son and humble fighting man who—with valor, spirit, respect, and unparalleled leadership—fought for his people’s land, livelihood, and honor. In this fascinating biography, Joseph M. Marshall, himself a Lakota Indian, creates a vibrant portrait of the man, his times, and his legacy.

Thanks to firsthand research and his culture’s rich oral tradition (rarely shared outside the Native American community), Marshall reveals many aspects of Crazy Horse’s life, including details of the powerful vision that convinced him of his duty to help preserve the Lakota homeland—a vision that changed the course of Crazy Horse’s life and spurred him confidently into battle time and time again.

The Journey of Crazy Horse is the true story of how one man’s fight for his people’s survival roused his true genius as a strategist, commander, and trusted leader. And it is an unforgettable portrayal of a revered human being and a profound celebration of a culture, a community, and an enduring way of life.

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In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen examines the shootout scenario in 1975 between representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Americans.

From Amazon:

An “indescribably touching, extraordinarily intelligent” (Los Angeles Times Book Review) chronicle of a fatal gun-battle between FBI agents and American Indian Movement activists by renowned writer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014), author of the National Book Award-winning The Snow Leopard and the novel In Paradise
 
On a hot June morning in 1975, a desperate shoot-out between FBI agents and Native Americans near Wounded Knee, South Dakota, left an Indian and two federal agents dead. Four members of the American Indian Movement were indicted on murder charges, and one, Leonard Peltier, was convicted and 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, brilliantly explicated by Peter Matthiessen in this controversial book. Kept off the shelves for eight years because of one of the most protracted and bitterly fought legal cases in publishing history, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse reveals the Lakota tribe’s long struggle with the U.S. government, and makes clear why the traditional Indian concept of the earth is so important at a time when increasing populations are destroying the precious resources of our world.

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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

Lastly, we suggest you read Short Nights of The Shadow Catcher, written by Timothy Egan. 

From Amazon:

A New York Times Notable Book
A Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

New York Times bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Timothy Egan reveals the life story of the man determined to preserve a people and culture in Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.

“A vivid exploration of one man's lifelong obsession with an idea . . . Egan’s spirited biography might just bring [Curtis] the recognition that eluded him in life.” ​— ​The Washington Post

Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous portrait photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But when he was thirty-two years old, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.

Curtis spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance  ​— ​ ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and he is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.

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5 Comments on “Our Favorite Native American History Books”

  • Sandi Fioti

    says:

    I just received my copy of this book. I love to read but I can’t just sit and read. Chores and whatnot. I did start reading this morning while all was quiet. I’m still reading Introduction: The Book. I had a hard time putting it down. I never realized when I was younger the things we learned in school was so wrong. Everyone NEEDS to be told the truth. When I was young I wondered how Columbus could find something that wasn’t lost in the first place. Children are so much smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Thank you all for showing me this book. I ordered it as soon as I saw it.

  • LINDA BASS

    says:

    In my school, there’s was no mention of NA, but half truths. I never knew until I was an adult that England sent their undesirables here.

  • Chefmannyg’

    says:

    A great book. Iv3 gone threw it twice. I gifted it to my auntie and will probably read it again after I finish “The Other Slavery”.

  • Stephanie M

    says:

    Let me start by saying I have not started reading this book, highly recommended to me by one of the staff at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma: Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory is a 2020 book by historian Claudio Saunt that focuses on the forced removal of Native Americans from the eastern United States during the 19th Century. Wikipedia. I would appreciate feedback if you have read this book.

  • Lynne Summit

    says:

    Thank you so much for listing these books! I love to read, especially about Native American History and its culture! I have bought and read some of these books already and they are all excellent!
    Everyone needs to learn the full and accurate accounts of the Indigenous and Native American peoples!

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