The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival

The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival

The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival

The Turtle's Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival


"Grandchildren meet their grandparents at the end," Denise Low says, "as tragic figures. We remember their decline and deaths.... The story we see as grandchildren is like a garden covered by snow, just outlines visible."

Low brings to light deeply held secrets of Native ancestry as she recovers the life story of her Kansas grandfather, Frank Bruner (1889-1963). She remembers her childhood in Kansas, where her grandparents remained at a distance, personally and physically, from their grandchildren, despite living only a few miles away. As an adult, she comes to understand her grandfather's Delaware (Lenape) legacy of persecution and heroic survival in the southern plains of the early 1900s, where the Ku Klux Klan attacked Native people along with other ethnic minorities. As a result of such experiences, the Bruner family fled to Kansas City and suppressed their non-European ancestry as completely as possible. As Low unravels this hidden family history of the Lenape diaspora, she discovers the lasting impact of trauma and substance abuse, the deep sense of loss and shame related to suppressed family emotions, and the power of collective memory.

Low traveled extensively around Kansas, tracking family history until she understood her grandfather's political activism and his healing heritage of connections to the land. In this moving exploration of her grandfather's life, the former poet laureate of Kansas evokes the beauty of the Flint Hills grasslands, the hardships her grandfather endured, and the continued discovery of his teachings.


My family’s Delaware tribal history became official in 1626 with the “sale” of Manhattan Island. Many paintings exist of this moment. Tattooed “Indians” wearing deerskin robes, my forebears, meet with Dutch traders, who wear breeches and plumed hats. Peter Minuit presents guilders and trade goods as tribute to the Native leaders. in return the Dutch enjoy a trade alliance. From a European perspective this iconic moment transferred legal title of Manahatta, Island of Hills, and the Delawares left. Or did they? Delaware groups persisted through the resettlement of New York City by Dutch traders, the English, and then colonial Americans. Delawares continued to play major roles in the fur trade, the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. When their political power finally diminished, most Delaware people went west along forced migration routes, while some populations stayed in the East. the major remaining clans are Wolf, Turkey, and Turtle. All of them adapt to many different conditions. All are survivors, like my family.

In the 1870s my grandfather’s Delaware parents relocated to the Kansas plains, far from Manhattan. Still, Grandfather lived with the consequences of transactions between Europeans and Delawares, as . . .

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