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Course: US history > Unit 6
- The Gold Rush
- The Homestead Act and the exodusters
- The reservation system
- The Dawes Act
- Chinese immigrants and Mexican Americans in the age of westward expansion
- The Indian Wars and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
The Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee
- Westward expansion: economic development
- Westward expansion: social and cultural development
- The American West
- By the end of the nineteenth century, due to a series of forced removals and brutal massacres at the hands of white settlers and the US Army, the native population of North America had dwindled to a mere fraction of what it had once been.
- Because forced assimilation had nearly destroyed Native American culture, some tribal leaders attempted to reassert their sovereignty and invent new spiritual traditions. The most significant of these was the Ghost Dance, pioneered by Wovoka, a shaman of the Northern Paiute tribe.
- The massacre at Wounded Knee, during which soldiers of the US Army 7th Cavalry Regiment indiscriminately slaughtered hundreds of Sioux men, women, and children, marked the definitive end of Indian resistance to the encroachments of white settlers.
The Ghost Dance
Clash of cultures: white europeans and native americans, the massacre at wounded knee, what do you think, want to join the conversation.
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Legends of America
Traveling through american history, destinations & legends since 2003., the ghost dance – a promise of fulfillment.
Ghost Dance of the Sioux, Illustrated in London News, 1891
The Ghost Dance (Natdia) is a spiritual movement that came about in the late 1880s when conditions were bad on Indian reservations and Native Americans needed something to give them hope. This movement found its origin in a Paiute Indian named Wovoka , who announced that he was the messiah come to earth to prepare the Indians for their salvation.
The Paiute tradition that led to the Ghost Dance began in the 1870s in the Western Great Basin from the visions of Wodziwob (Gray Hair) concerning earth renewal and the reintroduction of the spirits of ancient Numu (Northern Paiute) ancestors into the contemporary day to help them. Central to the Natdia religion was the dance itself – dancing in a circular pattern continuously – which induced a state of religious ecstasy.
The movement began with a dream by Wovoka (named Jack Wilson in English), a Northern Paiute, during the solar eclipse on January 1, 1889. He claimed that, in his dream, he was taken into the spirit world and saw all Native Americans being taken up into the sky and the Earth opening up to swallow all Whites and to revert back to its natural state. The Native Americans, along with their ancestors, were put back upon the earth to live in peace. He also claimed that he was shown that, by dancing the round-dance continuously, the dream would become a reality and the participants would enjoy the new Earth.
His teachings followed a previous Paiute tradition predicting a Paiute renaissance. Varying somewhat, it contained much Christian doctrine. He also told them to remain peaceful and keep the reason for the dance secret from the Whites. Wovoka’s message spread quickly to other Native American peoples and soon many of them were fully dedicated to the movement. Representatives from tribes all over the nation came to Nevada to meet with Wovoka and learn to dance the Ghost Dance and to sing Ghost Dance songs.
The dance as told by Wovoka went something like this: “When you get home you must begin a dance and continue for five days. Dance for four successive nights, and on the last night continue dancing until the morning of the fifth day when all must bathe in the river and then return to their homes. You must all do this in the same way. …I want you to dance every six weeks. Make a feast at the dance and have food that everybody may eat.”
The Natdia, it was claimed, would bring about the renewal of the native society and decline in the influence of the Whites.
Paiute Ghost Dance
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents grew disturbed when they became aware that so many Indians were coming together and participating in a new and unknown event.
In early October 1890, Kicking Bear, a Minneconjou Sioux Indian, visited Sitting Bull at Standing Rock telling him of his visit to Wovoka. They told him of the great number of other Indians who were there as well, referring to Wovoka as the Christ.
And they told him of the prophecy that the next spring when the grass was high, the earth would be covered with new soil and bury all the white men. The new soil would be covered with sweetgrass, running water and trees and the great herds of buffalo and wild horses would return. All Indians who danced the Ghost Dance would be taken up into the air and suspended there while the new earth was being laid down. Then they would be returned to the earth along with the ghosts of their ancestors.
When the dance spread to the Lakota, the BIA agents became alarmed. They claimed that the Lakota developed a militaristic approach to the dance and began making “ghost shirts” they thought would protect them from bullets. They also spoke openly about why they were dancing. The BIA agent in charge of the Lakota eventually sent the tribal police to arrest Sitting Bull, a leader respected among the Lakota, to force him to stop the dance. In the struggle that followed, Sitting Bull was killed along with a number of policemen. A small detachment of cavalry eventually rescued the remaining policemen.
Wounded Knee Massacre
Following the killing of Sitting Bull, the United States sent the Seventh Cavalry to “disarm the Lakota and take control.” During the events that followed, now known as the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890, 457 U.S. soldiers opened fire upon the Sioux killing more than 200 of them. The Ghost Dance reached its peak just before the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
When it became apparent that ghost shirts did not protect from bullets and the expected resurrection did not happen, most former believers quit the Ghost Dance. Wovoka, disturbed by the death threats and disappointed with the many reinterpretations of his vision, gave up his public speaking. However, he remained well-respected among his followers and continued his religious activities. He traveled and received visitors until the end of his life in 1932. There are still members of the religious movement today.
Believers in the Ghost Dance spirituality are convinced that performing the Ghost Dance will eventually reunite them with their ancestors coming by railway from the spirit world. The ancestor spirits, including the spirit of Jesus, are called upon to heal the sick and to help protect Mother Earth. Meanwhile, the world will return to a primordial state of natural beauty, opening up to swallow up all other people (those who do not have a strong spirituality based upon the earth). The performers of the Ghost Dance theoretically will float in safety above with their ancestors, family, and peoples of the world who follow the extensive spirituality.
1890 Observation and Description of the Ghost Dance:
Mrs. Z.A. Parker observed the Ghost Dance among the Lakota at Pine Ridge Reservation, Dakota Territory on June 20, 1890, and described it:
Ghost Dance Painting
We drove to this spot at about 10:30 o’clock on a delightful October day. We came upon tents scattered here and there in low, sheltered places long before reaching the dance ground. Presently we saw over three hundred tents placed in a circle, with a large pine tree in the center, which was covered with strips of cloth of various colors, eagle feathers, stuffed birds, claws, and horns-all offerings to the Great Spirit. The ceremonies had just begun. In the center, around the tree, were gathered their medicine-men; also those who had been so fortunate as to have had visions and in them had seen and talked with friends who had died. A company of 15 had started a chant and were marching abreast, others coming in behind as they marched. After marching around the circle of tents they turned to the center, where many had gathered and were seated on the ground.
I think they wore the ghost shirt or ghost dress for the first time that day. I noticed that these were all new and were worn by about seventy men and forty women. The wife of a man called Return-from-scout had seen in a vision that her friends all wore a similar robe, and on reviving from her trance she called the women together and they made a great number of the sacred garments. They were of white cotton cloth. The women’s dress was cut like their ordinary dress, a loose robe with wide, flowing sleeves, painted blue in the neck, in the shape of a three-cornered handkerchief, with moon, stars, birds, etc., interspersed with real feathers, painted on the waists, letting them fall to within three inches of the ground, the fringe at the bottom. In the hair, near the crown, a feather was tied. I noticed an absence of any manner of head ornaments, and, as I knew their vanity and fondness for them, wondered why it was. Upon making inquiries I found they discarded everything they could which was made by white men.
The ghost shirt for the men was made of the same material-shirts and leggings painted in red. Some of the leggings were painted in stripes running up and down, others running around. The shirt was painted blue around the neck, and the whole garment was fantastically sprinkled with figures of birds, bows and arrows, sun, moon, and stars, and everything they saw in nature.
Down the outside of the sleeve were rows of feathers tied by the quill ends and left to fly in the breeze, and also a row around the neck and up and down the outside of the leggings. I noticed that a number had stuffed birds, squirrel heads, etc., tied in their long hair. The faces of all were painted red with a black half-moon on the forehead or on one cheek.
As the crowd gathered about the tree the high priest, or master of ceremonies, began his address, giving them directions as to the chant and other matters. After he had spoken for about fifteen minutes they arose and formed in a circle. As nearly as I could count, there were between three and four hundred persons.
One stood directly behind another, each with his hands on his neighbor’s shoulders. After walking about a few times, chanting, “Father, I come,” they stopped marching, but remained in the circle, and set up the most fearful, heart-piercing wails I ever heard-crying, moaning, groaning, and shrieking out their grief, and naming over their departed friends and relatives, at the same time taking up handfuls of dust at their feet, washing their hands in it, and throwing it over their heads.
Finally, they raised their eyes to heaven, their hands clasped high above their heads, and stood straight and perfectly still, invoking the power of the Great Spirit to allow them to see and talk with their people who had died. This ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes, when they all sat down where they were and listened to another address, which I did not understand, but which I afterward learned were words of encouragement and assurance of the coming messiah.
When they arose again, they enlarged the circle by facing toward the center, taking hold of hands, and moving around in the manner of school children in their play of “needle’s eye.” And now the most intense excitement began. They would go as fast as they could, their hands moving from side to side, their bodies swaying, their arms, with hands gripped tightly in their neighbors’, swinging back and forth with all their might. If one, more weak and frail, came near falling, he would be jerked up and into position until tired nature gave way.
The ground had been worked and worn by many feet until the fine, flour-like dust lay light and loose to the depth of two or three inches. The wind, which had increased, would sometimes take it up, enveloping the dancers and hiding them from view. In the ring were men, women, and children; the strong and the robust, the weak consumptive, and those near to death’s door. They believed those who were sick would be cured by joining in the dance and losing consciousness. From the beginning they chanted, to a monotonous tune, the words:Father, I come;
Mother, I come;
Brother, I come;
Father, give us back our arrows.
All of which they would repeat over and over again until first one and then another would break from the ring and stagger away and fall down. One woman fell a few feet from me. She came toward us, her hair flying over her face, which was purple, looking as if the blood would burst through; her hands and arms moving wildly; every breath a pant and a groan; and she fell on her back, and went down like a log. I stepped up to her as she lay there motionless, but with every muscle twitching and quivering. She seemed to be perfectly unconscious. Some of the men and a few of the women would run, stepping high and pawing the air in a frightful manner. Some told me afterward that they had a sensation as if the ground were rising toward them and would strike them in the face. Others would drop where they stood. One woman fell directly into the ring, and her husband stepped out and stood over her to prevent them from trampling upon her. No one ever disturbed those who fell or took any notice of them except to keep the crowd away.
They kept up dancing until fully 100 persons were lying unconscious. Then they stopped and seated themselves in a circle, and as each recovered from his trance he was brought to the center of the ring to relate his experience. Each told his story to the medicine-man and he shouted it to the crowd. Not one in ten claimed that he saw anything. I asked one Indian, a tall, strong fellow, straight as an arrow-what his experience was. He said he saw an eagle coming toward him. It flew around and around, drawing nearer and nearer until he put out his hand to take it when it was gone. I asked him what he thought of it. “Big lie,” he replied. I found by talking to them that not one in 20 believed it. After resting for a time they would go through the same performance, perhaps three times a day. They practiced fasting, and every morning those who joined in the dance were obliged to immerse themselves in the creek. – Z.A. Parker, 1890.
Ghost Dance of the Cheyenne and Arapaho
© Kathy Weiser / Legends of America , updated February 2020.
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The Father Comes Singing
There is the father coming, There is the father coming. The father says this as he comes, The father says this as he comes, “You shall live,” he says as he comes, “You shall live,” ‘he says as he comes .
– Sioux Ghost Dance Song
"The coming of the troops has frightened the Indians. If the Seventh-Day Adventists prepare the ascension robes for the Second Coming of the Savior, the United States Army is not put in motion to prevent them. Why should not the Indians have the same privilege? If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come"
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The Native American Ghost Dance, a Symbol of Defiance
Religious Ritual Became a Symbol of Defiance By Native Americans
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The ghost dance was a religious movement that swept across Native American populations in the West in the late 19th century. What started as a mystical ritual soon became something of a political movement and a symbol of Native American resistance to a way of life imposed by the U.S. government.
A Dark Moment in History
As the ghost dance spread through western Native American reservations , the federal government moved aggressively to stop the activity. The dancing and the religious teachings associated with it became issues of public concern widely reported in newspapers.
As the 1890s began, the emergence of the ghost dance movement was viewed by white Americans as a credible threat. The American public was, by that time, used to the idea that Native Americans had been pacified, moved onto reservations, and essentially converted to living in the style of white farmers or settlers.
The efforts to eliminate the practice of ghost dancing on reservations led to heightened tensions which had profound effects. The legendary Sitting Bull was murdered in a violent altercation sparked by the crackdown on ghost dancing. Two weeks later, the confrontations prompted by the ghost dance crackdown led to the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre .
The horrific bloodshed at Wounded Knee marked the end of the Plains Indian Wars . The ghost dance movement was effectively ended, though it continued as a religious ritual in some places well into the 20th century. The ghost dance took a place at the end of a long chapter in American history, as it seemed to mark the end of Native American resistance to white rule.
Origins of the Ghost Dance
The story of the ghost dance began with Wovoka, a member of the Paiute tribe in Nevada. Wovoka, who was born about 1856, was the son of a medicine man. Growing up, Wovoka lived for a time with a family of white Presbyterian farmers, from whom he picked up the habit of reading the Bible every day.
Wovoka developed a wide-ranging interest in religions. He was said to be familiar with Mormonism and various religious traditions of native tribes in Nevada and California. In late 1888, he became quite ill with scarlet fever and may have gone into a coma.
During his illness, he claimed to have religious visions. The depth of his illness coincided with a solar eclipse on January 1, 1889, which was seen as a special sign. When Wovoka regained his health, he began to preach of knowledge which God had imparted to him.
According to Wovoka, a new age would dawn in 1891. The dead of his people would be restored to life. Game which had been hunted nearly to extinction would return. And the white people would vanish and stop afflicting the indigenous peoples.
Wovoka also said a ritual dance which had been taught to him in his visions must be practiced by native populations. This "ghost dance," which was similar to traditional round dances, was taught to his followers.
Decades earlier, in the late 1860s , during a time of privation among western tribes, there had been a version of the ghost dance which spread through the West. That dance also prophesied positive changes to come to the lives of Native Americans. The earlier ghost dance spread through Nevada and California, but when the prophecies did not come true, the beliefs and accompanying dance rituals were abandoned.
However, Wovoka's teachings based on his visions took hold throughout early 1889. His idea quickly spread along travel routes, and became widely known among the western tribes.
At the time, the Native American population was demoralized. The nomadic way of life had been curtailed by the U.S. government, forcing the tribes onto reservations. Wovoka's preaching seemed to offer some hope.
Representatives of various western tribes began to visit Wovoka to learn about his visions, and especially about what was becoming widely known as the ghost dance. Before long, the ritual was being performed across Native American communities, which were generally located on reservations administered by the federal government.
Fear of the Ghost Dance
In 1890, the ghost dance had become widespread among the western tribes. The dances became well-attended rituals, generally taking place over a span of four nights and the morning of the fifth day.
Among the Sioux, who were led by the legendary Sitting Bull , the dance became extremely popular. The belief took hold that someone wearing a shirt that was worn during the ghost dance would become invulnerable to any injury.
Rumors of the ghost dance began to instill fear among white settlers in South Dakota, in the region of the Indian reservation at Pine Ridge. Word began to spread that the Lakota Sioux were finding a fairly dangerous message in Wovoka's visions. His talk of a new age without whites began to be seen as a call to eliminate the white settlers from the region.
And part of Wovoka's vision was that the various tribes would all unite. So the ghost dancers began to be seen as a dangerous movement that could lead to widespread attacks on white settlers across the entire West.
The spreading fear of the ghost dance movement was picked up by newspapers, in an era when publishers such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were beginning to champion sensational news. In November 1890, a number of newspaper headlines across America linked the ghost dance to alleged plots against white settlers and U.S. Army troops.
An example of how white society viewed the ghost dance appeared in the form of a lengthy story in the New York Times with the subheadline, "How the Indians Work Themselves Up to a Fighting Pitch." The article explains how a reporter, led by friendly Indian guides, trekked overland to a Sioux camp. "The trip was extremely hazardous, owing to the frenzy of the hostiles." The article described the dance, which the reporter claimed to have observed from a hill overlooking the camp. 182 "bucks and squaws" participated in the dance, which took place in a large circle around a tree. The reporter described the scene:
"The dancers held on another's hands and moved slowly around the tree. They did not raise their feet as high as they do in the sun dance, most of the time it looked as though their ragged moccasins did not leave the ground, and the only idea of dancing the spectators could gain from the motion of the fanatics was the weary bending of the knees. Round and round the dancers went, with their eyes closed and their heads bent toward the ground. The chant was incessant and monotonous. 'I see my father, I see my mother, I see my brother, I see my sister," was Half Eye's translation of the chant, as the squaw and warrior moved laboriously about the tree. "The spectacle was as ghastly as it could be: it showed the Sioux to be insanely religious. The white figures bobbing between pained and naked warriors and the shrill yelping noise of the squaws as they tottered in grim endeavor to outdo the bucks, made a picture in the early morning which has not yet been painted or accurately described. Half Eyes says the dance which the spectators were then witnessing had been going on all night."
On the following day the other side of the country, the front-page story "A Devilish Plot" claimed that Indians on the Pine Ridge reservation planned to hold a ghost dance in a narrow valley. The plotters, the newspaper claimed, would then lure soldiers into the valley to stop the ghost dance, at which point they would be massacred.
In "It Looks More Like War," the New York Times claimed that Little Wound, one of the leaders at the Pine Ridge reservation, "the great camp of the ghost dancers," asserted that the Indians would defy orders to cease the dancing rituals. The article said the Sioux were "choosing their fighting ground," and preparing for a major conflict with the U.S. Army.
Role of Sitting Bull
Most Americans in the late 1800s were familiar with Sitting Bull, a medicine man of the Hunkpapa Sioux who was closely associated with the Plains Wars of the 1870s. Sitting Bull did not directly participate in the massacre of Custer in 1876, though he was in the vicinity, and his followers attacked Custer and his men.
Following the demise of Custer, Sitting Bull led his people into safety in Canada. After being offered amnesty, he eventually returned to the United States in 1881. In the mid-1880s, he toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, alongside performers like Annie Oakley.
By 1890, Sitting Bull was back in South Dakota. He became sympathetic to the movement, encouraged young Native Americans to embrace the spirituality espoused by Wovoka, and apparently urged them to take part in the ghost dance rituals.
The endorsement of the movement by Sitting Bull did not go unnoticed. As the fear of the ghost dance spread, what appeared to be his involvement only heightened tensions. The federal authorities decided to arrest Sitting Bull, as it was suspected he was about to lead a major uprising among the Sioux.
On December 15, 1890, a detachment of U.S. Army troops, along with Native Americans who worked as police officers on a reservation, rode out to where Sitting Bull, his family, and some followers were camped. The soldiers stayed at a distance while the police sought to arrest Sitting Bull.
According to news accounts at the time, Sitting Bull was cooperative and agreed to leave with the reservation police, but young Native Americans attacked the police. A shoot-out occurred, and in the gun battle, Sitting Bull was shot and killed.
The death of Sitting Bull was major news in the East. The New York Times published a story about the circumstances of his death on its front page, with subheadlines described him as an "old medicine man" and a "wily old plotter."
The ghost dance movement came to a bloody end at the massacre at Wounded Knee on the morning of December 29, 1890. A detachment of the 7th Cavalry approached an encampment of natives led by a chief named Big Foot and demanded that everyone surrender their weapons.
Gunfire broke out, and within an hour approximately 300 Native men, women, and children were killed. The treatment of the native peoples and the massacre at Wounded Knee signify a dark episode in American history . After the massacre at Wounded Knee, the ghost dance movement was essentially broken. While some scattered resistance to white rule arose in the following decades, the battles between Native Americans and whites in the West had ended.
Resources and Further Reading
- “ The Death of Sitting Bull .” New York Times , 17 Dec. 1890.
- “ It Looks More Like War .” New York Times , 23 Nov. 1890.
- “ The Ghost Dance .” New York Times , 22 Nov. 1890.
- “ A Devilish Plot .” Los Angeles Herald , 23 Nov. 1890.
- History of the Wounded Knee Massacre
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"When you get home you must begin a dance and continue for five days. Dance for four successive nights, and on the last night continue dancing until the morning of the fifth day, when all must bathe in the river and then return to their homes. You must all do this in the same way. I want you to dance every six weeks. Make a feast at the dance and have food that everybody may eat."
As news of Wounded Knee spread throughout the Native nations, the Ghost Dance died quickly. Wovoka's prophecies were empty; the land would not be returned from the white man through divine intervention. When it became obvious that ghost shirts did not protect their wearers from bullets, and the expected resurrection of the dead had not occurred, most believers quit the dance. With the suddenness of its birth, Ghost Dance disappeared. The Wounded Knee massacre put an end to the Ghost Dance as a widespread phenomenon. It was continued in several isolated places, but the expectation of the imminent return of the dead and of traditional culture was minimized. The last known Ghost Dances were held in the 1950s among the Shoshone. See Indian Wars Time Table .
The Ghost Dance Religion among the Sioux
- Native Americans
- Religion in America
- December 31, 1889
- December 31, 1890
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In January 1889, a Paiute prophet, Wovoka (c. 1856-1932), living what is now the state of Nevada, had a vision in which God gave him a message to carry back to his people. The message was that they should live honestly, work hard, and not quarrel among themselves or fight with the whites. If they followed these instructions they would not die or get sick and would be united with all those who had lived before, whom Wovoka had seen in his vision enjoying the pastimes of old in a land full of game.
Wovoka was also shown a dance, which came to be called the ghost dance, and told to tell the people to perform it every day for several days in a row. If they did this, God told him, they would hasten the day of reunion with their ancestors. The dance was a version of a traditional Indian circle dance. Word of Wovoka’s vision spread among Indians throughout the West. By late 1889, it had reached the Lakota and other Sioux , living on their reservations in what is now the state of South Dakota (Documents 22 and 23). Like other Indians who heard of the prophet’s vision, the Lakota sent people to meet him in person. When they returned to their reservation, they spread word of Wovoka’s message and taught the ghost dance. As did other Indians who practiced the new religion, the Lakota adapted it to their own traditions. More confrontational than some other tribes, the Sioux developed a version of the message that envisioned the disappearance of the whites from their land and a return to their former nomadic life of hunting buffalo. One of the principal promoters of the ghost dance religion among the Sioux was Sitting Bull (1831–1890), who had a long history of opposing accommodation with the whites. Red Cloud (1822–1909), an older chief, was skeptical of the new religion and discouraged continued conflict with whites.
The accounts of the ghost dance presented below are taken from the report of James Mooney, an ethnologist who traveled throughout the west in the aftermath of the ghost dance movement collecting information about it. The first is a report from a Lakota, Kicking Bear, one of the Sioux who had met Wovoka, describing the dance as it was practiced by another group of Indians, the Arapaho. The second is a report of a Sioux ghost dance written by a teacher from a reservation school who observed a ceremony on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The last item is the report of an interrogation of a convert to the new religion. Mooney described the man who conducted the interrogation, William T. Selwyn, as “a full blood Yankton Sioux, who had received a fair education under the patronage of a gentleman in Philadelphia.” Selwyn had worked on Sioux reservations in a variety of jobs. In this case, he was evidently working as a member of the Indian agency police, who were appointed by Indian Agents (federal officials responsible for a reservation).
Source: James Mooney, The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, Fourteenth Annual Report of The Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1892–93, by J. W. Powell, Director, Part 2, (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 798–801, 916–17, available at https://archive.org/details/ghostdancerelig01moongoog/ page/n6/mode/2up
The report of the ghost dance among the arapaho by kicking bear, spring 1890.
. . . [P]eople partaking in dance would get crazy and die, then the messiah is seen and all the ghosts. When they die they see strange things, they see their relatives who died long before. They saw these things when they died in ghost dance and came to life again. The person dancing becomes dizzy and finally drop dead, and the first thing they saw is an eagle comes to them and carried them to where the messiah is with his ghosts. . . .
The persons in the ghost dancing are all joined hands. A man stands and then a woman, so in that way forming a very large circle. They dance around in the circle in a continuous time until some of them become so tired and overtired that they became crazy and finally drop as though dead, with foams in mouth all wet by perspiration. All the men and women made holy shirts and dresses they wear in dance. The persons dropped in dance would all lie in great dust the dancing make. They paint the white muslins they made holy shirts and dresses out of with blue across the back, and alongside of this is a line of yellow paint. They also paint in the front part of the shirts and dresses. A picture of an eagle is made on the back of all the shirts and dresses. On the shoulders and on the sleeves they tied eagle feathers. They said that the bullets will not go through these shirts and dresses, so they all have these dresses for war. Their enemies weapon will not go through these dresses. The ghost dancers all have to wear eagle feather on head. With this feather any man would be made crazy if fan with this feather. In the ghost dance no person is allow to wear anything made of any metal, except the guns made of metal is carry by some of the dancers. When they come from ghosts or after recovery from craziness, they brought meat from the ghosts or from the supposed messiah. They also brought water, fire, and wind with which to kill all the whites or Indians who will help the chief of the whites. They made sweat house and made holes in the middle of the sweat house where they say the water will come out of these holes. Before they begin to dance they all raise their hands toward the northwest and cry in supplication to the messiah and then begin the dance with the song, “Ate misunkala oeya omani-ye,” etc.
The Report of Mrs. Z. A. Parker, a teacher on the Pine Ridge reservation
We drove to this spot about 10:30 o’clock on a delightful October day. We came upon tents scattered here and there in low, sheltered places long before reaching the dance ground. Presently we saw over three hundred tents placed in a circle, with a large pine tree in the center, which was covered with strips of cloth of various colors, eagle feathers, stuffed birds, claws, and horns—all offerings to the Great Spirit. The ceremonies had just begun. In the center, around the tree, were gathered their medicine-men; also those who had been so fortunate as to have had visions and in them had seen and talked with friends who had died. A company of fifteen had started a chant and were marching abreast, others coming in behind as they marched. After marching around the circle of tents they turned to the center, where many had gathered and were seated on the ground.
I think they wore the ghost shirt or ghost dress for the first time that day. I noticed that these were all new and were worn by about seventy men and forty women. The wife of a man called Return-from-scout had seen in a vision that her friends all wore a similar robe, and on reviving from her trance she called the women together and they made a great number of the sacred garments. They were of white cotton cloth. The women’s dress was cut like their ordinary dress, a loose robe with wide, flowing sleeves, painted blue in the neck, in the shape of a three-cornered handkerchief, with moon, stars, birds, etc, interspersed with real feathers, painted on the waist and sleeves. While dancing they wound their shawls about their waists, letting them fall to within 3 inches of the ground, the fringe at the bottom. In the hair, near the crown, a feather was tied. I noticed an absence of any manner of bead ornaments, and, as I knew their vanity and fondness for them, wondered why it was. Upon making inquiries I found they discarded everything they could which was made by white men.
The ghost shirt for the men was made of the same material—shirts and leggings painted in red. Some of the leggings were painted in stripes running up and down, others running around. The shirt was painted blue around the neck, and the whole garment was fantastically sprinkled with figures of birds, bows and arrows, sun, moon, and stars, and everything they saw in nature. Down the outside of the sleeve were rows of feathers tied by the quill ends and left to fly in the breeze, and also a row around the neck and up and down the outside of the leggings. I noticed that a number had stuffed birds, squirrel heads, etc, tied in their long hair. The faces of all were painted red with a black half-moon on the forehead or on one cheek.
As the crowd gathered about the tree the high priest, or master of ceremonies, began his address, giving them directions as to the chant and other matters. After he had spoken for about fifteen minutes they arose and formed in a circle. As nearly as I could count, there were between three and four hundred persons. One stood directly behind another, each with his hands on his neighbor’s shoulders. After walking about a few times, chanting, “Father, I come,” they stopped marching, but remained in the circle, and set up the most fearful, heart-piercing wails I ever heard—crying, moaning, groaning, and shrieking out their grief, and naming over their departed friends and relatives, at the same time taking up handfuls of dust at their feet, washing their hands in it, and throwing it over their heads. Finally, they raised their eyes to heaven, their hands clasped high above their heads, and stood straight and perfectly still, invoking the power of the Great Spirit to allow them to see and talk with their people who had died. This ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes, when they all sat down where they were and listened to another address, which I did not understand, but which I afterwards learned were words of encouragement and assurance of the coming messiah.
When they arose again, they enlarged the circle by facing toward the center, taking hold of hands, and moving around in the manner of school children in their play of “needle’s eye.” And now the most intense excitement began. They would go as fast as they could, their hands moving from side to side, their bodies swaying, their arms, with hands gripped tightly in their neighbors’, swinging back and forth with all their might. If one, more weak and frail, came near falling, he would be jerked up and into position until tired nature gave way. The ground had been worked and worn by many feet, until the fine, flour-like dust lay light and loose to the depth of two or three inches. The wind, which had increased, would sometimes take it up, enveloping the dancers and hiding them from view. In the ring were men, women, and children; the strong and the robust, the weak consumptive, and those near to death’s door. They believed those who were sick would be cured by joining in the dance and losing consciousness. From the beginning they chanted, to a monotonous tune, the words
Father, I come; Mother, I come; Brother, I come;
Father, give us back our arrows.
All of which they would repeat over and over again until first one and then another would break from the ring and stagger away and fall down. One woman fell a few feet from me. She came toward us, her hair flying over her face, which was purple, looking as if the blood would burst through; her hands and arms moving wildly; every breath a pant and a groan; and she fell on her back, and went down like a log. I stepped up to her as she lay there motionless, but with every muscle twitching and quivering. She seemed to be perfectly unconscious. Some of the men and a few of women would run, stepping high and pawing the air in a frightful manner. Some told me afterwards that they had a sensation as if the ground were rising toward them and would strike them in the face. Others would drop where they stood. One woman feel directly into the ring, and her husband stepped out and stood over her to prevent them from trampling upon her. No one ever disturbed those who fell or took any notice of them except to keep the crowd away.
They kept up dancing until fully 100 persons were lying unconscious. Then they stopped and seated themselves in a circle, and as each one recovered from his trance he was brought to the center of the ring to relate his experience. Each told his story to the medicine-man and he shouted it to the crowd. Not one in ten claimed that he saw anything. I asked one Indian—a tall, strong fellow, straight as an arrow—what his experience was. He said he saw an eagle coming toward him. It flew round and round, drawing nearer and nearer until he put out his hand to take it, when it was gone. I asked him what he thought of it. “Big lie,” he replied. I found by talking to them that not one in twenty believed it. After resting for a time they would go through the same performance, perhaps three times a day. They practiced fasting, and every morning those who joined in the dance were obliged to immerse themselves in the creek.
The Report of William T. Selwyn, YANKTON AGENCY, SOUTH DAKOTA, November 22, 1890
Colonel e. w. foster, united states indian agent, yankton agency, south dakota..
DEAR SIR: It has been reported here a few days ago that there was an Indian visitor up at White Swan from Rosebud agency who has been telling or teaching the doctrines of the new messiah, and has made some agitation among the people up there. According to the request of Captain Conrad, United States Army, of Fort Randall, South Dakota, and by your order of the 21st instant, I went up to White Swan and have arrested the wanted man (Kuwapi, or One they chased after). On my way to the agency with the prisoner I have made little interview with him on the subject of the new messiah. The following are the facts which he corroborated concerning the new messiah, his laws and doctrines to the Indians of this continent:
Q: Do you believe in the new messiah?—A. I somewhat believe it.
Q: What made you believe it?—A. Because I ate some of the buffalo meat that he (the new messiah) sent to the Rosebud Indians through Short Bull. 
Q: Did Short Bull say that he saw the living herd of roaming buffaloes while he was with the son of the Great Spirit?—A. Short Bull told the Indians at Rosebud that the buffalo and other wild game will be restored to the Indians at the same time when the general resurrection in favor of the Indians takes place.
Q: You said a “general resurrection in favor of the Indians takes place;” when or how soon will this be?—A. The father sends word to us that he will have all these caused to be so in the spring, when the grass is knee high.
Q: You said “father;” who is this father?—A. It is the new messiah. He has ordered his children (Indians) to call him “father.”
Q: You said the father is not going to send the buffalo until the resurrection takes place. Would he be able to send a few buffaloes over this way for a sort of a sample, so as to have his children (Indians) to have a taste of the meat?—A. The father wishes to do things all at once, even in destroying the white race.
Q: You said something about the destroying of the white race. Do you mean to say that all mankind except the Indians will be killed?—A. Yes.
Q: How, and who is going to kill the white people?—A. The father is going to cause a big cyclone or whirlwind, by which he will have all the white people to perish.
Q: If it should be a cyclone or whirlwind, what are we going to do to protect ourselves?—A. The father will make some kind of provisions by which we will be saved.
Q: You said something about the coming destruction on the white people by your father. Supposing your father is sick, tired out, forget, or some other accidental cause by which he should not be able to accomplish his purpose, what would be the case about the destroying of the white people?—A. There is no doubt about these things, as the miracle performer or the father is going to do just as what he said he would do.
Q: What other object could you come to by which you are led to believe that there is such a new messiah on earth at present?—A. The ghost dancers are fainted whenever the dance goes on.
Q: Do you believe that they are really fainted?—A. Yes.
Q: What makes you believe that the dancers have really fainted?—A. Because when they wake or come back to their senses they sometimes bring back some news from the unknown world, and some little trinkets, such as buffalo tail, buffalo meat, etc.
Q: What did the fainted ones see when they get fainted?—A. They visited the happy hunting ground, the camps, multitudes of people, and a great many strange people.
Q: What did the ghost or the strange people tell the fainted one or ones?—A. When the fainted one goes to the camp, he is welcomed by the relatives of the visitor (the fainted one), and he is also invited to several feasts.
Q: Were the people at Rosebud agency anxiously waiting or expecting to see all of their dead relatives who have died several years ago?—A. Yes.
Q” We will have a great many older folks when all the dead people come back, would we not?—A. The visitors all say that there is not a single old man nor woman in the other world—all changed to young.
Q: Are we going to die when the dead ones come back?—A. No; we will be just the same as we are today.
Q: Did the visitor say that there is any white men in the other world?—A. No; no white people.
Q: If there is no white people in the other world, where did they get their provisions and clothing?—A. In the other world, the messenger tells us that they have depended altogether for their food on the flesh of buffalo and other wild game; also, they were all clad in skins of wild animals.
Q: Did the Rosebud agency Indians believe the new messiah, or the son of the Great Spirit?—A. Yes.
Q: How do they show that they have a belief in the new messiah?—A. They show themselves by praying to the father by looking up to heaven, and call him “father,” just the same as you would in a church.
Q: Have you ever been in a church?—A. No.
Q: Do you faithfully believe in the new messiah?—A. I did not in the first place, but as I became more acquainted with the doctrines of the new messiah that I really believe in him.
Q: How many people at Rosebud, in your opinion, believe this new messiah?—A. Nearly everyone.
Q: Did the Rosebud people prepare to attack the white people this summer? While I was at Pine Ridge agency this summer the Oglalla Sioux Indians say they will resist against the government if the latter should try to put a stop to the messiah question. Did your folks at Rosebud say the same thing?—A. Yes.
Q: Are they still preparing and thinking to attack the white people should the government send our soldiers with orders to put a stop to your new business of the messiah?—A. I do not know, but I think that the Wojaji band at Rosebud agency will do some harm at any time.
Q: You do not mean to say that the Rosebud Indians will try and cause an outbreak?—A. That seems to be the case.
Q: You said something about the “son of the Great Spirit,” or “the father.” What do you mean by the son of the Great Spirit?—A. This father, as he is called, said himself that he is the son of the Great Spirit.
Q: Have you talked to or with any Indian at White Swan  about the new messiah, his laws and doctrines, or have you referred this to anyone while there?2—A. I have told a few of them. I did not voluntarily express my wish for them to know and follow the doctrines of the new messiah.
Q: Yes but you have explained the matter to the Indians, did you not?—A. Yes, I have.
Q: Do the Yankton Indians at White Swan believe in your teaching of the new messiah?—A. I did not intend to teach them, but as I have been questioned on the subject, that I have said something about it.
Q: Did any of them believe in you?—A. Some have already believed it, and some of them did not believe it.
Q: Those that have believed in you must be better men than the others, are they not?—A. I do not know.
Q: Do you intend to introduce the doctrines of the new messiah from Rosebud to this agency as a missionary of the gospel?—A. No, I did not.
Q: What brings you here, then?—A. I have some relatives here that I wanted to see, and this was the reason why I came here.
Q: Where does this new messiah question originate? I mean from the first start of it.—A. This has originated in White mountains.
Q: Where is this White mountain?—A. Close to the big Rocky mountains, near the country that belong to the Mexicans.
Q: Do you think that there will be a trouble in the west by next spring?—A. Yes.
Q: What makes you think so?—A. Because that is what I have heard people talk of.
This is all that I have questioned Kuwapi on the subject of the new messiah
- 1. Indians (Brulé Sioux) from the Rosebud Reservation. Short Bull (1845–1915) was a leading exponent of the Ghost Dance religion among the Brulé. He was one of the Sioux who traveled to meet Wovoka.
- 2. White Swan was a location on the Yankton reservation.
Annual Message to Congress (1889)
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The Ghost Dance And Ghost Shirts of the Native American Indians
- by Steve Paslow
An unusual dance circulated among a great many Native American Indian tribes in the United States of America during the late 1800’s. This dance was also a spiritual prayer ritual, and called “The Ghost Dance”. The Ghost Dance was a general circular dance but the dancers believed they were receptive to the ghosts of dead Native American Indians who are normally unseen and unheard. The spirits would convey messages to the dancers.
There were various dancers who wore what was called a “Ghost Shirt”. A ghost shirt was believed to be a special outer garment which would magically protect its wearer from all harm, including from the bullets from guns fired from the white men. Of course the ghost shirts had no type of supernatural protection power, The idea of ghost shirts being imbued with such a guardian power was from a lack of understanding of the Christian Mormons who, on certain occasions, wore a temple garment which was believed by them to give protection against evil; but this evil was the type associated with temptation to commit sin and the consequences that come about after engaging in sin. The Mormon garments were really worn for protection against spiritual evil. But, the Native American Indians misunderstood this circumstance.
Wovoka – “Jack Wilson” the creator of the Ghost Dance
The Ghost Dance was created by the Native Americans of the Nevada Northern Pacific in 1889. The purpose was to seek the attention and communication of dead Indian spirits; especially those spirits of chiefs and warriors. Native American Indians were also having increasing problems with white settlement squatting and an aiding and abetting US Calvary that was heavily weaponized. Furthermore, the white settlers were also killing off the bison’s and buffalos which was a primary source of food, leather clothing, and teepee material for the Indian tribes An additional part of the Ghost Dance movement was created by a Paiute holy man named Wovoka who also became a Christian and then became known as Jack Wilson. Wovoka means “cutter” or “wood cutter” in the Northern Paiute language. Wovoka was born about 1856 and died on September 20, 1932. He was a spiritual healer, pacifist, preacher, and a visionary.
With Wovoka being a Christian, and still a follower of his original American Indian religion, he incorporated much of Christianity into his Native American religion and philosophy. As Jack Wilson, after falling in a coma, he had a vision during during a solar eclipse on January 1, 1889. This vision was not his first vision, but as an adult, he believed he could properly interpret his vision of New Year’s Day 1889. He claimed that when Jesus Christ would come back to earth (known as “The Second Coming”), Jesus Christ would return as a Native American Indian. and all the dead individuals would be resurrected, as Jesus Christ would administer justice. The evil white people would disappear; good white people would return their land to the Indians. The buffalo and the bison and other important animals would return to the lands in great hordes. But, for all these things to occur, the Native American Indians are to live good; righteous lives, take up pacifism, renounce physical violence, perform treatments of all peoples, and practice the ghost dance.
In regards to The Ghost Shirts-the Lakota Indians(formerly known as the Sioux Indians) of America and Canada did not believe in Wovoka’s vision that peace with the white race could be achieved without physical violence. Lakota chiefs and warriors believed the white people and their government had to be conquered. The USA government broke every treaty signed with Native American Indians. There was the Black Hills Gold Rush and Land Grab in Dakota Territory of the USA that began in 1874 following the Custer Expedition in 1876 and then peaked in 1877. General George Armstrong Custer and his soldiers were killed off at the Battle of the Little Big Horn River, also known as the Battle of the Greasy Grass by many Indians, by a coalition of Native American Indian Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho armies at South-Central Montana Territory, later known as the State of Montana on June 25-26,1876.
After the defeat of Custer and the Seventh US Calvary, the Indians were eventually chased ; hunted down by new, extra U.S. soldiers with many Indian warriors being killed, while other Indians were captured and then forced back to reservations they had both white men and various Indians as guards; Indians who were allied with the USA. Lakota Chief Sitting Bull was killed by Indian police officers on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation on December 15, 1890 while his warriors were trying to rescue him.
Chief Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill – photograph 1885
There were American Indians that wore the Ghost Dance Shirt during the Ghost Dance, while other dancers did not. Certain American Indians believed the ghost shirt would “magically” protect them from the bullets of the guns of the white men, but, of course, were very wrong. False stories were purposely circulated by various Indians to scare the white men into thinking that ghost shirts gave the wearer immunity from injury of the bullets that were fired out of guns. On December 29, 1890 the Wounded Knee Massacre, also called the Battle of Wounded Knee, occurred near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.in the USA State of South Dakota. South Dakota back then was recently granted statehood into the Union on November 2, 1899.Lakota Chief Crazy Horse , who took part in the Battle of Custer’s Last Stand, was buried on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1877.
General George Armstrong Custer
Custer’s Indian scout – “Curley” – sole survivor of the Little Bighorn
In South Dakota, at the Town of Wounded Knee, which the Wounded Knee River runs through, at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, on December 29, 1890 (just 2 days before Christmas), while the 7th U.S. Calvary was disarming the Lakota Indians, a terrible incident occurred when a deaf Indian, Black Coyote, (whom the U.S. soldiers were told is deaf), resisted giving up his rifle, claiming he had paid for it, and during a struggle with a Calvary soldier, while an old Indian man began ghost dancing, the rifle went off. The U.S. Army began to start shooting indiscriminately at the Lakota people which caused a small number of Indians, who were still armed, to shoot at the soldiers. When the massacre was over, more than 250 men, women, and children of the Native American Indians had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men and 47 women and children, some of whom later died.) Certain estimates calculate the number of dead to be as high as 300, with 25 soldiers dead (mostly through so-called “friendly fire”), and 39 were wounded (6 wounded soldiers later died.)
20 US soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor and those medals were never revoked. The Wounded Knee Battlefield, the place of the Massacre, has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior on December 21, 1965..
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Boarding School and Land Allotment Eras 1879-1933
Religious Crimes Code of 1883 bans Native dances, ceremonies
Congress bans all Native dancing and ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, Ghost Dance, potlatches, and the practices of medicine persons. The Code gives Indian agents authority to use force, imprisonment, and the withholding of rations to stop any cultural practices they deem immoral or subversive to federal government-mandated assimilation policies. Courts of Indian Offenses are created as well as Indian police forces, established, paid for, and supervised by the federal government to replace Native governance. Enforcement of this law eventually leads to the massacre of Big Foot's band at Wounded Knee in 1890. Commission of Indian Affairs Charles Burke continues to issue anti-dancing directives well into the 1920s. The Code is amended in 1933 to eliminate the ban on Indian dances. The effect of this law is to drive Indian religious ceremonies such as the Ghost dance and the Sun dance underground. This piece of legislation is not repealed until the 1970s. The Code is one of various methods that the U.S. employs to try to restrict the cultural identity of American Indian tribes. Many political, cultural, and spiritual leaders are imprisoned (Nies, 1996 & "Code of Indian offenses," 1883).
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