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The Ghost Dance, a messianic Native American religious movement, originated in Nevada around , faded, reemerged in its bestknown form in the winter of —89, then spread rapidly through much of the Great Plains, where hundreds of adherents died in the Wounded Knee Massacre. He also claimed to communicate with the dead and taught followers to perform a ceremonial circular dance that contributed to the movement earning the Ghost Dance label.

Wounded Knee Massacre & The Ghost Dance (article) | Khan Academy

The movement spread through Nevada and to parts of California and Oregon but subsided after the prophecies failed to materialize. Another Paiute prophet, Wovoka, revived the movement in According to the vision, if Indians followed these practices, they would be reunited with the dead and whites would disappear. Indians who had already subscribed to the first Ghost Dance tended to reject Wovoka's version, but the second Ghost Dance found acceptance among Plains tribes as far east as the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The Ghost Dance affected no group more than the Lakota Sioux bands who adopted it. Several Lakota bands sent emissaries to interview Wovoka about his teachings.

They reported in early Wovoka's message that performing Ghost Dance ceremonies and songs would bring back dead Indians, return plentiful buffalo herds, and induce a natural disaster that would sweep away whites, thus restoring the Indian way of life that had existed prior to European contact. The Ghost Dance provided a hopeful message to all Indians, but it proved particularly enticing to Lakotas suffering poor conditions on reservations and to Lakota leaders such as Sitting Bull Tantanka Iyotanka , who had resisted U.

Indian policy. Lakota participants added vestments known as ghost shirts to the ceremonies and songs brought by the emissaries.

The Dancing Devils

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.

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 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.

Ghost Dancer

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. 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.

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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. One voice of sanity, the former agent, Valentine McGillycuddy, recommended allowing the dances to continue.

Why should not the Indians have the same privilege?

If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come" Nonetheless, on December 12, the order was received to arrest Sitting Bull. On December 15, 43 Indian police surrounded Sitting Bull's cabin before dawn. Three miles away they were backed up by a squadron of cavalry. Upon awakening, he agreed to come with the police and asked that his horse be saddled while he dressed.


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When they left the cabin, a large group of Ghost Dancers, much larger than the police force, had assembled and challenged the police. In an attempt to shoot back at his assailant, Bull Head instead accidentally shot Sitting Bull. Then another policeman, Red Tomahawk, shot Sitting Bull in the head. Many Indian policemen died that day before the cavalry arrived to quell the fighting.


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This event then precipitated the events that were to follow at Wounded Knee. We have selected a great group of posters with images of Notable Native Americans, creations of many Native American artists, portraits made by Edward Curtis, and a large selection of other images and calendars.