The Ghost Dance
|By the 1880's
the U.S. government had managed to confine almost all of the Plains
Indians on reservations. The rations and supplies
that had been guaranteed them by the treaties were of poor quality,
they arrived at all. Graft and corruption were rampant in the Indian
Bureau. An attempt was also made to convert the Indians to Christianity
with mixed results. By 1890 conditions were so bad on the
reservations that the situation was ripe for a major movement to rise
among the Indians. This movement found its origin in a Paiute Indian
Wovoka, who announced that he was the messiah come to earth to prepare
the Indians for their salvation. 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.
When Kicking Bear,
a Minneconjou, visited Sitting Bull at Standing Rock, he told him about
Wovokaand about the great number of Indians who were there
They referred to Wovoka as a new messiah, and told of the Ghost Dance
that they had learned and the way that the Christ had flown over them
horseback ride back to the railroad tracks, teaching them Ghost Dance
songs. They told him of the prophecy that, next spring, when the grass
was high, the earth would be covered with new soil, burying all the
white men. The new soil would be covered with
sweet grass, running water and trees;
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 replaced there, with the
ghosts of their ancestors, on the new earth. Only Indians would live
there then. Soon, this new religion was being taught at all of the
Sioux reservations. Big Foot's band, which consisted mostly of women
had lost their
husbands and other male relatives in battles with Custer, Miles and
Crook, would dance until they collapsed, hoping to guarantee the return
of their dead warriors. Sitting Bull greatly doubted that the dead would
be brought back to life, and he had heard that the agents were getting
nervous about all of the dancing and were calling in the soldiers on
He did not want the soldiers to return to kill more of his people. Kicking
Bear assured him that, if the dancers wore their Ghost Dance shirts,
with magic symbols, the soldiers bullets would not strike them. Sitting
Bull consented to Kicking Bear remaining at Standing Rock and teaching
the Ghost Dance. This began a chain of events that lead to his death
on December 15.
As the number of people involved in the Ghost Dance movement increased, the panic
and hysteria of the Indian agents increased with it. Agent McLaughlin
had Kicking Bear removed from Standing Rock, but this did not stop the
there. McLaughlin telegraphed Washington, asking for troops and blaming
Sitting Bull as the power behind this "pernicious system of religion." .
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
were backed up by a squadron of cavalry. When Lieutenant Bull Head entered
the cabin, Sitting Bull was asleep. Upon awakening, he agreed to come
with the police and asked that his horse be saddled while he dressed.
left the cabin, a large group of Ghost Dancers, much larger than the
police force, had assembled and challenged the police. One dancer, Catch-the-Bear,
pulled out a rifle and shot Lieutenant Bull Head in the side. In an
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
This event then precipitated the events that were to follow at Wounded Knee.
To learn more about the host Dance, visit the Wounded
Knee Museum .