Posted: March 18th, 2023

Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee massacre

Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre

James Mooney writes in The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 that the essential part of the teaching of the Ghost Dance is the doctrine that the world is old and worn and the time is near for its renewal (Mooney 661). The Ghost Dance was an American Indian religious revivalist movement that spread through the Plains Indians and other ethnic groups during the 1890’s and due to a culmination of events is forever linked to the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 (Ghost pp).

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In January 1889, Wovoka, a Paiute Indian, had a vision of renewal and restoration of the Indian way of life, in which they would be reunited with loved ones in the ghost world, the buffalo roamed freely again and white people would be obliterated from the earth (Ghost pp). In others words, the Indian world would return to the way it was before the Europeans came. Wovoka’s vision became the nucleus for the Ghost Dance and gained great popularity throughout the tribes, primarily due to its message of hope and justice (Ghost pp). Believing the dance would eliminate the whites from this world and bring their ancestors back from the other world, Native American tribes across the Plains engaged in frenzied trance-inducing dancing (Ghost pp). The Ghost Dance movement spread quickly, creating unity among the various ethnic groups and causing fear among white settlers (Ghost pp).

The intense and immediate popularity of the Ghost Dance movement was basically a desperate reaction to the total defeat of the Plains Indians by the United States Army and the removal of the tribes to confined reservations where they were dependent on the handouts of corrupt Indian agents that were appointed by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (Ghost pp). Moreover, their children were taken away to be educated as Christians in federal boarding schools, the bison herds that had once sustained their way of life had been hunted by white people to near extinction, and their millions of acres of land was now the property of the United States of America (Ghost pp). The Dawes Act of 1887 divided the remaining land of the Plains Indians into allotments in an effort to force them to become farmers as individuals rather than remaining part of their ethnic groups (Ghost pp). The Plains Indians’ culture was being systematically destroyed, and there seemed little hope for the future of their peoples, thus the Ghost Dance offered a solution to the desperate conditions and suffering (Ghost pp). The idea that the Great Spirit would come to their rescue and save them from the whites tied in with their cultural and spiritual beliefs (Ghost pp).

The Lakota, or Sioux, once a powerful and free roaming tribe, lived in some of the most desperate conditions on their reservations in North and South Dakota, where they had basically been reduced to prisoners of the United States (Ghost pp). In October 1890, the Ghost Dance movement reached Standing Rock, where Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa Sioux lived with the Oglala Sioux, and although Sitting Bull allowed his people to take part, he himself did not (Ghost pp). Due to fears by the white people, an Indian agent decided to arrest Sitting Bull, claiming he encouraged the Ghost Dance, and the chief was killed by Red Tomahawk, a Sioux working as a reservation police officer for the United States government (Ghost pp). Sitting Bull’s death, supposedly while resisting arrest, caused Sioux tribes on other reservations that were involved in the movement to flee (Ghost pp). This panic led to the tragic events of December 29, 1890 when members of Chief Big Foot’s Miniconjou Sioux and Sitting Bull’s remaining Hunkpapa, attempting to reach the safety of Red Cloud’s Pine Ridge Reservation, were killed at the Battle of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, by U.S. 7th Cavalry soldiers

Ghost). Over two hundred Sioux were killed, including women and children, and the massacre was the last major military conflict between the whites and Native Americans (American pp). The Ghost Dance represented to White Americans the backwardness and continuing threat posed by the Plains Indians and simply intensified their desire to destroy the Plains Indians forever (Ghost pp).

Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is perhaps one of the most thorough accounting of the Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee massacre. Brown recounts in detail the events leading up to the birth of the Ghost Dance and the massacre at Wounded Knee.

There is a history of decades and generations of treaties and negotiations between the Native American Indian tribes and the United States Government. When Andrew Jackson took office as President of the United States in 1829, thousands of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles were killed, yet these southern Indians, still numerous, clung to their tribal lands, which had been assigned to them by white men’s treaties (Brown 5). Jackson recommended to Congress that all of these Indians be removed westward beyond the Mississippi, to be guaranteed to the tribes as long as they occupy it (Brown 5). This enactment was simply another in a long list of broken promises made to the eastern Indians, however Jackson convinced them that this was a promise that would never be broken, and thus on May 28, 1830, Jackson’s recommendations became law (Brown 5). On June 30, 1834, Congress passed “An Act to Regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes and to Preserve Peace on the Frontiers,” which stated that all the land west of the Mississippi, but not within the States of Missouri, Louisiana or the Territory of Arkansas, would be Indian country and no white persons would be permitted to trade in the Indian country without a license (Brown 6). Moreover, no white traders of bad character would be allowed to live in Indian country, and no white persons would be permitted to settle in Indian country, and those who tried would be removed by the military force of the United States (Brown 6). Before these laws could even be put into effect, a new wave of white settlers swept westward and formed the territories of Wisconsin and Iowa, making it necessary for policy makers in Washington to shift the “permanent Indian frontier” from the Mississippi River to the 95th meridian (this line ran from what is now the Minnesota-Canada border, slicing southward through what are now the states of Minnesota and Iowa, and then along the western boarders of Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, to Galveston Bay, Texas) (Brown 6). To ensure the boundaries of the 95th meridian and to prevent unauthorized white men from crossing it, soldiers were garrisoned in a series of military posts that ran southward from Fort Snelling on the Mississippi River to forts Atkinson and Leavenworth on the Missouri, forts Gibson and Smith on the Arkansas, Fort Towson on the Red, and Fort Jesup in Louisiana (Brown 6).

During the following decade, the discovery of gold in the Appalachians led to the immediate removal of the Cherokees, whose great nation had survived more than a hundred years of the white man’s wars, diseases and whiskey (Brown 7). In the autumn of 1838, General Winfield Scott’s soldiers rounded them up and concentrated them into camps, and from there they were started westward to Indian Territory, a march known as the “trail of tears” (Brown 7). The Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles also gave up their homelands in the South, and in the North, survivors of the Shawnees, Miamis, Ottawas, Hurons, Delawares and others once mighty tribes walked or traveled by horseback and wagon beyond the Mississippi, carrying only a few personal belongings (Brown 8).

When the war with Mexico ended in 1847, the United States took possession of a vast expanse of territory spanning from Texas to California, all of it west of the permanent Indian frontier (Brown 8). A year later, gold was discovered in California, and within months thousands of whites were crossing the Indian Territory, leading Washington to invent Manifest Destiny in order to justify the breaches (Brown 8). Under this term, Europeans and their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America, including the Indians, along with their lands, forests and mineral wealth (Brown 8). Less than twenty-five years after Jackson’s trade act, white settlers had driven in both the north and south flanks of the 95th meridian line, and advance elements of white miner and traders had penetrated the center, due to the discovery of gold in the mountains of Colorado (Brown 9).

By 1860 there were approximately 300,000 Indians in the United States and Territories, most of the living west of the Mississippi, and according to varying estimates, their numbers had been reduced by more than two-thirds since the arrival of the Europeans (Brown 9). The most numerous and powerful western tribe was the Sioux, which was separated into several subdivisions, including the Santee Sioux who lived in the woodlands of Minnesota and had been forced to retreat due to the advancement of white settlements (Brown 9). And farther west on the Great Plains were the Teton Sioux, among them the Oglalas, whose chief was Red Cloud, and among the Hunkpapas, was Sitting Bull, who together with Crazy Horse of the Oglalas, would make history in 1876 at Little Big Horn (Brown 10).

After years of broken promises, conflicts and massacres, came the Treaty of Fort Laramie, said to be the most important document in the history of Indian-white relations on the Great Plains (Marrin 94). The treaty basically set aside a Great Sioux Reservation on all of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River up to and including the Black Hills, and barred all whites except government officials from the reservation and from a vast “unceded” territory lying between the Black Hills and Bighorn Mountains (Marrin 94). Under the treaty, these lands belonged to the Lakota “forever” unless three-quarters of the tribes’ men agreed to part with them, and those who settled there would receive food and clothing while learning to support themselves by farming (Marrin 95). Moreover, those who did not wish to settle down could hunt in the unceded territory while the buffalo lasted, and the government agreed to close and abandon the forts (Marrin 95). What the white interpreters did not explain was that the treaty did not close the gold mines, thus prospectors would keep coming, and whites planned to exterminate the herds of bison (Marrin 95). By 1869, most Lakota bands, some 17,000 people, had moved onto the Great Sioux Reservation, and in 1870, Red Cloud visited Washington, D.C., and returned a changed man (Marrin 95). After seeing the throngs of people in this one city, he realized that nothing could stop the whites from advancing into Indian lands (Merrin 96). Once a strong and mighty people, the Native tribes were now melting like snow on a hillside, white the whites were growing like spring grass (Merrin 96).

Sitting Bull did not sign the treaty, and Crazy Horse did not follow Red Cloud onto the reservation (Merrin 96). When the crews began working to link the Central Pacific Railroad from the West and the Union Pacific Railroad from the East, more conflicts between the tribes and the whites ensued (Merrin 102). The Fort Laramie Treaty had promised to end all war between the Indians and whites, however over the next twenty years, the contents of some sixteen articles of that treaty were ratified by Congress to such an extent from the original that it was like two horses whose colors did not match (Brown 146). The Treaty of 1868 had promised that not only would whites be forbidden to settle or occupy any portion of the territory, they could not even pass through the lands with the consent of the Indians (Brown 273). Red Cloud had signed under the condition that Fort Laramie be the Teton Sioux trading post, however the fort was placed on the Missouri side, thus Red Cloud and his people were forbidden to enter (Brown 177).

By 1890, the white population of the United States had reached 62,622,250 and Idaho and Wyoming had become the forty-third and forty-fourth states of the Union (Brown 415). Sitting Bull spent some four years in exile in Canada, and unable to convince the Canadians to give his people a reservation, and following a brutal winter, he and his followers made their was south, arriving into Fort Buford in 1881 (Brown 420). By 1889, the United State government had managed to break up the Great Sioux Reservation and obtain even more land by rather devious maneuvers (Brown 428).

About a year after the breaking up of the Great Sioux Reservation, in October 1890, Kicking Bear, a Minneconjou from the Cheyenne River agency, came to visit Sitting Bull, bringing with him new of the Paiute Messiah, Wovoka, who had founded the religious of the Ghost Dance (Brown 431). Kicking Bear told how a voice had told him to go forth and meet the ghosts of Indians who were to return and inhabit the earth, and so he traveled to the camp of the Paiutes (Brown 432). Kicking Bear told how there he had met the Messiah, the Christ, who had appeared as an Indian and showed them how to dance the Dance of the Ghosts, and promised to return again and return the earth as it was before the white man came (Brown 432). The Indians who dance the Ghost Dance would be taken up in the air and suspended there while a wave of new earth was passing, and then they would be set down among the ghosts of their ancestors on the new earth, where only Indians would live (Brown 434). Sitting Bull had no objections to his people dancing the Ghost Dance, however he had heard that agents at some of the reservations were bringing soldiers to stop the ceremonies and did not want soldiers coming in and shooting at his people (Brown 434). Kicking Bear said that if the Indians wore the sacred garments of the Messiah, Ghost Shirts painted with magic symbols, then no harm could come to them, even bullets could not penetrate a Ghost Shirt (Brown 434).

Although skeptical of Kicking Bear’s accounts, Sitting Bull invited him to teach his band of people at Standing Rock the Dance of the Ghosts (Brown 434). That autumn, the Ghost Dance spread like a prairie fire across the reservations, as did agitation among the Indian Bureau inspectors and Army officers, who received official word to stop the Ghost Dancing (Brown 435). A week after Kicking Bear came to Standing Rock, he was led off the reservation by James McLaughlin, head of the Bureau at Standing Rock (Brown 435). What McLaughlin and others failed to recognize was that the Ghost Dance was entirely Christian, and except for a difference in rituals, its tenets were the same as those of any Christian church (Brown 435). McLaughlin had pleaded with Sitting Bull to intervene and order his people to stop dancing, but Sitting Bull refused, and so the following day, McLaughlin notified the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the real power behind the “pernicious system of religion” at Standing Rock was Sitting Bull and recommended that the chief be arrested, and confined to a military prison, however officials decided that such action would create more trouble than it would prevent (Brown 435).

By mid-November, Ghost Dancing was so prevalent on the Sioux reservations that almost all other activities came to a halt, no pupils in the schoolhouses, trading stores were empty, and no work was being done on the farms (Brown 436). Agents sent word to Washington that the Indians were dancing in the snow and were wild and crazy and something had to be done at once (Brown 436). Short Bull led some three thousand down the Whtie River into the Badlands, and at Cheyenne River, Big Foot’s band increased to six hundred, mostly widows, and when the agent tried to interfere, Big Foot led the dancers off the reservation to a scared place on Deep Creek (Brown 436). During the last week of November, when Washington demanded a list of names responsible for the Ghost Dance, Sitting Bull’s name was listed among the formenters (Brown 436). On December 15, 1890, forty-three Indian police surrounded Sitting Bull’s cabin and demanded his arrest (Brown 437). Sitting Bull dressed and was escorted outside where there had gathered a small band of dancers, among them Catch-the-Bear, and when Sitting Bull held back making it necessary for policemen, Bull Head and Red Tomahawk to force him toward his horse, Catch-the-Bear fired a rifle that was hidden under his blanket, wounding Bull Head in the side, and when Bill Head tried to shoot his assailant, the bullet struck Sitting Bull instead (Brown 438). Almost simultaneously, Red Tomahawk shot Sitting Bull through the head and killed him (Brown 438).

The Sioux so believed in the force of the Ghost Dance religion, that even in their grief and anger over Sitting Bull’s assassination, they did not retaliate (Brown 439). However, hundreds of the now leaderless Hunkpapas fled from Standing Rock to seek refuge in one of the Ghost Dance camps or with the last of the great chiefs, Red Cloud, at Pine Ridge (Brown 439). On December 17th, about a hundred of these fleeing Hunkpapas reached Big Foot’s Minneconjou camp near Cherry Creek, and that same day the War Department issued orders for the arrest and imprisonment of Big Foot (Brown 440). However, upon hearing of Sitting Bull’s death, Big Foot had started moving his people toward Pine Ridge, hoping that Red Cloud could protect them, but en route he fell ill with pneumonia, and when hemorrhaging began, he had to travel in a wagon (Brown 440).

On December 28th, as they neared Porcupine Creek, the Minneconjou saw four troops of cavalry approaching, and Big Foot immediately ordered a white flag to be run up over his wagon (Brown 440). Major Samuel Whitside, of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, greeted Big Foot, whose blankets were stained with blood from his lungs (Brown 440). Whitside explained to Big Foot that he had orders to take him to a cavalry camp on Wounded Knee Creek, to which Big Foot replied that he was headed in that direction and was taking his people to Pine Ridge for safety (Whitside 440). Whitside ordered his half-breed scout, John Shangreau, to disarm Big Foot’s people, but Shangreau convinced him to wait until they reached Wound Knee in case there was a fight (Brown 440). Big Foot was transferred to a cavalry ambulance, and two troops of cavalry took the lead in the march to Wounded Knee, the ambulance and wagons following, the Indians herded into a compact groups behind them, with the other two cavalry troops and a battery of two Hotchkiss guns bringing up the rear (Brown 440).

At Wounded Knee Creek, the Indians were halted and carefully counted, 120 men and 230 women and children (Brown 441). The Indians were issued rations and tents, but because it was nighttime, Whitside decided to wait until morning before disarming his prisoners (Brown 441). To ensure that none of his prisoners escaped, Whitside stationed two troops of cavalry as sentinels around the Sioux tepees, and then posted the two Hotchkiss guns on top of a rise overlooking the camp (Brown 441). Later that night, Colonel James W. Forsyth arrived with the remainder of the Seventh Regiment, and informed Whitside that he had received orders to take Big Foot’s band to the Union Pacific Railroad for shipment to a military prison in Omaha (Brown 441). Even with their protective Ghost Shirts and their belief in the prophecies of the new Messiah, Big Foot’s people were fearful of the soldiers camped around them, for fourteen years earlier at Little Bighorn, some of these warriors had helped defeat some of these soldier chiefs, and feared revenge (Brown 442).

The following morning, the soldiers mounted their horses and surrounded the Indians, announcing that all men should come to the center for a talk and that afterwards they would be moved to the Pine Ridge agency (Brown 442). Big Foot was brought out and sat in front of his tent, with older men gathered around him (Brown 442). Forsyth ordered the Indians to surrender their weapons, but not satisfied with the number surrendered, sent details of troopers to search the tepees (Brown 442). The soldiers took axes, knives and even tent stakes and piled them near the guns, but still not satisfied, Forsyth ordered the men to remove their blankets and submit to weapon searchers (Brown 442). Only the medicine man, Yellow Bird, made any overt protest, saying that the Ghost Shirts would protect them from the soldiers’ bullets (Brown 441). The soldiers found only two rifles, one of them belonging to a young Minneconjou named Black Coyote, who held the rife above his head shouting that he had paid much money for it and that it belonged to him (Brown 442). Black Coyote was deaf, and had the soldiers left him alone, he would have given up his gun, however they grabbed him and spun him around, yet he was still unconcerned because he had not pointed his gun at anyone and had every intention of laying it down (Brown 442). The troops grabbed the gun and as they spun him around there was a gunshot, and although no one can report anyone being shot, the soldiers immediately returned fire and “indiscriminant killing followed” (Brown 444).

Within the first few seconds of firing, Big Foot was among the dying on the frozen ground, then there was a lull in the rattle of arms, with small groups of Indians and soldiers grappling at close quarters, using knives, clubs and pistols (Brown 444). Because few of the Indians had arms, they began fleeing, but the big Hotchkiss guns began firing, raking the camp, shredding the tepees with flying shrapnel, killing men, women and children (Brown 444). When the guns ceased, Big Foot and more than half of his people were dead, some estimates claim that 300 of the original 350 men, women and children were killed (Brown 444). One account estimates that about 90 Sioux warriors and some 200 women and children were killed (Taylor pp). Only twenty-five soldiers were killed, most by their own bullets or shrapnel (Brown 444). Because a blizzard was approaching, the dead bodies were left lying where they had fallen, and after the blizzard, when a burial part returned to Wounded Knee, they found the bodies, including Big Foot’s, frozen into grotesque shapes (Brown 445). A crew as hired to plow the bodies into a large pit that served as a common grave (Landau 53).

Soldiers loaded up the remaining Sioux, four men and forty-seven women and children, into wagons, reaching Pine Ridge after dark (Brown 445). The barracks were filled with soldiers and so the Episcopal mission was opened, the benches taken out, and hay scattered over the rough flooring (Brown 445). Dee Brown ends by describing how the bleeding bodies were carried into the candlelit church, amid the Christmas greenery hanging from the open rafters, and across the front above the pulpit was strung a crudely lettered banner: “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men” (Brown 445

Charles W. Allen was present at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29th, when the massacre occurred and his account of that terrible day is published in the 1997 From Fort Laramie to Wounded Knee in the West That Was (Iverson pp). Philip Wells, a mixed-blood Sioux who served as Forsyth’s interpreter gives a slightly different account of that terrible day (Massacre pp). Wells claims that none of the young warriors heeded Whitside’s order to be searched, and that he witnessed about five young warriors cast off their blankets, pull out their guns, and brandish them into the air (Massacre pp). One of the warriors shot into the soldiers, at which point the soldiers were ordered to fire into the Indians (Massacre pp). Wells said he looked into the direction of the medicine man and saw him, along with another medicine man approach within three feet of him carrying a long cheese knife (Massacre pp). Wells claimed he was stabbed and hot and killed the medicine man in self-defense (Massacre pp). According to Wells, troops were drawn up between the tents of the women and children and the main body of the Indians, but the Indians began firing into the troops, thus exposing their women and children to their own fire (Massacre pp).

Ethnologist James Mooney reported that many of the Indian remains were stripped by white souvenir hunters, and that bodies were thrown into the mass grave and “piled one upon another like so much cordwood” (Taylor pp). Mooney also reported that a number of women and children were found still alive, but badly wounded or frozen or both, and that most of them died en route to the camp (Taylor pp). Mooney recounts one story of a baby girl of only three or four months who was found under the snow, carefully wrapped in shawl, beside her dead mother, whose body was pierced by bullets, however although exposed and slightly frozen, the soon recovered after being brought into the agency (Taylor pp).

It had only been twenty-two years since the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which had guaranteed to the Indians “absolute and undisturbed use of the Great Sioux Reservation” and that no persons would ever be allowed to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory without the consent of the Indians (Taylor pp). That treaty reserved for Indians the Black Hills which they called “Paha Sapa, the dreamland of the Sioux, a sacred place where spirits dwelt” (Taylor pp). Everything precious and sacred to Indians was represented there, wild game which provided food, clothing and shelter, fruit, fish, flowers, medicine, eagles, “a special place for the arrival of the first born, and a sanctuary where people could relax, meditate, renew their spirit and strength, and give thanks to the creator” (Taylor pp). Millions of buffalo had been destroyed, the majority by mercenary hunters for the railroads (Taylor pp). Railroads and other roads, as well as settlers and gold-seekers had cut through Indian hunting territories, thus the Black Hills were stolen and the traditional and spiritual strength of the Native tribes were severely damaged or destroyed (Taylor pp). Desperate from hunger, disease, war, disillusionment, and hopelessness, is it any wonder that the Indians were wide open to the coming of a messiah, a savior (Taylor pp). Wovoka had taught to love each other, live in peace with the white men, and next spring, 1891, the Indians will be lifted up while the earth is renewed and returned to them, and the whites will disappear (Taylor pp).

The Kiowa author and poet, N. Scott Momaday, once said that “Kiowa are born to dance” (Kracht 321). They, like many other tribes have maintained a shared tribal identity through the perpetuation of ceremonial song and dance (Kracht 323). Ceremonial dancing has assumed various guises over the last 120 years, especially between 1889 and 1934, when many indigenous dances and ceremonies were outlawed by the United States federal government (Kracht 323). However, enforcement of official policy differed from agent to agent, thus while some dances were targeted for eradication, others were not (Kracht 323). For example, religious dances such as the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance were forbidden, yet war dances were permitted at Wild West shows and Indian fairs (Kracht 323). Therefore, when the Kiowas and other tribes felt that important dances were being threatened to extinction, efforts were made to disguise them or perform them on remote allotments (Kracht 323).

Adherents of the Ghost Dance movement opposed Christian churches, houses, and other signs of “progress” associated with allotment in severalty and the establishment of the reservations (Kracht 328). The Ghost Dance movement, in part, was motivated by Kiowa hostility toward the Jerome Agreement of October 1892, which inevitably led to the opening of the reservation for homesteading on August 6, 1901 (Kracht 328). During this nine-year period, the Plains Indians loss more than 2.5 million acres of lands (Kracht 328). Ghost Dancers became outspoken about building homes and churches on allotted lands, and expressed fear that even the smallest amount of construction throughout their communities would isolate them from their lands (Kracht 328).

Between 1894 and 1916, Ghost Dance adherents were close allies with other non-Christians, particularly the practitioners of the peyote religion (Kracht 328). Omer Stewart has suggested that war parties traveling into Mexico during the mid-nineteenth century were exposed to the peyote ritual, and most likely obtained the hallucinogenic cactus from Lipan-Apaches, though other sources suggest Mescaleros (Kracht 328). Peyote meetings were common on the reservations during the mid-1880’s, and in 1891, James Mooney observed his first all-nigh tipi meeting, a ritual in which the participants consumed bitter-tasting peyote buttons while sitting in a tipi with a fire in the middle and a crescent-shaped earthen altar on the west side, then prayed by signing the fast-paced peyote songs accompanied by a water drum and gourd rattle (Kracht 328). By 1910, it was estimated that one-half of the Kiowas were peyotists and there is some evidence that peyote use was associated with the Ghost Dance, for there were at least twenty tribes in Oklahoma whose members were using peyote when the Ghost Dance arrived (Kracht 328).

Frank White, a Pawnee who took the Ghost Dance to his people, claimed to have witnessed dances by Comanches and Wichitas while under the influence of peyote, and John Wilson, also called Moon Head, the famous Caddo-Delaware peyotist, was also a Ghost Dance leader (Kracht 328). The Anadarko Agency was the meeting ground where such diverse religions came together (Kracht 328). Peyotists and Ghost Dancers were opposed by Christian missionaries and some of the early Indian Christian converts (Kracht 328). After 1887, the Kiowa-Commanche-Apache Reservation was colonized by Protestant and Catholic missionaries who in turn built churches and obtained government contracts to run boarding schools (Kracht 328). These efforts slowly won converts, and by 1922, approximately one-third of the Kiowas were Christianized, yet despite these figures, many attended church services, prayer meeting, and peyote meetings as well (Kracht 328). Based on traditional concept, they believed that since one could accumulate different types of power, then how could two religions be mutually exclusive, thus during the anti-dance era, many actually switched between religions (Kracht 328). In one instance, a family switched from peyotism to Christianity following the death of a son, and conversely, one Baptist missionary described a Kiowa who quit going to church because the preachers condemned peyote use (Kracht 329). The man simply “took the feather” and joined the Ghost Dance faction for the tolerance of the peyote religion and other activities like the war dancing (Kracht 329).

Intertribal war dancing flourished during the height of the revived Ghost Dance and Ghost Dance followers adamantly claimed they had chosen the “dance road” over the “Jesus road” because the missionaries had taught the converts not to tolerate tribal dances (Kracht 329). Moreover, because the Ghost Dance encouraged traditional activities such as the hand game and dancing, anyone who adhered to traditional ways were immediately associated with the Ghost Dance crowd (Kracht 329). In 1915, the superintendent of the Anadarko Area Office identified two political factions, the anti-Ghost Dance faction led by A’piaton, who was still outspoken against the Ghost Dance, and the “dance crowd” led by Kiowa Bill and James Waldo (Kracht 329). Bill was the progressive, more law abiding element in the tribe, while James was known as part of the class who will seize upon every opportunity to antagonize any effort made toward “their uplift” (Kracht 329).

Kiowa Bill and A’piaton were both members of the Kiowa-Commanche-Apache Business Committee, and it is said that the superintendent bemoaned the fact the Kiowa Bill was successful in lobbying outside formal business meetings (Kracht 329). A’piatan, who was recognized by the Indian Office as the last chief of the Kiowas, wrote a letter to Commissioner Cato Sells, pledging his opposition to “the Ghost Dance, the War Dance, and all gift dances, and the interchange of Tribal visitation to perpetuate these dances, and the peyote religion” (Kracht 329). He stressed that, respectively, Kiowa Bill and James Waldo, who was a Carlisle graduate, represented the “the old men who cling to the past” and young boarding school graduates who desired to live in “idleness and pleasure” (Kracht 329). Ghost Dance camps during this era were located as far away as possible from the missions (Kracht 329). The Ghost Dance stronghold was west of Carnegie, comprised mostly peyotists and the tribal and personal medicine bundle keepers, a town that would eventually be associated with the more conservative, traditional Kiowa faction (Kracht 329).

In 1916, Clark Wissler noted that the Ghost Dance was but one of a groups of “modern ceremonies which have since become conspicuous because of their diffusion” (Kracht 329). According to Wissler, “among the best know of these are the peyote, the hand game ceremonies, and the grass dance” (Kracht 329). Since the Ghost Dance was associated with other traditional activities such as dancing, it served as a vehicle to perpetuate the Grass Dance, which was a precursor of the War Dance (kracht 329). In 1935, White Fox, the son of Afraid-of-Bears, related to Weston LaBarre that war dancing occurred during the large outdoor Ghost Dance ceremonies and that the dance steps he described were similar to the Scalp Dance and warrior society dances that were rarely performed since the demise of the Sun Dance in 1890 (Kracht 329).

The campaign to eradicate the Ghost Dance and the O-ho-mah Dance culminated between the years of 1915 and 1922, during the tenure of Superintendent C.V. Stinchecum (Kracht 330). In 1916, Stinchecum admonished the Kiowa dancers with threats of withholding their per capita payments, however the dancing did not cease, leading him to compile a list of more than a hundred names of Kiowa, Commanche, Apache, and other Plains Indians (Kracht 330).

While the Ghost Dance ceremony faded into obscurity, the Oho-mah Dance continued with “unrelinquished” vigor, and throuhgout the 1920’s, the O-ho-mah Society was more active than other Kiowa societies, especially the Daimpega (Kracht 331). Analogous to the Ghost Dance, major O-ho-mah dances were held each Fourth of July, and even today, the society still dances at the end of July (Kracht 331). Because the Ghost Dance was targeted for elimination, many suggest that the Kiowas simply allowed it to fade in prominence but at the same time ascribed importance to the dances performed by the O-ho-mah Society and its intertribal guests (Kracht 331).

By the time the Sun Dance was abandoned, the Kiowas were being introduced to the Ghost Dance, a religious ceremony that attempted to keep the Kiowa traditions alive, including such late nineteenth century beliefs concerning medicine bundles, peyotism, and dancing (Kracht 338). The demise of the Sun Dance led to a period of dormancy within warrior societies, and with the exception of the O-ho-mah Society, few society dances occurred, although many Daimpega and Tonkonko society members were sill living in 1935 during the Santa Fe Laboratory of Anthropology expedition, and due to pressures from their agent, the Kiowas discontinued (Kracht 338). After World War I, Armistice Day dances, county and Indian fairs, became vehicles for the O-ho-mah Dance, often performed for the benefit of tourists (Kracht 338). The Kiowas have maintained a tribal identity through the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance, and during recent years, through the O-ho-mah Dance (Kracht 341).

As political activism spread throughout the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s, it also penetrated the Native American tribes and Indian political activism was intensifying on a national level and through events like the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, made considerable gains, proving that they still existed in the twentieth century and that they were determined to fight against past and present injustices (Amerman pp). The 1990’s saw a spike in popular interest in the 1973 Wounded Knee Standoff, which was a desperate effort to draw national attention to the dire conditions on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation (Rich pp). Although Native Americans have gained a considerable amount of political clout during recent decades, state governments have become uneasy with this increased power (Johnson pp). Thus, more than two centuries later, the United States government and Native American tribal leaders are still negotiating. However, many feel that the government has a long journey to restitution.


American History since 1865: Wounded Knee

1988. The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Retrieved October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

Amerman, Stephen Kent.

2003. Let’s get in and fight!” American Indian political activism in an urban public school system, 1973. The American Indian Quarterly. June 22. Retrieved October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web sit.

Brown, Dee.

1970. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt and Company; 5,6,7,8,9,10,146,177,273,415,420,428,431-445.

Ghost Dance.

2003. The Hutchinson Encyclopedia. Helicon Publishing. Retrieved October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library web site.

Gonzalez, Mario; Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth.

1999. The Politics of Hallowed Ground: Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty. University of Illinois Press; 23

Iverson, Peter.

1999. From Fort Laramie to Wounded Knee in the West That Was.

The Historian. March 22. Retrieve October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

Johnson, Susan.

1998. From Wounded Knee to Capitol Hill. State Legislatures. October 01. Retrieved October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

Kracht, Benjamin.

1994. Kiowa Powwows: Continuity in Ritual Practice. American Indian Quarterly: Vol. 18; 321,323,328,329,330,331,338.

Landau, Elaine.

1989. The Sioux. New York: Franklin Watts; 53.

Marrin, Albert.

2000. Sitting Bull and His World. New York: Penguin Putnam Books; 94, 95, 96,102.

Massacre At Wounded Knee, 1890.

Retrieved October 14, 2005 at

Mooney, James.

1991. The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890.

University of Nebraska Press. 661

Rich, Elizabeth.

2004. Remember Wounded Knee: AIM’s use of metonymy in 21st century protest. College Literature. June 22. Retrieved October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

Taylor, Walt.

1991. Wounded Knee (1890) – unquenchable spirit (1990). Canadian Dimension. January 01. Retrieved October 14, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

Ghost Dance-Wounded Knee

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