Ghost Dance

Purpose | Costume


The Ghost Dance movement was started in the 1890's by Wovoka, a Paiute man. The messiah's message declared that there would come a time when the earth would be destroyed, and a new world would be created. The white men would perish under soil five times the height of man, but leave the Indians untouched to inhabit the earth. Later, the buffalo and the antelope would return, and the deceased ancestors would rise up to the earthwhere they would all live in a world free from disease, starvation, and violence. This vision came to Wovoka during an eclipse of the sun and while he was suffering from a high fever. For the apocalypse to happen the Arapaho people had to rid themselves of evil and practice honesty and peace not only to other tribes but to the whites as well.

National Anthropological Archives #0608 2100 NEG 37c

This illustration ("Crow Dance"), along with the others in this section, are the work of George Mooney. Each is sketched from real photgraphs of the Arapaho Ghost Dance, taken between the years of 1891-1893.

Some reservation agents thought that the Ghost Dance movement was reinforcing Indian violence against the whites because the Indians practicing the Ghost Dance were describe as "wild and crazy", even though the underlying motive of the movement inspired peace through all. The BIA requested military protection for white settlers and the Ghost Dance was outlawed.

National Anthropological Archives #0608 1900 NEG 37a

"The Ceremony"

Sitting Bull, a famous Souix warrior and respected leader, adopted the Ghost Dance religion to the alarm of the military. He was killed while resisting arrest shortly after attending his first Ghost Dance ceremony. His followers, led by Chief Big Foot, marched to Pine Ridge Reservation to seek protection from the military. At Pine Ridge they were apprehended and escorted to Wounded Knee by the military. The following morning, December 29, 1890 , the military ordered all Indian weapons to be relinquished and burned. A medicine man named Yellow Bird advocated resistance by telling other Indians that their Ghost Dance shirts were bulletproof, after hearing this Black Coyote refused to give up his gun to the soldiers. The rifle accidentally went off and the soldiers thought it was a sign to attack. The cavalry men began firing at everyone. The firing, which lasted only a few short minutes, killed 250 Indian men, woman, and children (Big Foot included) and wounding 39, only 25 white soldiers were killed.

National Anthropological Archives #0608 2000 NEG 37b


Two weeks after the Wounded Knee Massacre all other Ghost Dancers surrendered to the US Army, bringing an end to the Ghost Dance Movement. Though the end of the movement caused many Indians to lose hope in living a free life, many of Wewoka's ideas were adopted by other cults (Peyote) and are still practiced today. The Ghost Dance religion may be gone but it will never be forgotten by many Indians

Click here to see on older version of the Arapaho Project,
with additional information on Ghost Dance


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