Ghost Dance Religion and the Term Paper

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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
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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…

Sources Used in Documents:


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.

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