Wovoka: The story of Wovoka in the book “Native American Prophecies” is much different than other stories I have read. In this book he is made out to be a charlatan more than anything else. His father, Tovibo was a holy man, and follower of the prophet Wodziwob, who was originator of the ghost dance.
Wovoka grew up in the mason Valley in western Nevada. Wovoka worked on the Wilson ranch when they came to the area in the 1860s. He even took the name, Jack Wilson.
Wovoka left the ranch at about age 17, and traveled among other native American populations, traveling through California, Oregon and Washington. He returned after a few years, took a wife, and went back to work for the Wilsons. He had made a decision while traveling. He was determined to administer to the spirits of his people, as they were down trodden, poor, and poor of spirit.
He established himself as a prophet by subterfuge. He predicted there would be ice in the river, and there was; but a friend had dumped it in the river upstream. He also predicted ice would fall from the sky—but he had also arranged this.
When about 28 he became very ill. He had a high fever, and was unconscious for some time. He lay in a death trance for some days. When he came out of it, he announced he had been to heaven and talked with god. God gave him instruction that the people were to restore the Ghost Dance. He said God told him to tell the people to love one another, to put away war. That by doing this, and faithfully following the ghost dance, they would be restored with those who had passed on before.
They started dong the ghost dance, or circle dance, every six weeks. People came from other places to meet the prophet, who had marked his wrists and feet in such a way that he claimed to be the retuned Messiah. The Shoshone, Ute and many other groups joined in the ghost dance. They came from the Sioux nation to learn the way.
Wovoka had lived among the Mormons, and at least been proselyted by their missionaries. He took a page from their doctrine, and changed it slightly. He introduced a ghost shirt. His brother shot him with a shot gun, but the pellets did not penetrate his shirt. This again was a manipulation as his brother shot a blank, and he had pellets in his hand.
He proclaimed himself the messiah returned. Among the Mormons, there were a few that felt this may be the culmination of a Joseph Smith prophesy wherein he said, if I live to be 100 then I will see Jesus. The leadership of the church said this was not so, and discouraged those who were called Millennialists.
Many tribal nations came to Nevada to learn of the ghost dance. Over 16 different major tribes were represented. Some would send representative to come back and repot, or teach their own peoples the ghost dance. Some nations distorted the ghost dance to their own liking. It was a religious dance, but many thought it was also a dance of redemption for the native Americans. They would meet their dead ancestors, who then would help them wipe the white influence form the earth, and they would be able to return to the old ways.
In Sioux country, a young man had a vision that the ghost shirts would save them from their enemies, and they would repel bullets. Many had ghost shirts.
Sitting Bull was one of those who wanted to learn of the ghost dance. The local authorities outlawed the dance thinking it was war like, rather than religious. When Sitting Bull was confronted, a shot rang out, and he was killed in the ensuing scuffle. Shortly after this, a group of native Americans was confronted, and this lead to Wounded Knee where many native Americans were killed. The ghost shirts did not protect them.
What happened among the Sioux, effected the prestige of Wovoka. However, some people continued the ghost dance up into the 1950s.