Wovoka was the energy behind the Ghost Dance. He was the self proclaimed Messiah come to save the people. He had a couple near death experiences, in which he dreamed of powers. The second near death experience he woke up saying the Whites had rejected Christ, and now he was come back and he was the Messiah. Wovoka had learned much of the idea from the spiritual leader, John Slocum, founder of the Indian Shaker Church, while he was working as a migrant worker in the Northwest. Slocum had a near death experience, and woke up talking of a dream he had. Also his father, Tovibo had been a religious leader. Very likely Tovibo had learned the Ghost Dance from its originator Wodziwob. Tovibo was a visionary man and prophesied the destruction of the whites. Wovoka's father died when Wovoka was young, and Wovoka was taken in by a white family. Thus his American name, Jack Wilson. Wovoka was familiar with Christianity. When Wovoka returned from his second near death experience, trance, his vision told him that deceased Indians, and those alive would rise together, the earth would be flooded killing all the whites, and then the Indians would inherit an earth with lots of game and happiness. When Wovoka expressed his beliefs it was one of peace.
To bring these changes, the people needed to do the Ghost Dance. This was basically a round dance. As they danced they would chant, "Father, I come; Mother, I come; Brother, I come; Father, give us back our arrows.
The movement of Wodziwob remained local. However with Wovoka's movement it spread to the Plains Indians. They were looking for relief from reservation life. Emissaries traveled from the Sioux to visit Wovoka. Soon there were 50,000-60,000 adherents. Many of the subgroups took the basic tenants and forgot the peaceful part. They were interested in the garment that would stop bullets, and the reunion with their dead who would them help them battle the whites. Thus the dance was alarming to those watching the Sioux reservations, thinking it would lead to an uprise.
The Mormons were blamed for the unrest. General Nelson Miles reported:
Many nations had gone west to Nevada and had been shown somebody disguised as the Messiah .. . I am inclined to believe that there is more than one person impersonating this Messiah . . . [because] when [the] Sioux have spoken with him, he has replied in the Sioux language, and to Blackfeet he has spoken their tongue, and so on. I cannot say positively, but it is my belief the Mormons are the prime movers in all this. .. . It will [probably not] lead to an outbreak, but when an ignorant race of people become religious fanatics it is hard to tell just what they will do" (New York Times, 8 Nov. 1890, Deseret News, 7. Nov. 1890).
After the battle of Wounded Knee Wovoka was devastated at the result. His religion quickly fell out of favor and Wovoka spent the rest of his life in relative anonymity.
|Short Bull (left) and Kicking Bear|
Kicking Bear after hearing the report form Short Bull, became an apostle of the movement among the Sioux. Expecting negative reactions, he focused on teaching of the ghost shirt which would protect the wearer from bullets.
Red Cloud did not announce any official feelings on the dance, and people took this as acceptance. Sitting Bull was asked to put a stop to the dances, but did not feel he should interfere with the expression of others. This lead to his arrest, and murder while he was being arrested. Sitting Bull's people fled to the camp of Big Foot. They were followed by the calvary, and this lead to the Wounded Knee Massacre. Big Foot was killed.
Crow Dog was also a big proponent of the Ghost Dance. He had been present when Crazy Horse was killed, and had kept the Indians from retaliating. He was one of the last hold outs after the massacre. He returned to the Rose Bud Reservation. Crow Dog was also known for murdering a political opponent, Spotted Tail.
Hump had been at Little Big Horn. He attempted to join Sitting Bull in Canada, but turned back to the Cheyenne reservation. He was a big advocate of the ghost dance, practicing with Big Foot. However he knew things were going to get ugly, so took his people and left. After Wounded Knee he went to Washington to advocate for better conditions for his people.
Two Strike, so called because he knocked to men down with one blow was a prominent leader of the Brule Sioux. He participated in Red Cloud's war, attack the Union Pacific. He became an advocate of the Ghost Dance, but after being advised by whites he gave it up a month before Wounded Knee.
Wooden Leg was Cheyenne. He too become part of the Ghost Dance movement. He wrote an autobiography which talked about major historical events, and the struggle to adjust to the reservation system, especially the limit of just one wife.
Young Man Afraid of His Horses, so called because he was so brave even his horses instilled fear in his enemy, warned against the Ghost Dance. He tried unsuccessfully to warn his people. He was able to negotiate better treatment for his people after Wounded Knee.