- The Gold Rush
- The Homestead Act and the exodusters
- The reservation system
- The Dawes Act
- Chinese immigrants and Mexican Americans in the age of westward expansion
- The Indian Wars and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
- The Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee
- Westward expansion: economic development
- Westward expansion: social and cultural development
- The American West
The Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee
By 1900, there were fewer than 250,000 remaining Native Americans.
- By the end of the nineteenth century, due to a series of forced removals and brutal massacres at the hands of white settlers and the US Army, the native population of North America had dwindled to a mere fraction of what it had once been.
- Because forced assimilation had nearly destroyed Native American culture, some tribal leaders attempted to reassert their sovereignty and invent new spiritual traditions. The most significant of these was the Ghost Dance, pioneered by Wovoka, a shaman of the Northern Paiute tribe.
- The massacre at Wounded Knee, during which soldiers of the US Army 7th Cavalry Regiment indiscriminately slaughtered hundreds of Sioux men, women, and children, marked the definitive end of Indian resistance to the encroachments of white settlers.
The Ghost Dance
During a solar eclipse on January 1, 1889, Wovoka, a shaman of the Northern Paiute tribe, had a vision. Claiming that God had appeared to him in the guise of a Native American and had revealed to him a bountiful land of love and peace, Wovoka founded a spiritual movement called the Ghost Dance. He prophesied the reuniting of the remaining Indian tribes of the West and Southwest and the banishment of all evil from the world.
Painting of Arapahos performing the Ghost Dance. Men and women stand in a large circle while some people look on and others dance in the center of the circle.
According to the teachings of Wovoka, the Ghost Dance ceremony would reunite the spirits of the dead with those of the living, and the power of these spirits could be harnessed in battle with white settlers and the US Army. Though the practice of the Ghost Dance originated with the Paiute tribe of Nevada, it quickly spread to other Indian tribes in the Southwest. Wovoka’s most influential prophecy was that the white man would be forever banished from the land, and that the buffalo, which had been hunted to near-extinction by white settlers, would return and bring with it a lasting revival of the Native American way of life.
Clash of cultures: white Europeans and Native Americans
From the earliest days of colonial contact between white Europeans and Native American Indians, certain key assumptions informed their interactions. Most native tribes did not adhere to the European view of land as property. For most Indians, land was communal, and its resources were to be protected and shared. This was in direct contradiction to European notions of land as individual property. As white settlers pushed ever westward, guided by the ideology of Manifest Destiny, they forced Native Americans off of their ancestral lands and onto reservations. Many Indian tribes resisted, unleashing a series of violent conflicts known as the Indian Wars.
Although the Battle of the Little Bighorn marked the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars, Wovoka and his Ghost Dance triggered one last wave of resistance to the encroachments of white settlers and their way of life. Chief Sitting Bull, who had led the Sioux to victory over the US Army 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, embraced the Ghost Dance and helped facilitate its spread throughout the Sioux Reservation. On December 15, 1890, police officers who feared that Sitting Bull was about to flee the reservation with adherents of the Ghost Dance shot and killed Sitting Bull.
The massacre at Wounded Knee
A mere two weeks later, on December 29, 1890, the US 7th Cavalry Regiment surrounded an encampment of Sioux Indians near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While attempting to disarm the Sioux, a shot was fired and a scuffle ensued. The US army soldiers opened fire on the Sioux, indiscriminately massacring hundreds of men, women, and children. The few Sioux survivors of the battle fled. In the aftermath of the massacre, an official Army inquiry not only exonerated the 7th Cavalry, but awarded Medals of Honor to twenty soldiers. US public opinion of the massacre was generally favorable.
Though the massacre at Wounded Knee was not the last armed conflict between Native Americans and the US Army, it marked the definitive end of the Indian Wars. After Wounded Knee, the remaining Indian tribes were either subdued or forcibly assimilated into mainstream white US society. Estimates of the pre-European contact native population range widely, from a low of 2 million to a high of 18 million. By 1900, the native population had been reduced to approximately 237,000 individuals.
Since then, the Native American population has recovered from the nadir of 1900. As of the 2010 US Census report, 2.9 million individuals identified as American Indian or Alaska Native.
What do you think?
What do you see as the most significant difference between the culture and society of white European-Americans and those of Native American Indians?
Why do you think Wovoka and his Ghost Dance became so popular among Indian tribes in the Southwest?
What is the significance of the massacre at Wounded Knee?
Want to join the conversation?
- What does it mean to be exonerated?(11 votes)
- If you are blamed for something, and your case is reviewed, the court can EXONERATE you, and you are no longer guilty. To remove blame.(42 votes)
- How do you pronounce Wovoka?(19 votes)
- Not mentioned in the material on the Ghost Dance, they believed that by performing in the Ghost Dance, they would be impervious to bullets. Unfortunately for them, that was not true.(0 votes)
- Why didn't the Americans let the Native Americans have their own land?(6 votes)
- The Americans believed in a policy of Manifest Destiny, which was the idea that more land would benefit the country. As they implemented this policy, it was inevitable that the Natives had to be moved, most of the times by force. This would result in mass removals to settlements.(18 votes)
- What does it mean that God "appeared to [Wovoca] in the guise of a Native American?" (The emphasis is mine). Wouldn't he have believed in a Native American Creator, not the Christian God? "Guise" seems like a strange word to use.(7 votes)
- Maybe their belief was that god was not of any particular ethnicity and thus his appearance as a Native American is a guise.(6 votes)
- Did Native Americans believe in God from the Holy Bible, as, say Anglo-Saxons, or Europeans?(3 votes)
- that answer is a little correct the native american's believed in the "great spirit" also know as "wakan takan" who was the creator of life and the lands. ~Danielle(8 votes)
- what function did the ghost dance play in the native american religious community and how did it relate to the worldview and their external relationship with non-aboriginals?(4 votes)
- The Ghost Dance was a religious ceremonal practice that natives used as a resistance against white settlement.The natives believed that the dance will drive away the whites and that buffalo will come back.(4 votes)
- How many Natives participated in the Ghost Dance?(4 votes)
- Thousands from different tribes across the nation(0 votes)
- How did the western newspapers describe the battle?
Do they seem sympathetic to the Natives or to the Settlers?(2 votes)
- i have heard that the newspapers used to be in the settlers´side , but , the author of the book , ´´the wizard of Oz´´ was very opposed to the genocide of indians in the great plains !, i wish i could be usefull(2 votes)
- what did the Ghost Dance mean to the people who didn't participate in it?(2 votes)
- The Americans thought that the Ghost Dance was an anti-Christian cult.(2 votes)
- What is the ghost dance?(1 vote)
- Perhaps you will find that covered in the lesson. Look once more.(3 votes)