1889 - Ghost Dance

The Ghost Dance, by western artist Fredrick Remington

        By 1889, most of the plains tribes were now corralled on reservations.  Economic desperation became the norm for tribes that thirty years earlier were the 'freest people to ever roam the earth."  In this climate of despair, a Paiute holy man named Wovoka revived the beliefs of an earlier Paiute spiritual leader who sang songs in which departed ancestors came back to earth to dance with their relatives and tribal members.  The Ghost Dance, as it was called, promised the dancers that they would be reunited with their departed ancestors, death would cease to exist, and the whites would disappear. 

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         This belief system spread like a prairie fire among tribes that had recently lost wars against the federal government: Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho, Assiniboins, Shoshone, and Crow, who expanded the belief system to include the return of the buffalo herds of the past. 

         Because there was so much fear of the Sioux among white communities, this new 'religion' spread terror among recent settlers and homesteaders.  They called for the army to intervene and put a stop to the practice.  This intervention led to the massacre at Wounded Knee, and to the killing of Sitting Bull by Indian police on the Standing Rock Reservation.