Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre Term Paper

Pages: 20 (6189 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 31  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Native Americans

Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre

James Mooney writes in The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 that the essential part of the teaching of the Ghost Dance is the doctrine that the world is old and worn and the time is near for its renewal (Mooney 661). The Ghost Dance was an American Indian religious revivalist movement that spread through the Plains Indians and other ethnic groups during the 1890's and due to a culmination of events is forever linked to the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 (Ghost pp).

In January 1889, Wovoka, a Paiute Indian, had a vision of renewal and restoration of the Indian way of life, in which they would be reunited with loved ones in the ghost world, the buffalo roamed freely again and white people would be obliterated from the earth (Ghost pp). In others words, the Indian world would return to the way it was before the Europeans came. Wovoka's vision became the nucleus for the Ghost Dance and gained great popularity throughout the tribes, primarily due to its message of hope and justice (Ghost pp). Believing the dance would eliminate the whites from this world and bring their ancestors back from the other world, Native American tribes across the Plains engaged in frenzied trance-inducing dancing (Ghost pp). The Ghost Dance movement spread quickly, creating unity among the various ethnic groups and causing fear among white settlers (Ghost pp).Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre Assignment

The intense and immediate popularity of the Ghost Dance movement was basically a desperate reaction to the total defeat of the Plains Indians by the United States Army and the removal of the tribes to confined reservations where they were dependent on the handouts of corrupt Indian agents that were appointed by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (Ghost pp). Moreover, their children were taken away to be educated as Christians in federal boarding schools, the bison herds that had once sustained their way of life had been hunted by white people to near extinction, and their millions of acres of land was now the property of the United States of America (Ghost pp). The Dawes Act of 1887 divided the remaining land of the Plains Indians into allotments in an effort to force them to become farmers as individuals rather than remaining part of their ethnic groups (Ghost pp). The Plains Indians' culture was being systematically destroyed, and there seemed little hope for the future of their peoples, thus the Ghost Dance offered a solution to the desperate conditions and suffering (Ghost pp). The idea that the Great Spirit would come to their rescue and save them from the whites tied in with their cultural and spiritual beliefs (Ghost pp).

The Lakota, or Sioux, once a powerful and free roaming tribe, lived in some of the most desperate conditions on their reservations in North and South Dakota, where they had basically been reduced to prisoners of the United States (Ghost pp). In October 1890, the Ghost Dance movement reached Standing Rock, where Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa Sioux lived with the Oglala Sioux, and although Sitting Bull allowed his people to take part, he himself did not (Ghost pp). Due to fears by the white people, an Indian agent decided to arrest Sitting Bull, claiming he encouraged the Ghost Dance, and the chief was killed by Red Tomahawk, a Sioux working as a reservation police officer for the United States government (Ghost pp). Sitting Bull's death, supposedly while resisting arrest, caused Sioux tribes on other reservations that were involved in the movement to flee (Ghost pp). This panic led to the tragic events of December 29, 1890 when members of Chief Big Foot's Miniconjou Sioux and Sitting Bull's remaining Hunkpapa, attempting to reach the safety of Red Cloud's Pine Ridge Reservation, were killed at the Battle of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, by U.S. 7th Cavalry soldiers

Ghost). Over two hundred Sioux were killed, including women and children, and the massacre was the last major military conflict between the whites and Native Americans (American pp). The Ghost Dance represented to White Americans the backwardness and continuing threat posed by the Plains Indians and simply intensified their desire to destroy the Plains Indians forever (Ghost pp).

Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is perhaps one of the most thorough accounting of the Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee massacre. Brown recounts in detail the events leading up to the birth of the Ghost Dance and the massacre at Wounded Knee.

There is a history of decades and generations of treaties and negotiations between the Native American Indian tribes and the United States Government. When Andrew Jackson took office as President of the United States in 1829, thousands of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles were killed, yet these southern Indians, still numerous, clung to their tribal lands, which had been assigned to them by white men's treaties (Brown 5). Jackson recommended to Congress that all of these Indians be removed westward beyond the Mississippi, to be guaranteed to the tribes as long as they occupy it (Brown 5). This enactment was simply another in a long list of broken promises made to the eastern Indians, however Jackson convinced them that this was a promise that would never be broken, and thus on May 28, 1830, Jackson's recommendations became law (Brown 5). On June 30, 1834, Congress passed "An Act to Regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes and to Preserve Peace on the Frontiers," which stated that all the land west of the Mississippi, but not within the States of Missouri, Louisiana or the Territory of Arkansas, would be Indian country and no white persons would be permitted to trade in the Indian country without a license (Brown 6). Moreover, no white traders of bad character would be allowed to live in Indian country, and no white persons would be permitted to settle in Indian country, and those who tried would be removed by the military force of the United States (Brown 6). Before these laws could even be put into effect, a new wave of white settlers swept westward and formed the territories of Wisconsin and Iowa, making it necessary for policy makers in Washington to shift the "permanent Indian frontier" from the Mississippi River to the 95th meridian (this line ran from what is now the Minnesota-Canada border, slicing southward through what are now the states of Minnesota and Iowa, and then along the western boarders of Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, to Galveston Bay, Texas) (Brown 6). To ensure the boundaries of the 95th meridian and to prevent unauthorized white men from crossing it, soldiers were garrisoned in a series of military posts that ran southward from Fort Snelling on the Mississippi River to forts Atkinson and Leavenworth on the Missouri, forts Gibson and Smith on the Arkansas, Fort Towson on the Red, and Fort Jesup in Louisiana (Brown 6).

During the following decade, the discovery of gold in the Appalachians led to the immediate removal of the Cherokees, whose great nation had survived more than a hundred years of the white man's wars, diseases and whiskey (Brown 7). In the autumn of 1838, General Winfield Scott's soldiers rounded them up and concentrated them into camps, and from there they were started westward to Indian Territory, a march known as the "trail of tears" (Brown 7). The Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles also gave up their homelands in the South, and in the North, survivors of the Shawnees, Miamis, Ottawas, Hurons, Delawares and others once mighty tribes walked or traveled by horseback and wagon beyond the Mississippi, carrying only a few personal belongings (Brown 8).

When the war with Mexico ended in 1847, the United States took possession of a vast expanse of territory spanning from Texas to California, all of it west of the permanent Indian frontier (Brown 8). A year later, gold was discovered in California, and within months thousands of whites were crossing the Indian Territory, leading Washington to invent Manifest Destiny in order to justify the breaches (Brown 8). Under this term, Europeans and their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America, including the Indians, along with their lands, forests and mineral wealth (Brown 8). Less than twenty-five years after Jackson's trade act, white settlers had driven in both the north and south flanks of the 95th meridian line, and advance elements of white miner and traders had penetrated the center, due to the discovery of gold in the mountains of Colorado (Brown 9).

By 1860 there were approximately 300,000 Indians in the United States and Territories, most of the living west of the Mississippi, and according to varying estimates, their numbers had been reduced by more than two-thirds since the arrival of the Europeans (Brown 9). The most numerous and powerful western tribe was the Sioux, which was separated into several subdivisions, including the Santee Sioux who lived in the woodlands of Minnesota and had been forced to retreat… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre.  (2005, October 15).  Retrieved November 28, 2020, from

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"Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre."  15 October 2005.  Web.  28 November 2020. <>.

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"Ghost Dance Religion and the Wounded Knee Massacre."  October 15, 2005.  Accessed November 28, 2020.