Ghost Dance Movement Spreads

Return of Indian World Promised
October 11, 1890

Residents of Bismarck are alarmed over reports of the “ghost dance religion” at the camp of Sitting Bull on the Grand River 40 miles south of Fort Yates. The second straight day of ghost dances are being held on the Lakota reservation without the permission of Agent James McLaughlin.
Area residents fear that a rebellion is being planned by the ghost dancers. McLaughlin promises to investigate the dances. The agent believes that Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull is behind what the agent calls “bad medicine.” Previously, the agent denied Sitting Bull permission to travel west to find out for himself the truth of Wovoka’s claims. Sitting Bull has not expressed his belief or unbelief, but he has allowed his followers to be involved in the Ghost Dance.

Yesterday the well-known disciple of the Ghost Dance religion, Kicking Bear, arrived from the Minneconjou settlement on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota at Sitting Bull’s invitation.  Kicking Bear has previously journeyed to Nevada to meet Wovoka, the young Paiute mystic who originated the Ghost Dance. According to Wovoka, great things will soon happen. Millions of buffalo will return, and all of the dead warriors will come back to life and all non-Indians and non-believing Indians will disappear. The Great Spirit will rebuild the earth with a new covering of thirty feet of soil.
Dancers are wearing ghost shirts, loose shirts decorated with feathers and painted designs of birds, horses, warriors and geometric patterns. Some Lakota regard the shirts as supernatural and believe that bullets cannot penetrate the ghost shirts.
That some Lakota would embrace the Ghost Dance is understandable. Government policy has dramatically altered their world. Land has been lost. Their language and religion is banned. Many of their children go to boarding schools. Their hunting grounds are gone. They yearn for a return to their pre-white world.
Although the majority of Lakota do not accept the Ghost Dance, those who do are fervent in their beliefs.  These are words translated from a Lakota Ghost Dance song:

The whole world is coming.
A nation is coming, a nation is coming.
The Eagle has brought the message to the tribe.
The father says so, the father says so.
Over the whole earth they are coming.
The buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming.
The Crow has brought the message to the tribe.
The father says so, the father says so.

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change