A Ghost Awakens

In the closing years of the 19th century, Indians throughout the American West began to dance. Dervish-like, they danced for hours and days on end, in the belief that their ecstasy would call forth the gods, bring back the dead, and banish the conquering Europeans from North America. A Paiute elder named Captain Dick explained to a white observer just how this was to take place:

All Indians must dance, everywhere, keep on dancing. Pretty soon in the next spring Big Man come. He bring back game of every kind. Game be thick everywhere. All dead Indians come back and live again. They all be strong, be young again. Old blind Indians sec again and get young and have fine time. When the Old Man comes this way, then all the Indians go to the mountains, high up away from the whites. Whites can't hurt the Indians then. Then while Indians way up high, big flood comes like water and all white people die, get drowned. After that water go away and then nobody but Indians [and] everywhere game. Then medicine-man tell Indians to send word to all Indians to keep up dancing and the good time will come.

Thus assured, they danced, Paiute and Sioux, Cheyenne and Zuni, Jicarilla and Washo, hoping to work magic and bring back that good time. Although it promised cataclysm, the dance itself offered no violence. Even so, the American government took a dim view of the dancer's efforts. The War Department dispatched...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here