While researching history, I've turned again to my wonderful "America's Fascinating Indian Heritage" published by Reader's Digest. I cannot tell you how many times I have counted on this historical guide to help me get my facts straight...and to learn.
In 1881, Sitting Bull and his Sioux tribe surrendered to the U.S., closing the history of the plains Indians as we know it. All plains Indians were confined to reservations in the Dakotas, to lands so dry and unyielding, that even experienced farmer's would encounter problems working the soil. The people were expected to survive on supplies rationed by the government to supplement what they grew, but sadly, the food they received was as scarce as the yield they garnered from the tilled soil.
Land-hungry white men took advantage of the starving Indians and tried to buy their plots for as little as 50 cents per acre, and certain government agencies pressured the red man to consent to sell off the excess real estate. Caught in the middle of greed and hunger, the tribe sustained themselves with memories of the old days.
Far away, a Paiute prophet, Wavoka had a vision that spread and gave a new hope to the desparity. The Ghost Dance would bring a new dawn and a time when the white man would disappear. The dead would be resurrected and all Indian existence would change, living forever and hunting the new herds of buffalo that would reappear.
In preparation, The Ghost Dance had to be performed, a simple ceremony consisting of dancing and chanting, often resulting in a frenzy where participants often fell into a semi-conscious state and saw visions of the coming of the new world. A Ghost Dance shirt, thought to make the wearer safe from the white man's bullets, was adopted, and because so many wore such shirts, the garments may have been the reason the ritual was considered a war dance.
Despite mistreatment at the hands of the whites and the undertones of the Dance, no antiwhite feelings were expressed and the message of the cult was one of peace, but fear mongering among the white officials on the reservation and spreading of gossip pointed a finger at Sitting Bull, who was thought to be the focus of the ceremony.
Forty-three Indian police were ordered to arrest him, and descended upon his cabin. He fought against the injustice due to what has been said to be taunts from old women to resist the whites once again. Shots were fired and at the end, fourteen people, including Sitting Bull lay dead. More next month of the aftermath known as the Slaughter at Wounded Knee.
Note from Ginger: All information pertaining to the Ghost Dance is attributed to Reader's Digest. I have paraphrased to share this event with you.