The Ghost Dance or the Spirit Prayer

January 2, 2015

It was on January 1st, 1889 that Wovoka had his prophetic vision. It had spread throughout the West, bringing hope to the devastated native populations, and many Lakota were convinced that the Spirit Dance would bring back the vitality of earlier times when life had been better. But people outside the culture were fearful of such a revival of Indian strength and resolve.


Rumors flew that they were praying to bring the ancestors back from the dead, to bring back the buffalo to the Plains (which, remember, had been so carefully and systematically slaughtered in the effort to decimate the People) and sensational journalism helped create and maintain an atmosphere of fear and hysteria leading to the Wounded Knee Massacre.


‘War correspondents’ paid by the word were sent from urban newspapers to report on the Ghost Dance. Their lurid, often fictionalized reports greatly increased the circulation of their employing newspapers. Local news reports repudiated these ideas, but the army had listened and on January 1st, 1891, bodies were being dug out of the frozen ground for mass burial.  


A burial party at the scene interred 84 men, 44 women and 18 children in a mass grave with large numbers of ‘souvenirs’ plundered from their bodies. It was cold, desperately cold and at 40 degrees below, the frozen bodies were photographed extensively.


Some of those who survived were eventually taken to the Episcopal mission in Pine Ridge where they lay suffering horrific injuries on the straw-covered floor. Above them was a crudely made decorative banner which, cruelly ironic, read, "Peace on earth, good will to men,"

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