It was a great time of despair for the Native American people as the defeat of their nations by the ever westward expanding United States and subsequent placement onto reservations disrupted their culture and way of life as it had existed for hundreds of years. The decade leading up to 1890, which was a main focal point in the history of Native Americans, saw the passing of the 1887 Dawes Severalty Act which called for the breaking up of reservations and offering the Indians an opportunity to become citizens and giving them an allotment of land to farm or graze livestock on (Murrin 628). This breaking up of the different tribes’ social structure was just one of the many causes which led to the spiritual movement known as the Ghost Dance (or Lakota Ghost Dance) that swept across what remained of the Native American people in their various reservations. Other reasons for the Indian’s dysphoria at this time in their history included: lack of hunting, decease of the buffalo, forced abandonment of their religion, nearly forced conversion to Christianity, westernization, and having to farm for the very first time.
In January 1889, a Paiute Indian from Nevada named Wovoka, who was a shepherd, became terribly sick during a solar eclipse on New Year's Day and had divine visions of the Indian’s lands returned to them and all the American settlers disappearing. Soon, his teachings of prayers and special dances spread to all the plains tribes. In the article Ghost Dance found on Elibrary, an online educational database, the unlisted author writes that, “Wovoka had a vision that the old ways would be restored, the buffalo herds would return, white people would disappear, and the Indians would be reunited with friends and relatives in the ghost world” (“Ghost Dance”).
The Ghost Dance, itself, was a dance of fast movement from the left and then to the right in a large circle. As the participants would dance they would chant and sing, “You shall see your kindred--E'yayo! The father says so--E'yayo!'' (O’Neill Chap. 7). The Ghost Dance was of an entirely peaceful nature. David Christensen describes this, in summarizing The Lakota Ghost Dance of 1890 written by Rani-Henrik Andersson, by informing the reader, “Dancers became hostile only after whites and even fellow Lakotas who opposed the religion tried to interfere or stop the dance” (Christensen para. 4). Unfortunately, the dance was seen as hostile by many whites and this later led to some of the final conflicts between the Native American people and white men.
Although numerous tribes participated, the tribe which serves as the main focus of the Ghost Dance Movement were the Sioux Indians. This is mostly because of their in depth involvement, including the events of Sitting Bull’s death and the Wounded Knee incident. Carl Waldman wrote in Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes that the Sioux Indians were, “Horse-mounted Indians, wearing long eagle-feathered warbonnets and fringed leather clothing with...