Decades of broken promises, stolen land and injustices culminated in the late 1880’s. Bison herds, a staple of Lakota survival, had been hunted to near extinction and the government refused to prevent poachers from entering Lakota lands to kill the few remaining animals. Many tribes were teetering on the edge of starvation. This led to mounting frustration, common to all Native Americans in the Plains and western mountains, producing a healthy environment for the teachings of Wovoka, a Paiute prophet and healer.
In early 1889, Wovoka claimed to have seen a vision of the Messiah foretelling the future restoration of the Native Americans and the
ejection of the European trespassers. As part of this vision, he relayed a dance, slow and somber to a single drum, called the Ghost Dance. Wovoka’s promise of restoration and redemption began to sweep the Plains and was quite unnerving, particularly the dancing, to the settlers pushing in from the east. It did not matter that Wovoka was teaching the tribes to walk at peace, cease lying and stealing, etc.
On December 15, 1889, in a heavy handed effort to quell this Messianic zeal, US Government officials decided to arrest Chief Sitting Bull and a dozen or more other chiefs. When they arrived at Sitting Bull’s residence with 40 Native American Police, a crowd quickly gathered to protest the action. A scuffle ensued and a few shots were exchanged killing Sitting Bull, eight supporters and six policemen.
Fearful that the situation would escalate into reprisals, 200 of Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa band fled to join Chief Spotted Elk at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Continue reading