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this heroic people are worthy of the careful study of the humanitarian and ethnologist.
The expected advent of an Indian Messiah has been among the legends or traditions of nearly all of the great families of North American Indians since their contact with civilized races. The failure of certain natural products in the years of 1889 and 1890, upon which many of the tribes were accustomed to depend for subsistence, the general drouth in the north and west of the United States with its attendant consequences, and also the neglect on the part of the Government to furnish the customary supplies, aided in the revival of the tradition and in suggesting to the Indian mind the desirability of the presence of the Great Medicine Man of the North, who would bring power, plenty and happiness to his long suffering people. In the winter and spring of the year 1890 the idea became widespread, and in the early summer the announcement of the actual appearance of the Indian Christ was made.
In June of this year the War Department gave general circulation to the story of Porcupine, a Cheyenne medicine man, who, in November, 1889, by divine command and under the guidance of the Great Spirit, traveled from his reservation to the Shoshone agency, to Salt Lake City, and thence to the Fort Hall agency, where he was joined by delegations from other tribes who came upon the same mission, and who without any apparent agreement for concert of action, arrived at about the same time. From Fort Hall the representatives were directed to the Walker River reservation in the State of Nevada, where the long expected Messiah was found, his head bowed in sorrow, and with scars on wrists and face. He told them of his crucifixion, sufferings and death. He instructed them in morality, and taught them certain religious dances and songs. He counseled brotherly love and kindness one to another, gave lessons in immortality, and prophesied that all the Indian dead were to be resurrected, and to live on earth again. The old were to
become young; the crippled and diseased to be made well; the buffalo, deer, elk and other game to be brought back in abundance; and the earth enlarged so that all nations could dwell therein.
The agent for the Cheyennes and Arapahoes in Oklahoma Territory reported to the Indian Bureau that, in the autumn of 1889 and winter of 1890, rumors had come to that agency from the Shoshones of the State of Wyoming that the Indian Christ had surely come, and was waiting in the mountains some two hundred miles north of their reservation; that some of the best medicine men of the Shoshones had visited and held converse with him; that he had told them that the whites were to be removed from the country, the buffalo brought back, and the red men restored to their original condition in the land of their fathers. These rumors were believed by the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, who sent two representatives to Wyoming to investigate the matter. Their agents returned after an absence of some months, and reported that the story concerning the Christ was true, though they had not seen him, having been prevented by the heavy snow from making the pilgrimage to the mountains.
The special agent in charge of the Tongue River agency in the State of Montana reported that an Indian, also named Porcupine, had declared himself to be the Indian Messiah, and that he had a large following among those of that agency. Even those who did not believe obeyed him through fear of the terrible power of his
It was ordered, for the purpose of pleasing the Great Spirit, that at every new moon a six days' and nights' dance should be held. In this way, at the end of a given time, the buffalo, elk and other game would be restored, the Indian dead resurrected, the true believers endowed with perpetual youth, and many other wonderful things done for the benefit of the Indian race.
The Indians at the several agencies of the great Sioux
* Report Comm. Indian Affairs, 1891, p. 123. (Ep.]
Nation located in the States of Nebraska, and of North and South
South Dakota, heard reports of the advent of the Indian Messiah, and gave credence to the same. In the winter of 1890 the Sioux, with their characteristic courage and activity, and without obtaining permission from the agents in charge appointed by the governmental authority, sent four representatives to learn and report the truth in this matter. Good Thunder, Cloud Horse, Yellow Knife, and Short Bull, the Indian representatives sent, after an absence of several months, returned and reported that the Indian Christ had surely come, that they had seen him face to face, had grasped his hands and talked with him; that a great smoke came down from heaven and enveloped them during the interview; that he showed them a vision of the happy future home of all the Indian nations, across the ocean; that he gave them paints, and instructions how to make themselves immortal; that he had come to bring back the vanished game, and to give life, strength and happiness to the red men; that he would make their dead friends live once more; that the old should become young again, and the young never grow old; but that all should pray, and sing, and dance to the Great Spirit, and love each other; that in the spring of the next year all would be well if they did as the Christ said.
Great excitement prevailed at many agencies, much credence was given to these reports, and religious meetings were commenced in obedience to the supposed commands and wishes of the Christ, in which hundreds of Indians of both sexes sometimes took part. They would gather at a pole placed in the earth. Then under the instructions of a medicine man, rise from the ground, form a circle, join hands, and move around with cadenced step, singing, crying and praying, until exhausted.
Agent Gallagher at Pine Ridge agency, in the State of South Dakota, stated to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the Indians of that agency believed the reports in regard to the coming of the Great Medicine Man; that he had actually appeared in Wyoming; that his mission was to raise and clothe the dead, and to restore to the Indians their departed heroes; to return to their country the elk and deer, and the herds of buffalo; all of which should make the Indians entirely independent of aid from the whites, and bring such confusion upon their enemies that they would flee the country, leaving the Indians again in possession of the entire Northwest, to be theirs forever. The agent also stated that many of the Indians fainted during the performances which attended the recital of the wonderful things soon to come to pass, and that one man died from the excitement; that at one time there were gathered some 2,000 Indians at White Clay Creek about twenty miles distant from Pine Ridge agency, to hold their religious dances and meeting, in preparation for the Christ that had come, and was soon to be with them.
Agent McLaughlin from Standing Rock agency in the State of North Dakota, reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs that the Indians beionging to the band of that famous old medicine man, Sitting Bull, were much excited over the expected Indian Millennium. This was to come not later than the next spring, when the new grass begins to appear, and was known among the Sioux as the “return of the ghosts.” It contemplated the utter annihilation of the white race, and the supremacy of the Indian.
Mr. McLaughlin in describing this condition of the Indians said: 1
“They are promised by some members of the Sioux tribe, who have lately developed into medicine men, that the Great Spirit has promised them that their punishment by the dominant race has been sufficient, and that their numbers, having now become so decimated, will be reinforced by all Indians who are dead; that the dead are
Rept. Comm. Indian Affairs, 1891, p. 123.
returning to reinhabit this earth, which belongs to the Indians; that they are driving back with them, as they return, immense herds of buffalo, and elegant wild horses to have for the catching; that the Great Spirit promises them that the white man will be unable to make gunpowder in future, and all attempts at such will be a failure; and that the gunpowder now on hand will be useless as against Indians, as it will not throw a bullet with sufficient force to pass through the skin of an Indian; that the Great Spirit had deserted the Indians for a long period, but is now with them and against the whites, and will cover the earth over with thirty feet of additional soil, well sodded and timbered, under which the whites will all be smothered; and any whites who may escape these great phenomena will become small fishes in the rivers of the country; but in order to bring about this happy result the Indians must do their part, and become believers, and thoroughly organized.”
The story of the Indian Christ as he was understood by the Sioux Nation, and an account of the visit of the representatives who saw him, with a description of the ceremonies and songs of the ghost dancers was written out about the time of the surrender of the hostiles in January, 1891, by Major George Sword, an Ogallala Sioux Indian, who was then Captain of the Indian police at Pine Ridge agency. The original, written in the Dakota tongue, is in the possession of Miss Emma C. Sickels, formerly superintendent of the Indian school at that agency. The following is a nearly literal translation of this interesting paper, which has the added value of having been made by an educated young man of the Ogallala tribe:
This is the story of the ghost dancing.
The first people that learned about the Messiah having come, were the Shoshones and Arapahoes. The Ogallalas heard that the Son of God was truly on earth far to the west from their country. This was in the 1889 year. So in that year Good Thunder with four or five others visited the place where the Son of God was said to be. These people went there without permission. They said the Messiah was there at the place, and he was there to