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Native American

Big Horn National Forest, Wyoming

Big Horn Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark Bighorn National Forest, Lovell, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark Bighorn National Forest, Lovell, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Constructed in pre-Columbian times, this native stone structure consists of twenty-eight spokes radiating from a central cairn. The circular shape is meant to represent the sun, and the twenty-eight spokes correspond to the length of a lunar month. Around the perimeter of the wheel are several additional cairns, which archaeologists and astronomers believe were placed in order to indicate the location of certain key astronomical events, the timing of which were important for various religious observations.

Today, the Medicine Wheel is still considered a sacred site by various native groups who visit it for vision quests, healing ceremonies, and as part of religious observations connected with solar and stellar activity.

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Taos, New Mexico

Pueblo Revolt, 1680

1893 | Charles Barbant New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-1be3-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

1893 | Charles Barbant. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-1be3-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

On August 11, 1680, after eighty years of Spanish domination, the settled native population of the Southwest (known collectively as the Pueblo, after their distinctive style of architecture) revolted. The Pueblo had been in conflict with the Spanish colonial population for nearly a century, partly due to the encomienda, a system that allowed Spanish colonists to exact tribute from the native population in the form of labor or material goods in exchange for the supposed benefit of religious instruction. Not surprisingly, the Pueblo people resented being forced to ‘pay’ for the privilege of being being converted to Catholicism, especially when Spanish missionaries used the coercive power of the colonial administration to suppress the native religion by imposing harsh penalties on those found practicing or preaching according to the old traditions and the destruction of native religious paraphernalia.

In 1675, Spanish authorities arrested forty-seven Pueblo priests on charges of sorcery and subjected them to a variety of punishments including imprisonment, forced labor, public flogging, and even execution. After his release from prison, one of these native religious leaders, Po’Pay, retreated to the Taos Pueblo where he received a vision that convinced him it was possible to coordinate the widely disparate Pueblo settlements for a combined attack against the Spanish. Oral tradition tells us that Po’Pay sent runners with knotted chords to each of the Pueblos in New Mexico with instructions that the community leaders were untie one knot every day. When the knots were all undone, they would know that the day of the attack had come.

1701 Herman Moll "The isle of California, New Mexico, Louisiane, the river Misisipi, and the lakes of Canada" New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/4eb08660-1f4c-0133-e930-58d385a7b928

1701 | Herman Moll. “The isle of California, New Mexico, Louisiane, the river Misisipi, and the lakes of Canada” New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/4eb08660-1f4c-0133-e930-58d385a7b928

 

2005 | Cliff Fragua Architect of the Capitol.

2005 | Cliff Fragua. Architect of the Capitol. Note the knotted cords in Po’Pay’s hands.

Following the revolt, Po’Pay toured the various Pueblo communities calling for a revival of traditional lifeways and religious practices. Po’Pay urged the Pueblo people to destroy all material evidence of the Spanish presence, including buildings, church records, religious statues, vestments. At the same time, he also encouraged them to construct new buildings in the traditional styles, including large public ‘dual-plazas’ with each plaza associated with one of the moities or kinship groups of the community. The dualism of traditional Pueblo society was linked to their religious worldview, which emphasized opposites and balance in nature.

1898-1931. The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-3536-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

1898-1931. The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-3536-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

 

1854 | Seth Eastman. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-1bef-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

1854 | Seth Eastman. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 19, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-1bef-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

During the twelve years the Pueblos maintained their independence, they were able to reinstate many of the traditional religious practices that had been suppressed by the Spanish. Perhaps most significantly, they reopened the kivas (underground chambers) used for religious worship of their ancestors. Po’pay and his followers were so successful in their nativist revival that even after the Spanish returned to New Mexico in 1692, the Pueblo people retained a significant degree of self rule. Thus, the Pueblo communities were able to continue their religious practices virtually without interruption. Many of these festivals and ceremonies are still observed today.

c. 1899 | Hartwell and Hamaker. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-101334.

c. 1899 | Hartwell and Hamaker. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-101334.


Additional Resources:

Matthew Liebmann, Revolt: An Archaeological History of Pueblo Resistance and Revitalization in 17th Century New Mexico (University of Arizona Press, 2012).

Matthew Liebmann, “The Other American Revolution: Archaeology and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680,” lecture given at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, 7 February 2013.

Wounded Knee, South Dakota

The Ghost Dance Movement – Native, Mystic, and Millenarian

The Ghost Dance Movement was a religious response to United States territorial expansion in the late-nineteenth century. Founded by Wovoka, a Northern Paiute man, after he experienced a vision of his ancestors enjoying traditional life in heaven, the movement was both mystical and millenarian.

“You must not fight. Do no harm to anyone. Do right always.”

Wovoka, founder of the Ghost Dance Religion, quoted in James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (n.d.), 147.

Wovoka fused elements of traditional native spirituality with Christianity, and told his followers that God wanted them to cultivate peace and personal virtue in preparation for a coming time of prosperity.  A key element of Wovoka’s message was the need for Native peoples to return to their traditional ways, and he taught them a new circle dance meant to bring on a trance-state that would restore the spiritual connection between the living and their dead ancestors (hence the name ‘Ghost Dance Movement’). When this mystical renewal had been fully accomplished, Wovoka taught his followers that the whites would leave the land, and all the native tribes of the west—having forsaken their past differences and been unified by their pursuit of holiness—would be able to live peacefully together.

“The great underlying principle of the Ghost dance doctrine is that the time will come when the whole Indian race, living and dead, will be reunited upon a regenerated earth, to live a life of aboriginal happiness, forever free from death, disease, and misery.”

Jame Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (n.d.), 147.

1891, Yellow Nose. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E165127-0

Painting on Deerskin, 1891, Yellow Nose. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E165127-0.

James Mooney,  author of the earliest account of the Ghost Dance ritual, asked Ute artist Yellow Nose, to create this painting of the Ghost Dance ritual as practiced by the Cheyenne and the Arapaho. Although Yellow Nose depicts relatively few dancers here, on some occasions observers recorded that hundreds of men and women would be dancing in concentric circles.

Ghost Dance Shirt. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E358273-0.

Ghost Dance Shirt. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, E358273-0.

Although Wovoka’s account of his visions emphasized cultural and spiritual renewal through the cultivation of peaceableness, humility, and love, the millenarian elements of his teachings inspired the Lakota Sioux to attempt to bring about cultural restoration more forcibly. The Lakota began to equate Wovoka’s message of renewal with resistance to the United States both politically and militarily. To prepare for this, they created elegant Ghost Dance shirts. These were believed were so imbued with spiritual power that they would protect the wearer from being injured in battle.

From Piety to Resistance

After United States agents forced the tribe to disperse onto inferior and smaller reservation lands in 1890, the Lakota began an ongoing series of Ghost Dances as part of a communal atonement and purification process. To government observers, the religious movement thus became linked with the native resistance movement: newspapers across the United States reported on the “Religiously Crazed Indians” and predicted that the dances were merely a prelude to an armed revolt. The racial-political tensions heightened by the dances—which the Lakota refused to cease, despite repeated requests from government agents—ultimately erupted in the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee, with a death toll of at least 200 men, women, and children.

Daily tobacco leaf-chronicle. (Clarksville, Tenn.), 22 Nov. 1890.  Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Daily tobacco leaf-chronicle. (Clarksville, Tenn.), 22 Nov. 1890. 
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88061072/1890-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/>

“An Indian…reported that the hostiles at Wounded Knee were still carrying on their dances and that they had heard of the arrival of the military, but what is of much more importance to the agents is they have strapped on their guns and are dancing fully armed. They declare they will meet the soldiers and will not hesitate to go into battle with them. Reports relative to the Indians declaring their willingness to fight for their religious craze have come in frequently, but up to this time are simply rumors. This information comes direct however, from a source which Agent Royer pronounces trustworthy, the man who carried it being one of the agent’s carriers.”

Daily tobacco leaf-chronicle. (Clarksville, Tenn.), 22 Nov. 1890.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88061072/1890-11-22/ed-1/seq-1/>

Despite its perceived affiliation with violent native resistance, even at the time the Ghost Dance Movement was understood to be part of a long tradition of native millenarianism. After hearing the early accounts of the dance, United States ethnologist James Mooney asked for and was granted permission to conduct formal research into the origins and practice of the Ghost Dance among various tribes, including the Cheyenne, Comanche, Sioux, and Apache.

“All this is to be brought about by an overruling spiritual power that needs no assistance from human creatures; and though certain medicine-men were disposed to anticipate the Indian millennium by preaching resistance to the further encroachments of the whites, such teachings form no part of the true doctrine, and it was only where chronic dissatisfaction was aggravated by recent grievances, as among the Sioux, that the movement assumed a hostile expression. On the contrary, all believers were exhorted to make themselves worthy of the predicted happiness by discarding all things warlike and practicing honesty, peace, and good will, not only among themselves, but also toward the whites, so long as they were together. Some apostles have even thought that all race distinctions are to be obliterated, and that the whites are to participate with the Indians in the coming felicity; but it seems unquestionable that this is equally contrary to the doctrine as originally preached.”

James Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890 (n.d.), 147.

His account, published in 1896, includes material gathered from interviews with Wavoka and his followers, accounts of the dance by various observers, photographs of the dancers, and transcripts of the songs accompanying the dancing. Mooney also made recordings of several “Ghost Dance” songs, although these are believed to be his own performance and not from actual dancers. Mooney’s scholarly interest in the Ghost Dance Movement ensured that its positive, community-building and peaceful elements would not be forgotten.

Ghost Dance Circle, Oklahoma Cheyenne & Arapaho Reservation, 1893, Mary I. Wright. Courtesy National Archives, American Indian Select List number 38.

Ghost Dance Circle, Oklahoma Cheyenne & Arapaho Reservation, 1893, Mary I. Wright. Courtesy National Archives, American Indian Select List number 38.

Based on photographs by James Mooney, Wright’s painting captures the intensity of the Ghost Dance as a locus of community engagement. Note the way the circle of figures (both men and women) creates an island in the midst of the otherwise barren plain, and how the attention of all observers (including the viewer) is oriented towards the central dancer.

William Cody, American Horse, Young Man Afraid of His Horses and Kicking Bear, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution NPG.2010.5

William Cody, American Horse, Young Man Afraid of His Horses and Kicking Bear, 1891, John Grabill. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution NPG.2010.5

Taken on the day after the Lakota Sioux surrendered to United States forces following the Wounded Knee Massacre, this photograph shows  William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (center rear,  with the broad-brimmed hat) in the midst of an interracial group. Just below Cody, seated on the ground, is Kicking Bear, one of the leaders of the Ghost Dance among the Lakota Sioux.

Cody had a long-standing relationship with the Lakota Sioux and a strong advocate of native rights to live and work off the reservation.  Several of his long-term performers had worked with the government to suppress the Ghost Dance revolt. As one of the peace negotiators, he offered former Ghost Dancers the opportunity to escape government intrusion in another way: by employment in his Wild West Show.

Sioux Ghost Dance, Filmed September 24, 1894, in Edison’s Black Maria studio. Heise, William, Camera, Inc Thomas A. Edison, and Hendricks. Sioux Ghost Dance. [United States: Edison Manufacturing Co, 1894] Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/00694139/.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Ghost Dance had become a symbol of lost causes, as seen in this cartoon lampooning repeatedly-failed presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and his ‘free silver’ campaign.

Last ghost dance of the free silver Tribe, Louis Dalrymple for Puck Magazine, 1896 November 4. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28855

Last ghost dance of the free silver Tribe, Louis Dalrymple for Puck Magazine, 1896 November 4. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-28855

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