An enlightening scholarly study of American Indian history that gets at the root tensions underlying the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee.
Why were the Americans so concerned about the Ghost Dance religion practiced so enthusiastically by the Lakota Sioux and other Great Plains tribes in the 1880s? In this astute new appraisal, Warren (Western U.S. History/Univ. of California, Davis; Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show, 2005, etc.) finds in this religion—based on messianic visions by a northern Paiute in Nevada named Wovoka—a shred of hope for Indians denuded of their ancestral power and land, herded into reservations, and stripped of their ability to live by the hunting-and-gathering methods of their elders. The dance took elements of Christianity, such as the messiah figure, and wove them into a joyful communion involving movement and visions of horses and buffalo. Though the dancers could become frenzied and fall unconscious, Warren insists that it was essentially a peaceful dance, stressing harmony within this jagged new age of American industry, wage work, and deracination. However, many Americans—since Indians were not considered citizens until 1924, Warren does not include Indians as Americans here—felt threatened by the dances and banned the gatherings as being warlike, leading to the tragic misunderstanding between the military and hundreds of Lakota at the Pine Ridge Reservation in late 1890. Yet unlike the conclusions by authors and historians such as Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Warren does not see the Ghost Dance as the death knell of Indian history or spirituality but rather the beginning of Indians’ attempt to live and adapt to a strange new world in which literacy was necessary and industrial capitalism was the driving economic force. Warren also looks at the work of anthropologist James Mooney, who chronicled the passing of “authentic” Indian ways during this era by first studying the Ghost Dance.
Though it may be too academic for some readers, this is an eye-opening work of American history.