The Ghost Dance and the Wounded Knee Massacre
Digital History ID 705
A member of the Ogala Sioux describes the pattern of conflict between Indians and the government that contributed to the rise of the Ghost Dance religion.
Everybody seems to think that the belief in the coming of the Messiah has caused all the trouble. This is a mistake. I will tell you the cause.
When we first made treaties with the Government...the Government promised us all the means necessary to make our living out of our land, and to instruct us how to do it, and abundant food to support us until we could take care of ourselves. We looked forward with hope to the time when we could be as independent as the whites, and have a voice in the Government.
The officers of the army could have helped us better than any others, but we were not left to them. An Indian Department was made, with a large number of agents and other officials drawing large salaries, and these men were supposed to teach us the ways of the whites. Then came the beginning of trouble. These men took care of themselves but not of us. It was made very hard to deal with the Government except through them.... We did not get the means to work our land.... Our rations began to be reduced....
Remember that even our little ponies were taken away under the promise that they would be replaced by oxen and large horses, and that it was long before we saw any, and then we got very few.... Great efforts were made to break up our customs, but nothing was done to introduce the customs of the whites. Everything was done to break the power of the real chiefs, who really wished their people to improve, and little men, so-called chiefs, were made to act as disturbers and agitators. Spotted Tail wanted the ways of the whites, and a cowardly assassin was found to remove him....
Rations were further reduced, and we were starving....The people were desperate from starvation--they had no hope. They did not think of fighting. What good would it do? They might die like men, but what would all the women and children do? Some say they saw the son of God. All did not see Him. I did not see Him.... We doubted it, because we saw neither Him nor His works....
We were faint with hunger and maddened by despair. We held our dying children, and felt their little bodies tremble as their souls went out and left only a dead weight in our hands.... There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some one had again been speaking of the Son of God, and said He had come. The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy to Him for mercy. They caught at the promises they heard He had made.
The white men were frightened, and called for soldiers.... We heard that soldiers were coming. We did not fear. We hoped that we could tell them our troubles and get help. A white man said the soldiers meant to kill us. We did not believe it, but some were frightened and ran away to the Bad Lands. The soldiers came. They said: “Don't be afraid; we come to make peace, and not war.” It was true. They brought us food, and did not threaten us.
Source: W. Fletcher Johnson, Life of Sitting Bull and History of the Indian War (Philadelphia, 1891), 460-67.
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