The following is attributed to a sixty year old oral historian, whose name is not given. I can not tell you when the story was gathered by the editor of this book, and any other dates would be at the least guesstimates as to when this story was first told or even if the story was passed along by a one other than the person it happened to. As near as I can tell, the man is stated to be 60 - and his own words speak as it being over fifty years since the events took place that he speaks on. As they barely precede the Wounded Knee Atrocity of 1890, it would seem that the taking place of the telling of the story was somewhere around 1940…and then, passed along to the point where the storyteller himself is now "anonymous" or….perhaps he wanted it this way. The first copyright of the book by the author is 1978….so, you guess is as good as mine.
That aside, this is a bitter-sweet
story, and it shows how sadly the whites did not come close to understanding the Native Americans of the day - perhaps made even more sadder by the fact that, for the majority, they have made little if any progress to understanding them to this very day.
It should be noted: The picture that accompanies this story was taken by Anthropologist James Mooney who stated that this picture of the Sioux Ghost Dance was taken "shortly before the massacre of the followers of the religious movement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in December 1890."
It was over fifty years
ago. A big new government school had been put up at Pine Ridge, and we were kept there, boys and girls -together-, an unheard of thing. We wore
Wasichu clothes, which neither fitted nor felt right on us. In fact, we looked terrible in them, but we had to wear them or be punished.
The rumor got about: "The dead are to return. The buffalo are to return. The Dakota people will get back their own way of life. The white people will soon go away, and that will mean happier times for us once more!"
That part about the dead returning was what appealed to me. To think I should see my dear mother, grandmother, brothers and sisters again! But, boylike, I soon forgot about it, until one night when I was rudely wakened in the dormitory. "get up!" put on your clothes and slip downstairs, we are running away" a boy was hissing into my ear.
Soon fifty of us, little boys about eight to ten, started out across country over hills and valleys, running all night. I know now that we ran almost thirty miles. There on the Porcupine Creek thousands of Dakota people were in camp, all hurrying about very purposefully. In a long sweat lodge with openings at both ends, people were being purified in great companies for the holy dance, men by themselves and women by themselves, of course.
A woman quickly spied us and came weeping toward must. "These also shall take part," she was saying of us. So a man called out, :You runaway boys, come here." They stripped our ugly clothes from us and sent us inside. When we were well purified, they sent us out at the other end and placed sacred shirts on us. They were of white muslin with a crow, a fish, Stars, and other symbols painted on. I never learned what they meant. Everyone wore one magpie and one eagle feather in his hair, but in our case there was nothing to tie them to. The school had promptly ruined us by shaving off our long hair till our scalps showed lighter than our faces!
The people, wearing the sacred shirts and feathers, now formed a ring. We were in it. All jo9ined hands. Everyone was respectful and quiet, expecting something wonderful to happen. It was not a glad time, though. All wailed cautiously and in awe, feeling their dead were close at hand.
The leaders beat time and sang as the people danced, going round to the left in a sidewise step. They danced without rest, on and on, and they got out of breath but still they kept going as long as possible. Occasionally someone thoroughly exhausted and dizzy fell unconscious into the center and lay there "dead". Quickly those on each side of him closed the gap and went right on. After a while, many lay about in that condition. They were now "dead:" and seeing their dear ones. As each one came to, the, or he, slowly stay up and looked about, bewildered, and then began wailing inconsolably.
One of the leaders, a medicineman, asked a young girl, "My kinswoman, why do you wee?" The she told him tearfully what she had just seen and he in turn proclaimed it to the people. Then all wailed with her. IT was very dismal.
I remember two the of the songs:
Mother, hand me my sharp knife,
Mother, hand my sharp knife,
Here come the buffalo returning …
Mother, Hand me my sharp knife!
Mother, do come back!
Mother, do come Back!
My little brother is crying for you…
My father says so!
The visions varied at the start, but the ended the same way, like a chorus describing a great encampment of all the Dakotas who had ever died, where all were related and therefore understood each other, where the buffalo came eagerly to feed them, and there was no sorrow but only joy, where relatives thronged out with happy laughter to greet the newcomer. That was the best of all!
Waking to the drab and wretched
present after such a glowing vision, it was little wonder that they wailed as if their poor hearts would break in two with disillusionment. But at least they had seen!
The people went on and on and could not stop, day or night, hoping perhaps to get a vision of their own dead, or at least to hear of the visions of others. They preferred that to rest or food or sleep. And so I suppose the authorities did think they were crazy….but they weren't. THEY were only terribly unhappy.
Anonymous, Pine Ridge Sioux