Early Life Among the Indians
Copyright 1891 B.G. Armstrong & T.P. Wentworth, Ashland, WI.
1892 Press of A.W. Bowron, Ashland, Wis.


Chapter X.

Excitement Among the Whites and Indians of Lake Superior - Origins of the Far-Famed Ghost Dance - Was a Half Crazy Religious Teaching


I will now relate some circumstances, which connect themselves, in an indirect way, with the interview with Gus Beaulieu, printed in the "Minneapolis Journal" of February 4th 1891, given in the previous chapter. It was the spring of 1878 I think, that considerable excitement was caused in and around Ashland, Wisconsin, over a report in circulation that Indians were dancing and having powwows further west and were working their way toward the reservations in this part of the country. Settlers came to me at different times to inquire if I knew or could tell the cause of it knowing that I was familiar with the language and could give the information if any one could. All I could tell them was that I had head off something of the kind going on in Minnesota and they were moving toward this state. The next I heard of them they were within one hundred miles of Ashland; that the party were performing and teaching a new kind of dance. I resolved to meet them and did so when they were about 20 miles from Ashland, at a place where the Courte Oreilles Trail crosses the White River. When I arrived they were preparing their camp for night. There were between sixty and seventy in the party, which consisted of a young Sioux girl and her interpreter, the balance being made up of Chippewas from the immediate vicinity. Before I had a chance to talk with any of them their camp was complete and the dance began, which I watched with much interest, it being the first of kind I had ever seen and to see it had been my object in meeting them. About the time the dance had been completed I got an opportunity to talk with an Indian I knew and he pointed out the Sioux girl and said there would soon be an opportunity for me to talk with her. As soon as the ceremonies were ended I had a talk with her, through her interpreter, who was a half-breed Chippewa. She represented herself to be of the Sioux tribe and a member of a band of the tribe that were massacred by Custer's Army on the Little Big Horn, about May 1876, in which all her people were killed except herself; that she saved herself by jumping into the water on the approach of the soldier and hiding herself by clinging on to the roots the bushes of an overhanging tree or upturned root until the slaughter was over and she could make her escape; tat she was in the water about twenty hours; that she reached a band of her tribe and told them the story. Whether the girl was crazed by the events and her mind shattered by awful trial and exposure she endured, I do not know but she said that spirits had told her she must teach a new dance and to teach it to all the Indian tribes and she had come to this reservation to teach. She taught that the Indians must put away the small drum they had always used and make a larger one and stop their war and pipe dances and practice only the one she was teaching. She said the small drum was no longer large enough to keep away the bad spirit and the larger one must be used on all occasions. Her nation, the Sioux, she said, had given up all other dances since the massacre of her own little band. We can all readily imagine under those circumstances and the excitement of those times how readily the Sioux took up this new dance. They were ready to accept anything of a spiritual nature at that time and took to the teachings of this girl as readily as they would to a manifestation from the sky. Knowing the Indians disposition so well I saw how quickly they would fly to this new idea. All Indians believe in a hereafter, not a single infidel was ever known among them, and the sooner they get to the happy hunting grounds the better it will suit them. With these ideas they prepared for war. The recent slaughter of all the people in that village led them to believe that the white soldiers intended to exterminate them as soon as possible, and they were in daily expectation of another raid, and were well prepared for their coming on so that when Custer's command came in their sight and went into camp they watched their every move, and when their pickets were thrown out the Indians fell back enough to allow them to post, and when it was dark they crawled upon the pickets and soon dispatched them with clubs and hatchets and then proceeded to the camp where the man body of Custer's men were and put them to their final sleep. This I give as it was related to me by a mixed blood of the Sioux's own people. From the date the girl gave in telling of the slaughter of her band and until the massacre of Custer, the Sioux had been gathering all small parties together and in one army awaited and expected another attack from the white soldiers and when Custer command came within their reach they were well organized, and as my informant told me, had a great many warriors. I have since met from time to time since the Custer horror a number of persons who at the time lived among the Sioux, some of whom were white men whom I always believed were renegade confederates of the rebellion that went there for the purpose of stirring up strife if they could. One man in particular, whose name I did not learn, but was a southern man, which I could readily detect by his speech, corroborated in every particular the manner in which the Custer command was annihilated as related to me by the eyewitness. The girl who represented herself to me as the sole survivor of that village massacre, remained here among the Chippewas some days and the last I heard of her she was going further west among the Crow and other tribes, teaching as she claimed, by the advise and direction of spirits, what is now known as the "Ghost Dance."

 

Contributed and used with permission on this site by Timm Severud. The Lac Courte Oreilles Historical Preservation Office created this reproduction.Timm Severud manually typed it in and some minor changes to text have been made from the original, to correct spelling mistakes, and slight grammar mistakes. There is no copyright on this book or this reproduction. Feel free to use and share with others. Enjoy what I consider the best historical biography I have ever read. T.L.S.

 

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