Book - A Whirlwind Passed Through Our Country: Lakota Voices of the Ghost Dance

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The inception of the Ghost Dance religion in 1890 marked a critical moment in Lakota history. Yet, because this movement alarmed government officials, culminating in the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee of 250 Lakota men, women, and children, historical accounts have most often described the Ghost Dance from the perspective of the white Americans who opposed it. In A Whirlwind Passed through Our Country, historian Rani-Henrik Andersson instead gives Lakotas a sounding board, imparting the multiplicity of Lakota voices on the Ghost Dance at the time.

Whereas early accounts treated the Ghost Dance as a military or political movement, A Whirlwind Passed through Our Country stresses its peaceful nature and reveals the breadth of Lakota views on the subject. The more than one hundred accounts compiled here show that the movement caused friction within Lakota society even as it spurred genuine religious belief. These accounts, many of them never before translated from the original Lakota or published, demonstrate that the Ghost Dance’s message resonated with Lakotas across artificial “progressive” and “nonprogressive” lines. Although the movement was often criticized as backward and disconnected from the harsh realities of Native life, Ghost Dance adherents were in fact seeking new ways to survive, albeit not those that contemporary whites envisioned for them. The Ghost Dance, Andersson suggests, might be better understood as an innovative adaptation by the Lakotas to the difficult situation in which they found themselves—and as a way of finding a path to a better life.

By presenting accounts of divergent views among the Lakota people, A Whirlwind Passed through Our Countryexpands the narrative of the Ghost Dance, encouraging more nuanced interpretations of this significant moment in Lakota and American history.

Review by Anita:

The Ghost Dance is one of the defining events in Lakota history. The Lakota, like any other group of people, had differing opinions of the Ghost Dance based on social, religious, and economic factors. The Ghost Dance filled a religious void in Lakota society. The Lakota did not use the Ghost Dance to start a final uprising. It was a genuine expression of belief.

The claims that the Lakota forgot the Christian teachings of the Ghost Dance are false. The Ghost Dance combined the old religion and Christianity, bringing new dimension to both. The Ghost Dance’s foundational principle of resurrection is a purely Christian idea. The Lakota Ghost Dance was different from other tribe dances, and it might have looked wild, but was never intended to be militaristic. The Lakota changed the ceremony to reflect Lakota religious traditions.

Within the pages of this book, it reveals a multiplicity of Lakota views on the subject of the Ghost Dance. These particular accounts are some that have never before been translated and now are being shared with its readers.

Such as:

Short Bull: “Who would have thought that dancing could make such trouble? We had no wish to make trouble, nor did we cause it. We had no thought of fighting, we did not carry weapons. We went unarmed. We danced in a circle holding hands. For the message I brought was of peace.”

Kicking Bear: “And our hearts sang and we were glad” said Kicking Bear. Kicking Bear said that only Indians who believed in the new religion would survive the transformation of the earth, only way to enter this was to start believing. It’s interesting that Kicking Bear says he was told by a voice to go look for the Messiah and Short Bull was chosen by Lakota elders. These two Ghost Dance leaders started their journeys from different perspectives.

Pretty Eagle: “I danced the dance with my eyes closed.”

Little Wound: “Our dance is a religious dance and we are going to dance until spring”. Little Wound himself notes that the Ghost Dance was a prayer dance and he could not understand why the army had showed up.

Sitting Bull: “I did not start this Ghost Dance.” Sitting Bull was upset about the fact that Lakota were being used against each other. And only a few days before his arrest, he had a vision that his own people would kill him.
Henry Bullhead: “The number of the backward Indians will be diminished.”

Gray Eagle: “It could do no good and might lead to trouble.”

John Loneman: “That is just what I had expected all the time--- something unpleasant would be the outcome of this Messiah Craze.”

Lakota Chiefs: “The soldiers trespassed in our country.” In February 1891 Lakota leaders Young Man Afraid OF his Horses, Two Strike, High Hawk and others had talks in Washington D C with the Interior Secretary John Noble. They all maintain that the trouble was caused by the agents, lack of food, broken promises, and finally the unjustifiable call for the military. It is noteworthy that both who were Ghost Dancers and those who opposed it were now in unison in condemning the government for the trouble.

I liked this book.   It’s a very good read. “A WHIRLWIND PASSED THROUGH OUR COUNTRY” is a study of the Lakota involved and those who were not. It gives perspectives of the Lakota that lived in that time whether they were a Ghost Dancer or not. It also includes a foreword by Raymond J DeMallie.


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Additional Info

Additional Info

Rani-Henrik Andersson
Publication Details:
University of Oklahoma Press, 2018
Book Details:
Hardcover, 416 pages