Forty years before 1890, the land of the Sioux was still unconquered, and unsettled. The Sioux were free to govern themselves, keeps their culture and traditions, and practice their religion. But by 1850 the Sioux started clashing with emigrants and workers who intruded into their land. The tension between the Sioux and whites were rising as more and more settelers went across Sioux territory. The government tried to trick the Sioux into signing away their lands in 1851 and 1868, but the Sioux managed to have the treaties improve their situation . Later in 1876 Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry invaded Sioux land in an attempt to forcefully take the land from the Sioux. But the Sioux and their allies defeated Custard at the Battle of Little Big Horn, humiliating the U.S. Army. After the battle however, the Native Americans broke up into small bands and the army was able to defeat them.
In 1877 the American government bullied the “non-hostile” tribal chiefs into an agreement that gave away a large portion of the reservation. With the Sioux militarily defeated and reduced to captives, the government was able to bully and threaten the Sioux into submission. Over the next decade Sioux culture and traditions were suppressed. Only the barest supplies were given to the Sioux on the reservations, so many hunted to make up for the meager rations, although soon the Sioux were forbidden to hunt. The Sioux then attempted to farm but drought, hailstorms and inexperience made it nearly impossible. The Sioux were desperate for change and resented the white man (Josephy 11).
A new religions movement called the Ghost Dance swept through the Indian tribes of the west in 1890. The religion promised its followers that the world would be restored to the way it was before the white man. The religion originated with a Piute prophet named Wovoka. He claimed that during the solar eclipse on New Years Day 1889, he had a vision of God and heaven. Wovoka announced that “[w]hen the sun died, I went up to heaven and saw God…God told me to come back and tell my people they must be good and love one another, and not fight, or steal, or lie. He gave me this dance to give to my people” (Wovoka qtd. in Hillstrom 63). Wovoka said that if the Indians lived peacefully and preformed the Ghost Dance, God would restore the buffalo and bring the Indians ancestors back to life, and that the Indians would be free to practice their own religion and culture. This generated a huge amount of excitement and hope in the plains Indians, who had lost everything since the arrival of the white man.
The religion quickly spread through the tribes. When the Ghost Dance reached the Cheyenne River Reservation many where skeptical and chose not to adopt it, but others embraced the new religion enthusiastically. Some, like the famous chief Sitting Bull, did not believe in the religion but allowed their people to practice it anyway. The Sioux were already hungry and desperate, and many tribal leaders decided that the glimmer of hope it provided was worth defying the ban on traditional dances on reservations. Dances would start at noon and run late into the night. Participants wore white shirts made of cotton or buckskin, which were thought to be able to stop bullets. As the dance went on into the evening the dancers would become more and more frenzied, until many members would fall down from exhaustion. Some would fall unconscious and experience visions from