Ghost Dance War

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Ghost Dance War
Part of the Sioux Wars
Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.
Date December 29, 1890 – January 15, 1891
Location South Dakota
Result United States victory
 United States Miniconjou Lakota
Hunkpapa Lakota
Commanders and leaders
United States James W. Forsyth Spotted Elk
Kicking Bear
Casualties and losses
~25-50 killed
39 wounded
~300 killed
51 wounded
Native American losses include civilian casualties.

The Ghost Dance War was an armed conflict in the United States between the Lakota Sioux and the United States government from 1890 until 1891. It involved the Wounded Knee Massacre wherein the 7th Cavalry massacred around 300 Lakota Sioux, including women, children, and other noncombatants, at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. The Ghost Dance War ended when Sioux leader Kicking Bear surrendered on January 15, 1891.

In an effort to remind the nation of this incident, and the historic government program against Native Americans, the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied the Pine Ridge Reservation near Wounded Knee in protest against the federal government on February 27, 1973. A 71-day standoff between federal authorities and the AIM ensued. The militants surrendered on May 8.

Ghost Dance[edit]

The Ghost Dance was a Native American religious movement that occurred in the late 1800s, often practiced by the Sioux Natives. It consisted of a circle dance, invented by the Native leader Wovoka, or better known by his white name, Jack Wilson. Wilson was convinced that God talked to him and told him directly that by practicing the Ghost Dance, the white man would leave and the Native American ancestors would come back to live in peace with the remaining Native Americans for the rest of eternity. This religion quickly spread throughout the entire west and Native American tribes. This dance was given this name by white settlers who were frightened by this spiritual dance, saying that it had a ghostly aura around it, hence the name. This started the push to bring US troops into the Dakotas where the Sioux were most prominent and where the Ghost Dance was being practiced the most.[1]


In the winter of 1890, the Sioux Natives had been upset over a series of treaty violations in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 by the US involving land divisions among tribes in South Dakota and the US running railroads through the reservation. There was also dispute around the Black Hills land where gold was found in 1862. There were a series of battles over this but the most well known of them was the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Sioux had encamped themselves at Wounded Knee Creek and were handing over their weapons to US troops. One deaf Native did not give up his weapon due to the US troops not knowing how to communicate with the deaf Native, there was a struggle, and someone's gun discharged in the air. One of the US commanders heard this and ordered his troops to open fire. The commanders called in reinforcement from the Hotchkiss cannons that were previously placed on the adjacent ridge. These cannons mowed down whatever the bullets could hit. By the time the smoke had cleared, almost 300 dead Natives (mostly women and children), 25 dead and 45 injured US troops lay on the ground, most of which was due to friendly fire. The Natives who had escaped the conflict were then hunted down and killed by the remaining US troops. As this was happening, a blizzard came in and prevented the US troops or the other Natives from the Pine Ridge Reservation from retrieving the dead. This resulted in frozen dead bodies strewn across Wounded Knee Creek for the next 3 days. There was a public uproar when word of the gunfire reached the Eastern US and the Government reestablished the treaty they had broken with the Sioux to avoid any further public backlash. The Cheyenne were allies to the Sioux.[2]


After the Wounded Knee Massacre, there were several other small skirmishes involving the Sioux and the US Government, but for the most part hostilities ceased.[citation needed] Much to the dismay of Native Americans, twenty US troops were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions on that day.[3] Native Americans were outraged about this at the time, and have pushed to get these medals rescinded. In more recent years, there was a takeover of the Wounded Knee Memorial by militant protesters. There was a standoff between these protesters for several months, but they ended up surrendering peacefully.[4] Calvin Spotted Elk, the descendant of the renowned Chief Spotted Elk, whose frozen body is the icon of the Wounded Knee Massacre, has started a petition to rescind the medals. As of July 12, 2016, there are 14,881 signatures.


  1. ^ Bowling Green website on Ghost Dance
  2. ^ Ghost Dance War Report by UCLA Student
  3. ^ The Plains Sioux and US Colonialism From Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee by Jeffery Ostler
  4. ^ Ghost Dancing and the Law: The Wounded Knee Trials by John William Sayer
  • Welch, James and Stekler, Paul. Killing Custer. W. W. Norton and Company, New York, NY, 1994. ISBN 0-393-03657-X.

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