What was the Ghost Dance and How did the Ghost Dance originate?

The Ghost Dance religion was founded in 1899 by Wovoka, a Northern Paiute prophet living in western Nevada.

Wovoka told his followers that one day while chopping wood he fell dead and traveled to heaven. There he talked to God, who told him that Indians should live peacefully and perform the Round Dance, a ceremonial dance of his tribe.

The religion quickly spread to tribes such as the Arapaho, the Cheyenne, and the Sioux. Among these Plains Indians, it became known as the Ghost Dance.

The religion’s popularity among the Lakota Sioux of the South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation particularly terrified whites in the area. The government agent responsible for overseeing the Pine Ridge Indians ordered them never to perform the Ghost Dance again. When they refused, he asked the U.S. government to send in soldiers to force them to stop.

These Arapaho were performing the Ghost Dance inspired by the vision of Wovoka, when anthropologist James Mooney took this picture.