Research: One Woman’s Journey

Please note that some articles have been transferred over from the Old Word Museum site. You may occasionally encounter broken links or outdated information in these articles.

Written By: Julie Farrow
Date: 02/12/2002

Many people between the years 1849 to 1850 made the decision to travel west to where gold had been found. One source estimates the number at 85,000. As a young bride, Catherine Haun and her lawyer husband were among the number who decided to make the trip west.

In Iowa, Catherine and her husband faced old debts that overwhelmed them. The trek west, and finding gold themselves, promised them a better future.

As with most of the other women on the trail west, Catherine filled her narrative with romance as she remembered the details of the road and softened the hardships of the journey.

In early January, 1849, with news of the gold rush and the National hard times upon them, Catherine and her new husband, faced with bills they couldn’t pay, thought about El Dorado in California. They hoped to be able to “pick up enough gold to return to Iowa and resolve those debts.”

Catherine’s health was not good and she’d lost one sister to consumption. Her doctor recommended a different environment and California would certainly provide that for her. As it was, Catherine was cured long before the journey ended.

With “gold fever” catching on, California and the opportunity provided there was the topic of many conversations. It finally turned to “What should we take? Who is going? How best do we fix up’ the outfit?’ Who is going to stay home to take care of the farm and womenfolk?” Would they take wives and children along? Most of the advice handed out was free and lacked any common sense. Much would be learned on the trail.

With buoyant spirits, not knowing what the journey would entail, the adventurous started out.

The Haun party consisted of 6 men and 2 women. Eight strong oxen and four of the best horses on the Haun farm were selected to draw the four wagons. Two of the horses served as saddle horses.

Two wagons were filled with merchandise they hoped to sell at inflated prices when they reached “the land of gold.” The pretense of this was good, but the reality of it was never realized as the band lost both wagons before they crossed the first mountain. “Flour ground at our grist mill and bacon of home-curing filled the large, four oxen wagon, while another was loaded with barrels of alcohol. The third wagon was our household effects and provisions. The former consisted of cooking utensils, two boards nailed together, which was to serve as our dining table, some bedding and a small tent.”

As canned goods were not common then, meats, vegetables and fruit was dried. Some meat was salted. As luxury items, they carried a gallon each of wild plum and crabapple preserves and blackberry jam. All food was wrapped in India rubber. Some of their food provisions remained when Catherine and her wagons arrived in Sacramento.

Catherine’s and her husband’s (whom the entire train called “Major”) bedroom was a 2-horse spring wagon. Major drove this. In this wagon, the Haun’s had a trunk of wearing apparel. Catherine had several dresses, underwear and aprons along with bonnets. She included one dress of white cotton, a black silk manteaux trimmed very fetchingly with bands of velvet and fringe. A lace scuttle-shaped bonnet with a face wreath of tiny pink rosebuds and a cluster of the same flowers on the crown. With it, she hoped to “astonish the natives. She fully expected that she and Major would become rich overnight and she would need the finery. As it was, when she and Major left Iowa, she wore a dark woolen dress which served her during most of the trip. Over this, she wore aprons and was seldom without one.

Their “treasures” consisted of a bible, medicines, such as quinine, bluemass which is an opium derivative, opium, whiskey and hartshorn for snake bites and citric acid — an antidote for scurvy. Matches, stored in a large-mouthed bottle were carefully guarded.

On the inside of the canvas walls there were pockets and in them were stored everyday needs and toilet articles as well as small firearms. The shotgun, always ready, hung from hickory bows in the wagon camp. Invaluable was the twine, awl and buckskin strings they carried. These items mended harnesses, shoes, saddles and so on.

The most tiresome day of the trip, as Catherine remembers, was the first. The soil was saturated from the snow that still covered the ground and untried animals tried to pull heavily laden wagons through the mire. That day they covered only ten miles.

That night a farmer put them up in his house. Dazed with dread, Catherine woke the next morning. She feared the second day of the trip, but knew she couldn’t turn back. Staunchly, she dried her tears and faced her husband.

Council Bluffs, Iowa heralded the end of their first month on the trail. They’d covered 350 miles. It was the last real settlement on the route, so they stocked up for the remainder of the voyage.

In Council Bluffs, the travelers paid 2 « cents a dozen for eggs and 8 to 10 cents apiece for chickens. At the end of their journey, they paid $1 apiece for eggs and $10 per chicken if they were lucky enough to find them.

The Haun caravan had a good many women and children. The morning starts were made before six which meant they had to rise much earlier. Experience taught the women to let the younger children sleep several hours as they traveled so as not to delay these starts. Their presence owed to making the journey longer, but also was a good influence as the men didn’t take unnecessary risks with the Indians as they would otherwise have done.

When they camped at night, the wagons were drawn into a circle that served as a corral for the livestock. Horses were tethered to the tongues of the wagons.

While the men herded the animals, erected the tents for the night and made whatever repairs were necessary, the cooks prepared the evening meal for the travelers.

Desirable campgrounds afforded the travelers the luxury of a day off. When they had such grounds, they didn’t travel on the Sabbath. This also afforded the travelers the time to make bigger repairs and for the women to wash and mend clothing, cook bigger meals that could be warmed over on the trail and to straighten their living quarters.

On the 26th of May, the caravan reached the Missouri River. Wheels were removed from the wagons and the bodies of the wagons were loaded onto flat boats for the voyage across. Several days later, the Elkhorn River confronted them with its bed of quicksand. Wagons had to be rushed across to avoid sinking into the mire.

Indians met the travelers just west of what is now the city of Omaha, Nebraska. Other than some raiding, stealing of canvas, and just generally being a nuisance, there were no tragedies in this caravan.

Buffalo further west provided food and skins. Buffalo chips provided fuel for when they couldn’t find wood.

The “Bad Lands” brought a shudder from Catherine as she remembered it years later. Ugliness and danger lurked from every corner. Crossing it, they saw only Indians, lizards and snakes. The inferno of daylight caused suffering such as none had before endured.

The only death on the journey occurred in the Great Basin. One woman suddenly sickened and died, saving her two little girls and a grief stricken husband. The train halted just one day to bury her and the infant she’d carried.

The caravan reached Sacramento, California on November 4, 1849. It had taken the travelers six months and ten days to cover the distance from Clinton, Iowa.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Schlissel, Lillian; WOMEN’S DIARIES OF THE WESTWARD JOURNEY; Schocken Books; New York; 1982

 

Research: Religion’s Lost Secret

Please note that some articles have been transferred over from the Old Word Museum site. You may occasionally encounter broken links or outdated information in these articles.

Written by: Peter Novak
Date: 02/12/2002

The Nag Hammadi Gospels and Religion’s Lost Secret

What would you bet that the Secret of Death, the biggest and most elusive mystery of all, is the sort of thing that no one ever notices even though it’s been standing right in front of

our noses all along, the sort of thing that, once you finally see it, it makes you want to slap yourself upside the head, saying, of course! How obvious!

 

Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

 

There are, of course, huge volumes of material both ancient and modern which support both the “heaven-and-hell” and “reincarnation” scenarios of life after death; and these mountains of evidence, instead of being contradicted by modern science, have been added to yet further by recent research into Near-Death Experiences and Past-Life Regression. With the added weight of this new sociological research, one cannot help but wonder if the answer somehow involves both scenarios.

 

My wife, Alice, died, less than a year after we were married.

After this, because of this, I became intent (some would use a stronger term) on learning everything I could on the true nature of death. A single father, I was limited to studying when time allowed, and searched this way for many years, but for a long time it just seemed I was making myself even more confused than when I’d started. Then, in the summer of 1988, while haphazardly reviewing a handful of religious and scientific works (including the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, a collection of Upanishads, the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, a review of Zoroastrianism, the lost Christian Gospels rediscovered in Nag Hammadi in the 1940’s, and a hodgepodge of writings from Swedenborg, Freud, and Jung) an idea came to me, slowly but insistently, an idea which, I wonder now, just may change everything.

The idea was this – what if, at death, we divide? Not merely dividing apart into body and spirit, as nearly all have assumed up until now, but truly dividing our inner essences, dividing into two entirely different and separated spiritual portions.

We know, we HAVE KNOWN, for a hundred years now, that besides a body we are also made up of two other things, two other quite distinct parts, two already largely alienated mental halves -our ‘head’ and our ‘heart’ – a conscious mind and a subconscious mind (this, of course, calls to mind the ancient maxim that we all possess a body, a soul, AND a spirit). We have further discovered in this century that these two halves of the psyche possess entirely different characteristics: the conscious half is the seat of the intellect and the will (the ability to make choices), while the subconscious half is home to our emotions and our memories.

 

All this, of course, is anything but news, but neither our religions nor any of the so-called New-Age theories on the afterlife seem to be the least bit interested in taking this inner dichotomy (the most fundamental dichotomy of human existence) into account in their theories and teachings.

The Division of Consciousness:

Science, Religion, and the Secret Afterlife of the Human Psyche

If these two parts each survived physical death, but divided from one another in the process, what would happen? Where would they be? What would each experience? Well, this frankly doesn’t seem so hard to figure out; each would, obviously, lose what the other half gave it, and would be forced to rely exclusively on its own capacities. The conscious half, then, would lose all its memory and emotion (modern Near-Death Experiencers, curiously enough, commonly report just such an absence of emotion immediately after leaving the body; similarly, Past-Life Regression subjects frequently report a pronounced absence of both emotion and memory during the time spent in-between lives). Although the conscious would lose its entire memory if separated from the subconscious, it would nonetheless remain free to make new choices and move on to new experiences; and this sounds an awful lot like the East’s reincarnation scenario, if you ask me.

The subconscious, meanwhile, would lose all ability for objective, rational, independent thought, as well as all ability to make new choices, and thus, deprived of its ability to move in any way, would just sit perfectly still, with nothing to do but fall back deeper and deeper into itself, deeper and deeper into the levels of the unconscious, deeper and deeper into its own emotions and memory (Swedenborg saw something very similar to this in his mystical experiences).

And since the subconscious is responsive and emotional in nature, it could be expected to react emotionally to those memories as well, feeding off its own emotional reactions to its own life memories; it would, in effect, be emotionally judging its own past life and then creating and experiencing its own dream-world reactions to those judgments. And as it would be cut off from all external input, it would remain in this unconscious dream-state permanently (kind of reminds you of Jesus saying “He is not dead, only sleeping”, doesn’t it?), and 100% of its experience would derive from its memories and its reactions to them. Caught in a circular pattern of automatic behavior, it could be expected to perpetually review its memories, react to them emotionally, and react to those reactions emotionally as well, all automatically, over and over, forever, squeezing every last drop of emotional content from its life memories (which reminds me of the “treading the winepress” quotes scattered throughout the Bible). If the subconscious judged its memories of what it had done in its past life favorably, it would thereafter experience a dream-world filled with absolute, positive emotion – pure pleasure and happiness. If it judged itself unfavorably, it would experience a dream-world filled with absolute negative emotion-the pain of self-condemnation. And this, if you ask me, sounds alot like the West’s heaven-and-hell scenario.

Thus, the 20th century’s scientific discovery of the natural division of the human mind seems to produce two radically different afterlife scenarios, which are, interestingly enough, virtually identical to the two major religious scenarios that have been in existence for millennia. The East’s tradition of reincarnation and the West’s tradition of heaven and hell are each thousands of years old; science’s discovery of the natures and qualities of the conscious and unconscious, on the other hand, are less than a single century old. Nonetheless, they are somehow the same; somehow, the latter has reconstructed the former. Science, it seems, has arrived at conclusions religion embraced centuries ago.

Ancient Corroboration of Division Theory

Echoes of such a “Division Theory” theology seem to appear in the original religious texts of cultures all over the world.

Many ancient cultures, for example, believed that humans possessed two different ‘souls’, each of which successfully survived the death of the physical body, but only to then separate from one another as well: in ancient Egypt, the ba separated from the ka at death; in ancient Greece, the thymos separated from the psyche; in ancient China, the p’o separated from the hun; in Persia, the urvan from the daena; in India, the asu from the manas; and in Israel, the soul from the spirit

(Eccl. 12:7, Heb. 4:12). Even in many primitive cultures still existing today (such as the Alaskan Eskimo and the Australian aborigine), strikingly similar belief patterns can still be seen.

LOUD echoes of such a Division Theory theology occur in the banned, long-lost 1st century Christian Gospels rediscovered in Nag Hammadi Egypt in the 1940’s (especially so in three: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth).

Ignoring for the moment the obvious question of why cultures all around the globe and through history seem to have arrived at such similar afterlife beliefs, another question still begs to be asked – might not all these belief-systems, both ancient and present-day, found all around the world, be referring to he very same elements within human beings that we in the West olloquially refer to as the ‘head’ and ‘heart’, what we more properly, in this scientific age, call the conscious and the unconscious?

Division Theory, simply by taking what science now knows about the human mind, and asks how it might function under a different set of circumstances (the two halves of the mind continuing to exist and function after death, but divided apart from one another), arrives at answers that replicate beliefs thousands of years old. This seemingly impossible anachronism suggests the existence of a single, potentially verifiable scientific reality which underlies and substantiates both Eastern and Western religious traditions. Thus, Division Theory not only works toward unifying the divisions within humanity’s religions, but also the chasm between religion and science as well.

And in the process, it carries profound, disturbing implications for both the legendary ‘Fall of Man’ (i.e., the division of Adam and Eve, or Hegel’s Primordial Rupture) and the prophesied ‘Resurrection of the Dead’ during the West’s classic Judgment Day scenario (“you will be invaded by an ancient and enduring army, an army of old, such as has never been seen before” Ask yourself – what does “Resurrection of the Dead” become, if reincarnation is part of the picture?).

Perhaps the Secret of Death hasn’t remained elusive because it was too far removed from us, but because it was too close.

Division is, after all, the very core and essence of the human experience. What was a historic revelation to Freud 100 years ago(and through him, to the whole of the scientific world) – that we are all divided – is, and has always been, Man’s surprised cry of discovery.

We are all divided; whether we use psychological terms(“conscious and unconscious”), physiological terms (“male and female”), colloquial terms (“head and heart”), Biblical terms (“soul and spirit”), Egyptian terms (“ba and ka”), Chinese terms (“p’o and hun”), Greek terms (“thymos and psyche”),Kant’s terms(“phenomena and noumena”) Blake’s terms (“imagination and reason”), Hegel’s terms (“subject and substance”), or Sartre’s terms (“existence and essense”), we always find ourselves ultimately referring to two separate components of our reality.

Each time, we find we can never quite completely get a handle on any of these sets; we can never quite completely identify or fully define them. No matter how hard or carefully we try to look at them, we can never fully wrap our minds around any of these sets of components.

That would make sense if they were infinite. Division Theory suggests that no matter what terms we happen to find ourselves using at any given time, we are always really referring to the same two components, which each have an infinite number of different names, faces, and facets.

Whether one is speaking of the division between conscious and unconscious, male and female, head and heart, or soul and spirit, Division always ends up enthroned as our single most basic an intimate reality. Is it more reasonable to suppose that we have an infinite number of different divisions within us, or that we have just one division that can be viewed from an infinite number of different perspectives?

Is this inner division, Division Theory asks, identical with the division between life and death, between Man and God?

If so, then to heal this division is to conquer death itself.

What did Jesus hold up as the key to eternal life?

Integrity. Being undivided.

Research Articles

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Religion’s Lost Secret

By: Peter Novak

Article

The Nag Hammadi Gospels and Religion’s Lost Secret

by Peter Novak

 

What would you bet that the Secret of Death, the biggest and most elusive mystery of all, is the sort of thing that no one ever notices even though it’s been standing right in front of

our noses all along, the sort of thing that, once you finally see it, it makes you want to slap yourself upside the head, saying, of course! How obvious!

 

Sounds about right, doesn’t it?

 

There are, of course, huge volumes of material both ancient and modern which support both the “heaven-and-hell” and “reincarnation” scenarios of life after death; and these mountains of evidence, instead of being contradicted by modern science, have been added to yet further by recent research into Near-Death Experiences and Past-Life Regression. With the added weight of this new sociological research, one cannot help but wonder if the answer somehow involves both scenarios.

 

My wife, Alice, died, less than a year after we were married.

After this, because of this, I became intent (some would use a stronger term) on learning everything I could on the true nature of death. A single father, I was limited to studying when time allowed, and searched this way for many years, but for a long time it just seemed I was making myself even more confused than when I’d started. Then, in the summer of 1988, while haphazardly reviewing a handful of religious and scientific works (including the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, a collection of Upanishads, the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, a review of Zoroastrianism, the lost Christian Gospels rediscovered in Nag Hammadi in the 1940’s, and a hodgepodge of writings from Swedenborg, Freud, and Jung) an idea came to me, slowly but insistently, an idea which, I wonder now, just may change everything.

The idea was this – what if, at death, we divide? Not merely dividing apart into body and spirit, as nearly all have assumed up until now, but truly dividing our inner essences, dividing into two entirely different and separated spiritual portions.

We know, we HAVE KNOWN, for a hundred years now, that besides a body we are also made up of two other things, two other quite distinct parts, two already largely alienated mental halves -our ‘head’ and our ‘heart’ – a conscious mind and a subconscious mind (this, of course, calls to mind the ancient maxim that we all possess a body, a soul, AND a spirit). We have further discovered in this century that these two halves of the psyche possess entirely different characteristics: the conscious half is the seat of the intellect and the will (the ability to make choices), while the subconscious half is home to our emotions and our memories.

 

All this, of course, is anything but news, but neither our religions nor any of the so-called New-Age theories on the afterlife seem to be the least bit interested in taking this inner dichotomy (the most fundamental dichotomy of human existence) into account in their theories and teachings.

The Division of Consciousness:

Science, Religion, and the Secret Afterlife of the Human Psyche

If these two parts each survived physical death, but divided from one another in the process, what would happen? Where would they be? What would each experience? Well, this frankly doesn’t seem so hard to figure out; each would, obviously, lose what the other half gave it, and would be forced to rely exclusively on its own capacities. The conscious half, then, would lose all its memory and emotion (modern Near-Death Experiencers, curiously enough, commonly report just such an absence of emotion immediately after leaving the body; similarly, Past-Life Regression subjects frequently report a pronounced absence of both emotion and memory during the time spent in-between lives). Although the conscious would lose its entire memory if separated from the subconscious, it would nonetheless remain free to make new choices and move on to new experiences; and this sounds an awful lot like the East’s reincarnation scenario, if you ask me.

The subconscious, meanwhile, would lose all ability for objective, rational, independent thought, as well as all ability to make new choices, and thus, deprived of its ability to move in any way, would just sit perfectly still, with nothing to do but fall back deeper and deeper into itself, deeper and deeper into the levels of the unconscious, deeper and deeper into its own emotions and memory (Swedenborg saw something very similar to this in his mystical experiences).

And since the subconscious is responsive and emotional in nature, it could be expected to react emotionally to those memories as well, feeding off its own emotional reactions to its own life memories; it would, in effect, be emotionally judging its own past life and then creating and experiencing its own dream-world reactions to those judgments. And as it would be cut off from all external input, it would remain in this unconscious dream-state permanently (kind of reminds you of Jesus saying “He is not dead, only sleeping”, doesn’t it?), and 100% of its experience would derive from its memories and its reactions to them. Caught in a circular pattern of automatic behavior, it could be expected to perpetually review its memories, react to them emotionally, and react to those reactions emotionally as well, all automatically, over and over, forever, squeezing every last drop of emotional content from its life memories (which reminds me of the “treading the winepress” quotes scattered throughout the Bible). If the subconscious judged its memories of what it had done in its past life favorably, it would thereafter experience a dream-world filled with absolute, positive emotion – pure pleasure and happiness. If it judged itself unfavorably, it would experience a dream-world filled with absolute negative emotion-the pain of self-condemnation. And this, if you ask me, sounds alot like the West’s heaven-and-hell scenario.

Thus, the 20th century’s scientific discovery of the natural division of the human mind seems to produce two radically different afterlife scenarios, which are, interestingly enough, virtually identical to the two major religious scenarios that have been in existence for millennia. The East’s tradition of reincarnation and the West’s tradition of heaven and hell are each thousands of years old; science’s discovery of the natures and qualities of the conscious and unconscious, on the other hand, are less than a single century old. Nonetheless, they are somehow the same; somehow, the latter has reconstructed the former. Science, it seems, has arrived at conclusions religion embraced centuries ago.

Ancient Corroboration of Division Theory

Echoes of such a “Division Theory” theology seem to appear in the original religious texts of cultures all over the world.

Many ancient cultures, for example, believed that humans possessed two different ‘souls’, each of which successfully survived the death of the physical body, but only to then separate from one another as well: in ancient Egypt, the ba separated from the ka at death; in ancient Greece, the thymos separated from the psyche; in ancient China, the p’o separated from the hun; in Persia, the urvan from the daena; in India, the asu from the manas; and in Israel, the soul from the spirit

(Eccl. 12:7, Heb. 4:12). Even in many primitive cultures still existing today (such as the Alaskan Eskimo and the Australian aborigine), strikingly similar belief patterns can still be seen.

LOUD echoes of such a Division Theory theology occur in the banned, long-lost 1st century Christian Gospels rediscovered in Nag Hammadi Egypt in the 1940’s (especially so in three: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth).

Ignoring for the moment the obvious question of why cultures all around the globe and through history seem to have arrived at such similar afterlife beliefs, another question still begs to be asked – might not all these belief-systems, both ancient and present-day, found all around the world, be referring to he very same elements within human beings that we in the West olloquially refer to as the ‘head’ and ‘heart’, what we more properly, in this scientific age, call the conscious and the unconscious?

Division Theory, simply by taking what science now knows about the human mind, and asks how it might function under a different set of circumstances (the two halves of the mind continuing to exist and function after death, but divided apart from one another), arrives at answers that replicate beliefs thousands of years old. This seemingly impossible anachronism suggests the existence of a single, potentially verifiable scientific reality which underlies and substantiates both Eastern and Western religious traditions. Thus, Division Theory not only works toward unifying the divisions within humanity’s religions, but also the chasm between religion and science as well.

And in the process, it carries profound, disturbing implications for both the legendary ‘Fall of Man’ (i.e., the division of Adam and Eve, or Hegel’s Primordial Rupture) and the prophesied ‘Resurrection of the Dead’ during the West’s classic Judgment Day scenario (“you will be invaded by an ancient and enduring army, an army of old, such as has never been seen before” Ask yourself – what does “Resurrection of the Dead” become, if reincarnation is part of the picture?).

Perhaps the Secret of Death hasn’t remained elusive because it was too far removed from us, but because it was too close.

Division is, after all, the very core and essence of the human experience. What was a historic revelation to Freud 100 years ago(and through him, to the whole of the scientific world) – that we are all divided – is, and has always been, Man’s surprised cry of discovery.

We are all divided; whether we use psychological terms(“conscious and unconscious”), physiological terms (“male and female”), colloquial terms (“head and heart”), Biblical terms (“soul and spirit”), Egyptian terms (“ba and ka”), Chinese terms (“p’o and hun”), Greek terms (“thymos and psyche”),Kant’s terms(“phenomena and noumena”) Blake’s terms (“imagination and reason”), Hegel’s terms (“subject and substance”), or Sartre’s terms (“existence and essense”), we always find ourselves ultimately referring to two separate components of our reality.

Each time, we find we can never quite completely get a handle on any of these sets; we can never quite completely identify or fully define them. No matter how hard or carefully we try to look at them, we can never fully wrap our minds around any of these sets of components.

That would make sense if they were infinite. Division Theory suggests that no matter what terms we happen to find ourselves using at any given time, we are always really referring to the same two components, which each have an infinite number of different names, faces, and facets.

Whether one is speaking of the division between conscious and unconscious, male and female, head and heart, or soul and spirit, Division always ends up enthroned as our single most basic an intimate reality. Is it more reasonable to suppose that we have an infinite number of different divisions within us, or that we have just one division that can be viewed from an infinite number of different perspectives?

Is this inner division, Division Theory asks, identical with the division between life and death, between Man and God?

If so, then to heal this division is to conquer death itself.

What did Jesus hold up as the key to eternal life?

Integrity. Being undivided.

 

Research: Ghost Dancers

Please note that some articles have been transferred over from the Old Word Museum site. You may occasionally encounter broken links or outdated information in these articles.

Written by: Lori Soard
Date: 2002

In the late 1880’s, many Indians on reservations began to perform a new kind of dance. They had unusual visions in which Jesus Christ met with ancient Indian spirits. They believed their chanting and dancing would cause the return of the buffalo, raise their warriors from the dead and bring back their traditional way of life-causing the disappearance of whites. Life on the Indian reservations in the 1880’s was full of suffering. The Sioux were told to farm the land but were not taught how or given proper tools. In addition, droughts and scorching summer winds shriveled the crops and caused their livestock to die. To the Sioux, who believed the earth was sacred and should not plowed, planted or used for profit, this struggle for survival was upsetting.

To survive they had to depend on the government. Often rations of food were late and of mediocre quality. Many died, especially the old and extremely young. Meanwhile, missionaries imposed their religious beliefs on the Indians. Their way of life seemed to be over. Full of hopelessness, the Sioux turned to the Great Spirit for strength to conquer their suffering.

The answer seemed to be a new religion. On New Year’s Day, 1889, there was a solar eclipse. A medicine man of the Paiute tribe in Nevada, named Wovoka, had a vision. He was instructed by God to order his people to stop fighting and live together in peace. He was to train them specific prayers, songs and a certain dance.

The dance would deliver them from their plight. This message of hope soon expanded to include all the Plains tribes. It would also lead to tragedy on the banks of a creek named Wounded Knee. The dance had to be performed by entire tribes to work. It would last two or three days and nights, during which time, the dancers must not take food or water. While performing the dance, Indian men, women and children formed a circle and danced to the right and then left, chanting. They would move faster and faster, chanting louder and louder, working themselves into a frenzy. Then, one would leave the circle and drop to the ground, claiming to have had a vision like Wovoka’s.

This dance became very popular on Sitting Bull’s reservation. The whites became apprehensive, they feared that the chanting and dancing that went on late into the night meant another Indian uprising. More soldiers were sent onto the reservation.

On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was placed under arrest. A shot was fired and the result was the death of Sitting Bull and eight of his people.

A few days later, a similar conflict broke out at a camp at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. Soldiers immediately opened fire on the chief, Bigfoot, and whole families around him. At least 153 Indians were massacred on the spot and many more crawled away to die in the snow. The Indian Wars ended at Wounded Knee.

Ghost Dancers