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Ghost Dance


By November of 1890, the belief that a Messiah would return to earth and lead the Indian people was sweeping across the plains from its origins among the Piutes. The spreading of the belief among the tribes living in the Dakotas was attributed to Kicking Bear, but the message had taken on an ominous tone. According to the Messiah story, the Indians should go and make ready for the destruction of the Whites. Soon the Messiah would descend, and even the ghosts of dead Indians would return to inhabit their former lands. The bullets of the soldiers would have no effect. They Indian people were to ready themselves through a sacrificial dance that became known as the Ghost Dance.

On this date in 1891, a group of men from Mandan appealed to President Benjamin Harrison to protect them from the uprising. The previous night more than three fourths of the adult male population of Mandan and the surrounding area, met to consider what actions were necessary to defend their homes and families.

In the report they compiled for the President, they stated that they feared for the lives and the safety of everyone in the vicinity of the reservations. They claimed that already bands of young Indians, empowered by the Ghost Dance, were heavily armed and roaming among the settlers and had spoken of scalping. So rooted were the Indians in their faith in the Messiah that they were spending all means to buy guns and ammunition in advance of the time He will give the order to move on the Whites.

The Mandan Committee stated in their report that, “There are scores of men in this immediate neighborhood who were suffers by the Minnesota Massacres in 1862...” And they noted further, “there are camped within the city limits of Mandan, over one hundred Indians, armed to the teeth.” The immediate presence of armed warriors was unnerving to the citizens of Mandan and many fled across the river to Bismarck or points farther east. In Hebron, a sod stockade was constructed and dubbed with the name Fort Sauerkraut.

The citizen’s committee requested the strengthening of the garrison at Fort Abraham Lincoln. And they closed their report with a threat of violence of their own, stating that it may become difficult to suppress the determination of a majority of settlers to go on the offensive if the government does not react to their request. The fanaticism of the Ghost Dance was coming full circle to encompass the hysteria of the settlers.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The James McLaughlin Manuscript Collections Series 10313 Roll 20 Letterbooks 1886 -1890