Observation and Description of the Ghost Dance:
Mrs. Z.A. Parker
Dance among the
at Pine Ridge Reservation,
Territory on June 20, 1890 and described it:
We drove to this spot
about 10:30 o’clock on a delightful October day. We came upon tents
scattered here and there in low, sheltered places long before reaching
the dance ground. Presently we saw over three hundred tents placed in
a circle, with a large pine tree in the center, which was covered with
strips of cloth of various colors, eagle feathers, stuffed birds,
claws, and horns-all offerings to the Great Spirit. The
ceremonies had just begun. In the center, around the tree, were
gathered their medicine-men; also those who had been so fortunate as
to have had visions and in them had seen and talked with friends who
had died. A company of fifteen had started a chant and were marching
abreast, others coming in behind as they marched. After marching
around the circle of tents they turned to the center, where many had
gathered and were seated on the ground.
I think they wore the ghost shirt or ghost
dress for the first time that day. I noticed that these were all new
and were worn by about seventy men and forty women. The wife of a man
called Return-from-scout had seen in a vision that her friends all
wore a similar robe, and on reviving from her trance she called the
women together and they made a great number of the sacred garments.
They were of white cotton cloth. The women's dress was cut like their
ordinary dress, a loose robe with wide, flowing sleeves, painted blue
in the neck, in the shape of a three-cornered handkerchief, with moon,
stars, birds, etc., interspersed with real feathers, painted on the
waists, letting them fall to within 3 inches of the ground, the fringe
at the bottom. In the hair, near the crown, a feather was tied. I
noticed an absence of any manner of head ornaments, and, as I knew
their vanity and fondness for them, wondered why it was. Upon making
inquiries I found they discarded everything they could which was made
by white men.
The ghost shirt for the men was made of
the same material-shirts and leggings painted in red. Some of the
leggings were painted in stripes running up and down, others running
around. The shirt was painted blue around the neck, and the whole
garment was fantastically sprinkled with figures of birds, bows and
arrows, sun, moon, and stars, and everything they saw in nature.
Down the outside of the sleeve were rows of feathers tied by the quill
ends and left to fly in the breeze, and also a row around the neck and
up and down the outside of the leggings. I noticed that a number had
stuffed birds, squirrel heads, etc., tied in their long hair. The
faces of all were painted red with a black half-moon on the forehead
or on one cheek.
the crowd gathered about the tree the high priest, or master of
ceremonies, began his address, giving them directions as to the chant and
other matters. After he had spoken for about fifteen minutes they arose
and formed in a circle. As nearly as I could count, there were between
three and four hundred persons.
stood directly behind another, each with his hands on his neighbor's
shoulders. After walking about a few times, chanting, "Father, I come,"
they stopped marching, but remained in the circle, and set up the most
fearful, heart-piercing wails I ever heard-crying, moaning, groaning, and
shrieking out their grief, and naming over their departed friends and
relatives, at the same time taking up handfuls of dust at their feet,
washing their hands in it, and throwing it over their heads.
Finally, they raised
their eyes to heaven, their hands clasped high above their heads, and
stood straight and perfectly still, invoking the power of the Great Spirit
to allow them to see and talk with their people who had died. This
ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes, when they all sat down where they
were and listened to another address, which I did not understand, but
which I afterwards learned were words of encouragement and assurance of
the coming messiah.
When they arose again, they enlarged the circle by facing toward the
center, taking hold of hands, and moving around in the manner of school
children in their play of "needle's eye." And now the most intense
excitement began. They would go as fast as they could, their hands moving
from side to side, their bodies swaying, their arms, with hands gripped
tightly in their neighbors', swinging back and forth with all their might.
If one, more weak and frail, came near falling, he would be jerked up and
into position until tired nature gave way.